Sunday, February 19, 2023

Ode to a Lost Saloon

In my mind's eye, I sometimes see things like this…
Click image to enlarge it.

When in reality, this is what’s in front of me…
The northwest corner of 7th and Oregon streets in Oshkosh.

That corner building is full of stories that go untold. It once had large windows where now there’s a wall of incompatible brick fixed in place like a gag. This is one of those Oshkosh landmarks that hides in plain view.

The story of this place begins with John Ferdinand Streich, the first owner of the building. Streich was a German immigrant who came to Oshkosh in 1853. He was 18-years old. A year later, Streich opened a blacksmith shop at the southwest corner of 6th and Oregon. The business did very well. The family Streich left in Europe soon followed him here.

John Streich’s brothers Charles, August, and Gabriel went to work in the blacksmith shop. They got into making carriages, sleighs, wagons, plows. The Streich’s brother’s corner shop grew into a thriving industry.

The Streich carriage works at the corner of 6th and Oregon in the late 1860s.

John Streich sold the carriage works to his brothers in 1869. In 1870, he constructed an Italianate-style building next door. Streich opened a grocery store on the ground floor and moved into the apartment above it. That building is what we see today at the northwest corner of 7th and Oregon.

JF Streich 1870. A concrete face plate installed during construction.

While Streich sold groceries, his brothers built the carriage works into an industrial complex. The factory teemed with thirsty workers. The assembly inspired Streich to add a saloon to his grocery. It wasn’t too long before he stopped selling groceries altogether. The Streich saloon was an early example of what would become an Oshkosh norm. Over the next century, saloons here would gather near factories like moths to flame.

The Carriage Works at 6th and Oregon, circa 1883.

John Streich retired from his saloon in 1888. He sold the business to Louis Kossel Jr., a first-generation American whose parents had migrated from the north of Germany. Kossel was just 23-years old when he went behind the bar at 7th and Oregon.

If you were that young and running a saloon on the north side of the river it was assumed you were incorrigible; a peddler of vice. And on the north side that was a safe assumption. The Main Street saloons had made Oshkosh notorious for its “hells” of gambling, prostitution, and debauchery. But it was different on the south side.

The south-side saloons, for the most part, were committed to the German ethos of Gemütlichkeit: an intentional spirit of friendliness, coziness, and good cheer. Kossel was devoted to that ideal. At a time when the north side was tying itself into knots over whether or not women should even be allowed in saloons, Kossel went out of his way to make sure everyone felt welcome. It was a point he drove home in this advertisement from 1889.

From the 1889 Oshkosh City Directory.

Kossel’s saloon was “south side” through and through. The lager beer he was so proud of was brewed just down the way at Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery on Doty Street. The beer was delivered to the saloon on a wagon built at the Streich Brother’s plant next door.

The enterprising Kossel left the saloon in 1896. He moved on to a larger venture, managing a hotel and saloon located about a block east on Nebraska Street. Replacing him at 7th and Oregon was another first-generation American. His name was William Bergholte and he was cut from the same cloth as Kossel. His parents had also migrated from the north of Germany.

Bergholte was running one of those infamous Main Street saloons before leaving that life behind for the south side. From 1897 to 1903, he conducted the 7th and Oregon saloon in the same manner that Kossel had. When Bergholte left, to become an insurance agent, he put the place in the trusted hands of a fellow German named Herman Bleck.
Herman Bleck

Herman Julius Bleck was born in 1861 in a northern German village that became part of Poland after WWII. He migrated to America when he was 31. Bleck settled on 7th Avenue and took up his old trade as a shoe maker. Taking over the saloon on Oregon Street was a definite step up.

For many German immigrants, saloon ownership was the realization of the American Dream. It meant more than financial reward. With it came community status. This was especially true on the south side where saloon owners were time and again elected as aldermen of their respective wards.

Bleck was, no doubt, proud of his place. He lived with his wife and their two children in the apartment above the bar. The picture below was taken sometime around 1905. The cared-for, inviting quality of Bleck’s saloon is apparent.

Circa 1905.

But it wasn’t going as well as it looked. The Bleck family had a rough time at 7th and Oregon. Their son Theodore, born in their apartment in 1905, died In 1906. That summer, Elizabeth Bleck gave birth to another son. He was named after his father. The boy died in 1908. The following year, Herman Bleck and his family moved away. Bleck went back to making shoes.

William G. Schmidt came in next and by 1910 had revived the beloved saloon. Schmidt belonged to the same lineage that had been flocking to that bar ever since John Streich put it in. Schmidt was a well-known son of the south side; the first child of German immigrants. But he was the last of that line at 7th and Oregon.

Schmidt’s tenure at the saloon coincided with the eruption of World War I. And with the war came a backlash against the community and culture of German immigrants. The xenophobia was exploited by Prohibitionists who encouraged anti-German anxiety to promote their own agenda. Their bigotry prevailed. The Prohibitionists won their war.

The Wisconsin Loyalty Leagues’ 1918 “Sedition Map” with an “infected” Oshkosh in the cross hairs.

The Schmidt saloon at 7th and Oregon went dry with the arrival of National Prohibition in 1920. Or did it?

Schmidt kept the saloon open even after Prohibition was enacted. Most saloon kepers in Oshkosh did the same. They rebranded their bars as soft-drink parlors. But according to an Oshkosh bootlegger of the 1920s, all of these places continued to sell bootleg beer and liquor. “You had to do that, if you didn't you couldn't stay in business.”

William Schmidt stayed in business until 1927 when he died at the age of 56. That was also the end for the saloon at 7th and Oregon. The bar fixtures were removed four months after Schmidt’s death. The space was converted into a furniture repair and upholstering shop.

The Streich building would be home to a series of businesses over the years. Each of them was another step removed from the distinctive culture that was once fostered there.


In 2015, the former saloon was nearly revived. Ian Wenger and Zach Clark, who would go on to open Fifth Ward Brewing on South Main Street, attempted to purchase the building and establish their brewery there. But the deal fell through. At that time, the interior was in need of extreme renovation. Maybe it was better that those big windows were filled in with brick.
April 2015.

The forgetting is probably inevitable. But we diminish what we have here when we overlook places like this that were so central to the character of this city. To truly appreciate or understand Oshkosh you have to be aware of some of these stories. They are the prologue to the city we have become.


  1. Who knew. I grew up a block away a did not know this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What an excellent story, My wife and I purchased the building in 2015 from the Paulick family, the building has been a great joy in restoring. We have all of the original deeds on the property but certainly didn’t get this much info in our search’s of the history! Thank you

    1. Very happy to hear that it's being restored! I'm so glad you saw this!

  3. Fascinating bit of Oshkosh history - thanks.

  4. Stretch/Wertsch my kin

    1. In the first draft of this, I made mention about the connection between Streich and Wertsch, but the story got so long I ended up cutting that part. Glad you saw this!

  5. Very interesting. Great historical research!

    1. Thanks, the research on these types of posts is always my favorite part of doing these.

  6. Great history of our city’s German heritage and how the saloon/tavern business was so important.

  7. Excellent story and interesting on the Southsiders!

    1. Thank you, those southsiders are incredible!

  8. Very interesting! I love Oshkosh history 😊

  9. Very nice story and I think someone should redo the building and make it back into a bar, Wine restaurant . Those old buildings are so awesome
    and they should be saved.

  10. Very interesting….. thanks for sharing

  11. Very interesting, Thanks