The first saloon at this corner opened in 1875. Over the next 45 years, a stream of barmen flowed through, each calling the place their own. They came and went. Aside from the bar, most of them had one thing in common. They were related, one way or another, to a farmer named Valentine Ruedinger.
Valentine Ruedinger emigrated to America from Württemberg, Germany in 1848. He was 19. He was broke. He settled in the Town of Nekimi. Ruedinger went to work farming. He acquired land and a wife. Both were copiously fertile. Before long, the Ruedingers had eight children, 100 acres, and money to spare.
In 1865, Ruedinger bought property at what was then Kansas and 8th streets. The lot was positioned on the north end of the “Brooklyn” side of town. Manufacturing concerns, hotels, and rooming houses stood clustered about it. Here's a drawing of that neighborhood circa 1867. The red star is at the intersection of 8th and Kansas (now S. Main).
It was an ideal location for a beer joint. But Ruedinger was no barman. His son-in-law on the other hand…
Joseph Kloeckner was gregarious in the extreme. Born in Germany in 1848, he’d grown up in the hospitality business. The Kloeckner's operated a well-known hotel and winery in Heddesheim. Joe Kloeckner wasn’t interested. He turned 18 and left for America.
Kloeckner headed straight for Wisconsin. He hit Oshkosh. He said it was his first love. His second was Valentine Ruedinger’s daughter Anna. They married in the summer of 1875. Kloeckner opened the saloon shortly after. He and Anna moved into an apartment above.
Here’s an ad for the saloon from the 1879 Oshkosh City Directory. The address, however, appears incorrect. All other listings show the address as 49 Kansas St.
Call they did. The saloon thrived. Kloeckner made the most of it. Friendships formed over the bar led to business and political opportunities. Kloeckner partnered in a furniture company. He helped launch a bank. Joe’s neighbors elected him alderman of the Third Ward.
In 1882, Kloeckner was nominated for a State Assembly seat. One of his backers quipped, "We have got a candidate now who possesses the implements of war — a bar." It wasn't enough. Kloeckner lost the race. But not his momentum.
Kloeckner’s ambition outgrew the saloon. In the fall of 1885, a new deputy revenue collector would be appointed. Kloeckner coveted the post. The saloon would hinder his chances. In April, he sold the bar back to Valentine Ruedinger. Kloeckner got the job he was after. The bar got new proprietors.
Valentine Ruedinger’s sons Willie and John took over. It became the Ruedinger Brothers Saloon. The brothers went to town. Literally. They left their farms and moved into apartments above the saloon.
|1886 City Directory|
|Insurance map from 1890. The Saloon is shown at the corner of 8th & Kansas streets.|
Back at the bar, Willie was running things solo. He had his own ideas. He began selling English-style ales. At the time, locally-brewed lager beer dominated. Porter was not your typical South-Side fare.
|1889 City Directory|
Willie had married a woman from New Glarus named Marie Genal. Her family had been in the hotel business forever. In 1893, Willie and Marie had a son. They named him William August Ruedinger. After the boy was born, their marriage went to hell. Things got ugly. Quick.
Willie had borrowed money to purchase the saloon. As the marriage soured, Marie's father, JF Genal, stepped in. He bought the mortgage. It meant Willie was now in debt to an adversary – his father-in-law. The Genal family had Willie boxed in. So he moved out. Marie and William Jr. stayed. Marie’s new boyfriend moved in with them. His name was Peter Reifer.
In the old days, the Reifers had been the Ruedinger’s neighbors. They lived in the Town of Nekimi on a farm adjacent to the Ruedinger farm. Peter and Willie had grown up together. Now Peter had Willie's wife, Willie's boy, and Willie's bar. Willie still held the deed, but it hardly mattered. By 1898, the place was known as Peter Reifer's saloon.
Marie married Peter Reifer. Willie washed his hands of all of it. He sold the property to Marie. Cheap. He unloaded it for a tenth of what he’d paid for it.
The arrangement at the saloon grew fluid. Marie maintained ownership, but from year to year the business was listed under different proprietors. Eventually, another Ruedinger got behind the bar.
Willie and Marie's son, William August Ruedinger, took over the saloon in 1914. He had just turned 21. Here's a picture of him at the entrance. He's wearing a white apron. This was taken about the same time he became the proprietor.
Did you notice the Oshkosh Brewing Company sign in the background? You couldn't have missed it had you been walking by in 1914. The monochrome photo doesn't do it justice. Here's how it looked in its day, in glorious color.
Young William bailed shortly after the 1914 picture was taken. Peter Reifer took over again. In 1916, he put his brother Ben behind the bar. That didn't work out at all. Ben Reifer contracted TB and died. It was straight downhill from there.
The impending doom of national Prohibition induced the shuddering of countless saloons. The old Ruedinger stand was among them. The building was already vacant when Prohibition hit in 1920. The beer and melodrama were drained from the place. Marie finally sold the building in 1946. She died three years later.
The building at 716 S. Main slowly eroded into what is there now. It's held everything from battery shops to the Sacred Circle Spirit Shop, which last offered "metaphysical supplies and services" there in 2009. Did they divine the spirit of a Ruedinger roaming around?
Last December, the property was purchased by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Oshkosh. It’s only a matter of time. The wrecking ball will soon arrive to pulverize the old Ruedinger saloon.