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Black River, a gem of Sheboygan County

The Black River Area, a Gem of Sheboygan County”, is an endeavor, a new book, by James Schultz and Beth Dippel to capture the fascinating history of the people and places of Black River, which emerged while researching and compiling materials for the Black River Museum. If you wish to contribute ideas, please contact the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center at 920.467.4667. We’re looking for pictures and stories about life in Black River.

Below you will find two excerpts from the book. The first is a great look at the Henry Mueller Family Conservancy, a centerpiece of the Black River area. The second tells how the Black River area inspired the careers of artist John Clemmer and microbiologist Dorothy Iker Clemmer.

The Henry Mueller Family Conservancy

by James Schultz and Beth Dippel

With all the recent development in Sheboygan County, including a proposal to replace a 247-acre woods by a golf course just a mile away, the Henry Mueller Family Conservancy is more valued than ever. This raises questions about the how the conservancy came to be. Who was the Henry Mueller family? Why does the conservancy have the highly irregular shape shown on the map? Researching these questions uncovered some surprising facts with interesting historical connections.

Accessed from Panther Avenue on the west and bordered by Black River on the east, consisting largely of forest and wetlands, it is home to a variety of wildlife. Ducks, geese, herons, cranes, owls, hawks, turkeys, woodpeckers, and a variety of other birds are seen and heard regularly, as well as migrating hooded mergansers, orioles, grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and occasional eagles. The mammal population includes deer, red fox, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, muskrats, weasels, and river otters.

The river and creeks contain spawning trout and other fish. The month of May features a chorus of peeper frogs (which could be heard while this is being written within sight and sound of the conservancy!). Parts of the conservancy feature towering birches and evergreens. Two of about twenty wood ducks seen regularly on the river and around the conservancy.

With no less than three Henry Muellers living in Sheboygan County in the early 1900s, it was a challenge to determine which Henry Mueller originally bought the land which was transferred in 1985 to the Town of Wilson by Joan M. Mayer, Esther Mueller Stark, and John R. Lindquist, trustee of the Last Will and Testament and Codicil of Rudie H. Mueller. Not having access to Sheboygan County vital records due to the covid quarantining made identifying the right people even more of a challenge.

It seemed likely that the property traced back to land developer Henry G. Mueller, who with his father developed land in Millersville, named after him. Or was it his son, also named Henry Mueller? Finding no connection between them and those named on the deed transfers (kindly made available by Town of Wilson Supervisor Nancy DesJardins), additional delving uncovered the actual lineage.

The 1935 Sheboygan Press obituary of another Henry Mueller provided the first clue: It told of Henry Mueller, a German immigrant who worked as a longshoreman unloading lumber that came on ships for Sheboygan’s numerous furniture factories and later as a well digger digging many of the wells in the city and county. The obituary and U. S. Census records indicated that Henry and his wife Dorathea (Schmidt) had ten children, one of whom was Rudie Mueller, named in the land transfers. Additional investigating revealed that the connection to two other people named on the land transfers was through another son named Harry. Harry’s daughter Joan, who married Joseph Mayer, was a granddaughter of Henry and Dorathea. Esther Mueller Stark, born Esther Sackett, was the widow of Harry’s son Richard, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1975.  After Richard’s death, she married Benjamin Stark. Trustee John Lindquist, named in the transfer documents, was an attorney and the husband of Rudie’s daughter Lois, completing the final link to the right Henry Mueller family.

According to their obituaries, Henry was born in 1859 in Sundhausen, near Gotha, in Thuringia, Saxony, and Dorothea was born in 1861 in Michelau in Oberfranken, Bavaria. Ship passenger lists indicate that Henry immigrated in 1884, and his wife and their two youngest children in 1886. Dorathea and her children Frieda and Heinrich, came over on the Eider, a two-funnelled steamer, 430 feet long with four masts, a crew of 167, and capable of carrying 1,204 passengers. (See photo below.) It was on the same ship that Friedrich Trump, grandfather of President Donald Trump, immigrated from Bremen, Germany, a year later at the age of 16. The Eider sank in the English Channel in 1892. Kaiser Wilhelm II gave each coxswain an engraved gold watch after a heroic rescue in which the crew was the last to be taken off the ship.

Rich Stephani, who bought land near the conservancy from the Muellers in 1984, recalled that Black River Boy Scouts created trails. He suggested contacting Henry’s grandson, Ted Mueller, who graciously shared several remarkable photos. The military photo, from 1881, is labeled in memory of Henry’s local garrison, which was created in 1807 and reorganized to be part of the 95th Regiment of the Imperial German Infantry. A closer look at the photo reveals the men holding glasses of beer, likely after the ceremony in which the keg in the bottom of the photo was tapped!

According to Ted, the first photo below is of the family, taken on the Mueller property in Black River in about 1902. Like other photos, it shows that parts of what are now wooded areas in Black River were once farmland. Ted, remembers spending time on his grandparents’ land when he was a child. Ted’s father, Rudie, wrote on the back of the second photo that it was a photo of his mother but didn’t identify the man with her.

In addition to five children who died in infancy, three adult children preceded Henry in death. Son Henry, Jr. was killed in 1905, knocking apples off a tree while holding the barrel of a loaded shotgun. Daughter Frieda, who married Joseph Rammer in 1916, died in the home of her parents in 1923 after suffering from heart problems. Son Arthur died in 1928, after falling 40 feet to a concrete floor when scaffolding collapsed in the Kohler foundry, leaving behind a widow and nine children during the Depression. Dorathea preceded him in death in 1928. Before his death in 1935, Henry, then 76, had lost his wife and eight children! Henry and Dorathea are buried in Section 1 of Sheboygan’s Wildwood Cemetery, along with several of their children.

The Mueller family did not forget its ties to Germany. Dorathea made a return visit to Germany in 1901. The manifest of the ship Kensington mentions 1884, the year Henry immigrated, his name, and her Sheboygan residence.

The original land transaction in November of 1904 indicates that Henry Mueller and Joseph Frauengruber purchased the 50 acres shown on this 1916 plat map from August Hartman for $1875.

The fifty acres were subdivided into parcels, most which were sold off, leaving the oddly-shaped 12 acres which became the conservancy. The conservancy land was less suitable for building and better protected from development than Wisconsin wetlands today, which can be developed if wetlands are created elsewhere to compensate. The map below shows plans for possible development of the area. It shows 5th and 6th Streets and Lake Shore Drive extending southward and Panther Avenue extending eastward through what became the Mueller Conservancy, cutting it into 26 individual lots. Incidentally, Ted Mueller related that it was his father, Rudie, who named Panther Avenue. It was so-named because the mound builders considered the panther sacred, as evidenced by so many of their mounds being panther-shaped.

Maintaining the wetlands has proven to be prudent, as many of these lots would be flooded with today’s river levels. The question of whether the Mueller land could be developed into a residential area was settled in 1985, when the land became a conservancy, forever preserving the existing character of the land.

Personal note: Author Jim Schultz, who grew up on the south side of Sheboygan, made frequent trips to Black River in his youth with his friend Marty Kjelson, a descendant of the Jerving family. When relocating to Sheboygan from Ohio in 2005, Jim and his wife Donna Menzer chose a home across the river from the conservancy, a major factor in their decision.

The first photo shows the conservancy as seen from their property. The second shows grandson Ted with the conservancy in the background. The third photo shows Jim in his kayak along side the conservancy.

Black River

Ted Mueller at home.

Ted Mueller kayaking.

Acknowledgements:
The authors wish to thank Ted Mueller, Nancy DesJardins, Rich Stephani, Nadine Smith, David and Chris Mohar, and Katie Reilly of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center for their valuable contributions.

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John and Dorothy Clemmer, Inspired by Black River

Artist John Clemmer from southern Louisiana married microbiologist Dorothy Iker from Chicago, but it was the special uniqueness of the Black River area that played a significant part in the careers of both.  They are shown in this photo taken by their son David taken in Kohler-Andrae State Park in the southern part of Black River.

John and Dorothy Clemmer
Kohler-Andrae State Park 2007

Born in 1928, Dorothy grew up in Chicago, where she belonged to the Girl Scouts.  She loved to walk in the woods and on the beach while spending summers at the Iker family cottage on Wahgouly Road in the Black River area near Lake Michigan.  She collected flowers, leaves, and beach stones and observed frogs, snakes, insects, and wildlife, while pursuing Girl Scout Merit Badges.  (Dorothy wrote a wonderful, more detailed description of this as mentioned below.)

With a love for plants and animals instilled in her from her time spent in Black River as a young girl, she began formal studies in biology, going on to get a Ph.D. in microbiology from Tulane University in 1958. She says that her Black river experiences were a major influence on her career choice.

She joined the faculty at the Department of Microbiology, School of Medicine, Tulane University, where she taught medical students.  She also worked with the United States Public Health Service, Diarrheal Disease Investigation Unit, New Orleans, Louisiana.  Her contributions included being lead author on a paper entitled “Bacteriologic Studies of Experimental Air-Borne Salmonellosis in Chicks” which appeared in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 106, Issue 2, March 1960.

John was born on a plantation in southern Louisiana in 1921, after his father, a Wisconsin native, married a daughter of a Louisiana family.  His family relocated to New Orleans in 1928, where John attended public schools.  Following his graduation from high school, he was awarded a scholarship to the New Orleans Art School, but left to serve in the United States Army Air Force during WWII.

John was discharged from the service and returned to New Orleans in 1946. He began exhibiting his work in group exhibitions in 1945 and he had his first solo exhibition in 1948.  By 1951 he was the Executive Secretary of the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans, the city’s first contemporary gallery, and the Director of the New Orleans School of Art.  He began teaching at Tulane University as an instructor in the School of Architecture in 1951, becoming a full professor in 1974.  In 1978 he taught Art Fundamentals in the Department of Art of Newcomb College, at that time the women’s college of Tulane University.  He went on to become the Chairman of the of the Newcomb Art Department and was the first recipient of the Ford and Maxine Graham Chair in Fine Art.  He retired in 1986.

Throughout his career, he exhibited his work in local and regional galleries in Louisiana, Wisconsin, Florida, New York, and California.  In the first paragraph of a review of his work entitled “John Clemmer’s Modernist Enterprise”, Judith Bonner wrote the following in The New Orleans Art Review (March April May 2012):

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The photo below appears on the website johnclemmer.com, where more examples of his work can be seen, including work for sale.

Photo on the website johnclemmer.com

John met Dorothy in 1949 when she was enrolled in drawing classes at the New Orleans School of Art. They were married in New Orleans in 1953 and began spending summers at the Iker family cottage in 1955. John painted his first Wisconsin artwork in 1958. Dorothy said that their making the 1000-mile road trip to Wisconsin during their one-month break was a good indicator of how much they valued coming to the cottage.

John continued to work after retiring from academia, both in New Orleans and on Wahgouly Road. John and Dorothy had acquired the adjoining property in the mid-1970s, where they renovated a second cottage and built a studio for John, shown in the photos below.

Clemmer Studio and Second Cottage on Wahgouly Road

Second Cottage Interior

In the 1990s John and Dorothy replaced the original Iker cottage with an all-season home, which he designed, shown in these two photos. The photo of John in his home was taken in 2012.

Clemmer-designed home 2019

Clemmer home interior 2019

John Clemmer in his home 2012

The influence of the Black River area can be seen in his painting. At that time birch trees abounded in the area, inspiring John to create “Birches Duo” (Oil, 1996-97).

Birches/Duo, 1996-’97

Four Leaves, 2007

Toward Wahgouly 1998

Through the Woods, 1997

Autumn Beach, 2007

Sister Bay 1998

Blue, Studio West 2006

From the Country House 1, 1995

Thus, the special uniqueness of Black River played out in the lives of both Dorothy and John Clemmer, with impact well beyond Wisconsin.

Note: This photo of birch trees in the Mueller Conservancy is the kind of scene that may have inspired John Clemmer to create BirchesDuo.

Birch trees in Mueller Conservancy

Birches/Duo

In 1993 Dorothy Iker Clemmer wrote a colorful and informative history of the area entitled “Memories of Black River 50+ Years Ago by a Summer Cottager” which she concludes by extolling the beauty of Black River.

Note: The authors wish to graciously acknowledge contributions by David Clemmer, Dorothy Clemmer, Jonathan Clemmer, and the review of Judith Bonner cited above. All photos courtesy of Clemmer Family.