Monday, September 15, 2014

Where the Streets Have Beer Names

We ought to have more streets in Oshkosh bearing the names of Oshkosh brewers. Just think how much more appealing Harney Ave. would be if it were named Kuenzl Ave. And Doty would be better off as Schwalm St. It has a much nicer ring. I know it does me a world of good to pedal down Lake St. while pretending it was named to honor the long forgotten Lake Brewery and not the huge body of water the road runs parallel to. Well, until these missteps are corrected we still have good, old Rahr Ave.

Charles and August Rahr came to Oshkosh in 1865. They purchased fives acres of land for $700 near the shore of Lake Winnebago. The brewery they built there was then at the outer edge of Oshkosh development. A road was cut to reach the brewery from Rosalia St. The private drive came to be known as Rahr Alley.

An 1895 Map showing Rahr Alley and the Rahr Brewery
As the brewery grew, the area surrounding it began to populate. Many of those who settled nearby worked at the brewery and like Charles and August Rahr, many of them were Prussian immigrants. By the turn of the century, the 50-foot wide Rahr Alley had become a bustling drive traversed by local residents and beer wagons running to and from the Rahr brewery. But despite the fact that more than a dozen homes now stood along the road, the Rahr family still owned it. That was a problem.

Because it was privately held, residences along Rahr Alley could not obtain city waterworks or sewer access. By 1903, that situation had grown untenable. The Rahr family sought to remedy the predicament by donating the land to the city. In exchange, the thousand-foot drive that ran from Rosalia to the lake would be named Rahr Ave. It was an obvious and simple solution to the problem. And T.A. Getchius didn’t like it.

Getchius was an alderman representing Oshkosh's Twelfth Ward (a district then framed by Sawyer Creek, Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River). Boisterous and combative as always, Getchius set out to make political hay by preventing the city from accepting the Rahr’s land donation. On December 15, 1903, the matter came before the council. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported on Getchius’ protest against the deal.

Alderman Getchius objected to having the resolution and the deeds accepted for the reason that he had a street in his ward where houses had been built on the abutting property, although the street is not owned by the city. He stated that there is a church on the street he referred to, while on Rahr avenue there is a brewery. 
      Daily Northwestern, December 16, 1903.

I would have loved to had heard the laughter that must have met the sanctimonious Getchius that night. T.A. Getchius was a hellion. Known as the “old Roman” he had for years operated a dive saloon and dance hall at what is now the south east corner of Oshkosh Avenue and Punhoqua Street. The place was a well-known source of mayhem on the west side. A Daily Northwestern description of Getchius’ beer hall painted it as the sort of joint where "the feet of lewd women and tougher men knocked out time to the tunes of a cracked orchestra."

Getchius’ complaint about the street running past a brewery was equally hollow. For years, Getchius had operated an independent beer bottling operation in Oshkosh. He’d been making money for breweries for a good part of his life.

In the end, Getchius’s objections were pushed aside and Rahr Alley become Rahr Ave. Now, it’s the only sign that’s left of the brewery it once led to.

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