Monday, June 15, 2015

The Oshkosh City Beer and Pleasure Gardens

If you had travelled to the end of Otter Ave. in the summer of 1869 you would have arrived at the Oshkosh City Beer and Pleasure Gardens, a sprawling, 10-acre resort on the shore of Lake Winnebago. It featured a dance hall, bathing houses, a restaurant and a saloon. Sail boats were rented there in summer. In winter, there was skating. Bands played every Sunday all year long.

But the fun at the end of Otter Ave. was short lived. The Oshkosh City Beer and Pleasure Gardens opened in 1869. By 1871 it was no more. The sudden downfall isn’t too surprising when you consider the colorful figure at the heart of the affair.

Gustavus Bogk was an adventurous German immigrant. Born in 1826, he left his homeland at the age of 21. He settled in Milwaukee, working as a baker there for three years. In 1850, he relocated to Oshkosh and opened a bakery on Ferry Street (now N. Main St.) near the river.

The bakery business seems to have been too staid, though, for the robust Bogk. In 1866, he built the Revere House hotel. It stood at the corner of N. Main and Ceape, where the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau is now located. Bogk’s Revere grew quickly. It was soon Oshkosh’s premiere hotel. But Bogk moved on. He left the Revere in 1868 and began preparing to launch his beer garden.

Bogk’s new venture was greeted warmly. Holland’s 1869 Oshkosh City Directory included a glowing review encouraging the support of Oshkosh “pleasure seekers”: “We think it is just such a place as is needed in a city the size of Oshkosh, and we hope the citizens will appreciate it, by extending to Bogk a liberal patronage.”

The enterprise appeared to have much in its favor. Foremost was the continuing influx of German immigrants settling in Oshkosh. The large beer gardens of their homeland were Bogk’s inspiration. His grounds at the end of Otter would have provided a homey space for those whose homeland was thousands of miles of away.

The beer Bogk served would have also been a reminder of home. More than likely, it would have been dark lager. At this point, all-malt Bavarian-style brews were the beers of choice in Oshkosh. And Bogk would have had his pick among brewers. In 1869, there were three breweries within a mile of his gardens. Then again, he might have gotten the beer from his brother. In 1869, Frederich Bogk – Gustavus’ eldest sibling – was operating a brewery just up the road from Oshkosh in Butte des Morts.

The one thing Bogk didn’t have going for him was a knack for handling money. His business ventures were marred by defaults. Bogk’s beer garden followed that pattern. He had financed the venture with a mortgage from the Buckstaff brothers, John Jr., James, Robert and George. When Bogk failed to make payments on his loan, the Buckstaffs foreclosed. On March 8, 1870 Bogk lost ownership of the property. Still, Bogk remained. He operated the beer garden into the summer of 1870.

Later that year, though, Bogk was on the move again. Gustavus, aged 44, and his wife, Margarette, aged 47, left Oshkosh for Butte, Montana. With them were their four daughters. Their son Frederich, stayed behind with Bogk’s brother so he could finish high school here. Frederich made a number of trips to Montana to visit his parents, but found he liked Wisconsin better. Of course he did.

Though he had failed in Oshkosh, Gustavus Bogk was undaunted. In Montana, he led a life every bit as unbridled as the one he had staked out in Oshkosh. Butte was a wide open town in the 1870s. Bogk made the most of it. In Butte and Deer lodge he operated a series of businesses: two hotels (one he named the Revere), a restaurant, a bakery. He even took up copper and silver mining.

Ten years into his stay in Montana, Bogk had gone full time into the mining business and was living among people as unconventional as himself. The 1880 Montana census shows the Bogk family living side by side with gamblers, bartenders, hurdy gurdy dancers and photographers. He’d come a long way from the old world.

Bogk hadn’t forgotten about Oshkosh, though. In 1885 he made a return trip here. He was hard pressed again financially and was trying to peddle stakes in Montana silver mines. His pals in Oshkosh were happy to see him. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported on his visit: “After an absence of about 15 years he is greeted with considerable pleasure by many of his old friends and acquaintances.”

Gustavus Bogk died in Deer Lodge, Montana in 1892. He was 67 years old.

The next time you find yourself down near the end of Otter Ave. take a moment to think about a guy who never quit risking everything. Bogk’s old stomping grounds look nothing like they used to. Imagine the high times that must have happened there.


  1. I think Lee should open a "Pleasure Garden" on the site of the old Pioneer Inn.

    1. Sounds good to me, Dave! I've been practicing for it in my own backyard.