Silver Creek Club
An Enduring Clubhouse
The Seattle Times of March 9, 1920 says that Frank J. Parker an old Watertown boy,
was with the C. & N. W. Ry. when Jos. Giles discovered Silver Creek in Watertown.
03 01 SILVER CREEK AND SILVER CREEK POND BULKHEAD LINE
Charles E. Kading, Watertown attorney, realtor and former president of the city council, appeared before the council at its meeting last night to explain in some detail his petition for a Silver Creek and Silver Creek Pond bulkhead line, a matter that needs both approval from the city council and the Wisconsin State Public Service Commission. He explained that the total water area within the proposed Silver Creek Pond bulkhead line is 3,000 square feet, computed by Richard S. Podolske, a former city engineer of Watertown and now an engineering consultant. Mr. Kading said that under his plan it is proposed to fill only 2,000 square feet of this area and that it is proposed to remove about 300 square feet of land area represented by the railroad right of way [spur] which extends into the pond or creek from North Water Street. WDT
11 24 A shelter for skaters using the Silver Creek pond is now being erected, and will be available for skaters using the pond during the skating season, Mayor Robert P. White reported today. The shelter, or warming house, is being erected on city property by the city park department. The shelter will be heated, Ewald Brumm, park superintendent advises. The shelter will be supervised and the pond will be lighted. “Last year, and again this year, I have received calls from mothers requesting skating facilities in the Silver Creek area,” the mayor said. “Mr. Brumm and I were aware of this need last year and provided for this in the forthcoming budget.” WDT
Watertown Daily Times, 22 January 2000
The Silver Creek Club dates back to 1905 when the first clubhouse was built by Ben Krahn and Paul Munzel, according to old news articles saved by longtime member Bill Schlueter.
Krahn and Munzel erected a 7-by-9-foot shack near the present Silver Creek Club to be used as a warmup place for skaters and for gathering of young fellows. At that time, the land was owned by the Chicago and North Western Railroad and was adjacent to a railroad spur parallel to Water Street.
As skating became more popular, the clubhouse was enlarged. After the club was permanently organized, it reached agreement with the Chicago and North Western Railroad for leasing the site. In the 1930s, the railroad gave the club a five-year lease on the land which was extended after the expiration date. The lease was for $5 a year.
In 1940, the club constructed the present building and continued to prosper. Then the railroad halted its use of the old spur line, it sold the land where the clubhouse stands for $75. The railroad offered to sell the club all of its land south to Rock Street for an additional $150, making the deal a total of $225, but members could not raise the money.
The club was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1946 when membership became limited to 10.
Membership dwindled as time went on, and in 1972, the club received the bad blow that Water Street would be resurfaced with new curb and gutter. Members could not pay the assessment. The club and city reached an agreement for the club to operate for a 10-year period and then be turned over to the city. However, the 10-year period came and went with no change in ownership. The last three members turned the club over to the city in 1990.
The club nearly closed in the 1950s when the city manager back then refused to the normal $150 for club for operating expenses. "It looked like we were going to have to close, but then John Clifford (long-time editor and publisher of the Daily Times, got wind of it. He told the city he skated there, his children would skate there and his grandchildren would skate there, and that's the way it happened - the city put the money back in the budget," Schlueter related.
According to an article in the Watertown Daily Times in 1950, "There were four skating clubs in the city and all were popular. The Silver Creek Club often had 400 to 500 skaters on the ice on a nice Sunday afternoon back in the happy years about 1925." In the early years the skating season extended through March.
The article noted that the shoe checking charge in the early days was 5 cents and later changed to 50 cents a season. Checking was free in 1950.
Members warmed themselves with shovels, clearing areas for skaters. If a thaw came, a homemade sprinkler system was devised to resurface the ice at the next freeze. A barrel was perforated, mounted on a sled, filled with water and then rushed over the ice with bucket crews keeping it filled.
The club provided pleasure for many skaters, and also entertainment for many others. The club conducted several skating meets and even a state meet in 1944. Local skaters also gained fame on other rinks.
Seven Decades of Memories
Bill Schlueter, the last remaining member of the Silver Creek Club, loves to reminisce about the way things used to be for ice skaters on the Rock River.
The first Silver Creek Clubhouse was started in about 1905 by a group of friends who formed a club of the same name. The present one was built in 1940 and has had additions over the years. Schlueter was not a charter member, but has become the official historian as the last living member. He grew up on North Water Street and still lives near the Rock River. Many men with the last name of Schlueter figured into the club's history.
"I skated on the river as a boy and I am 85 now," said Schlueter. "Silver Creek was always a place to warm up and buy soda in winter, but it was also a social club. Meetings were held whenever members wanted to come down. They would meet and walk in, sometimes every night. No one was working during the Depression. There was no place to go, no money and no work. Out of the 14 members, only two were working," he recalled.
"They let me join when I was about 16. It took money to build and to buy furniture. If I wanted to sit down, I had to buy my own chair. I had no money to pay Keck's for a chair, so at first I had to sit on a box. At that time, you had to pay $1.50 just for a wooden chair. That was a lot of money then," he explained.
"After members started running the skating rink, it ran on its own. Candy and soda sales brought in enough money. Each guy got a duty night, but the club was self-supporting. We were paid maybe $75 a year to shovel the ice for the city. We had to shovel the ice and keep it clear, but we subcontracted for a guy with a team of horses to plow it off for us. With the leftover money, we bought coal for the two coal burners that provided heat. It was open afternoons on the weekend, but only evenings during the week." he said.
"We always had music for the skaters. At first it was just a phonograph with a horn outside, but then we got sophisticated," he noted with a laugh. "We got an amplifying system."
"I have fond memories of those days," he said, "There were lots of New Year's Eves when we skated the old year out and the new one in. The whole gang skated and all of he members were pretty good skaters." Watertown Daily Times
Ice skaters by the hundreds used to glide across the ice near the Silver Creek clubhouse on North Water Street, but those days are long gone.
When weather permits, skaters take to the ice near Silver Creek on the west side of North Water Street, but the sight of couples whizzing around the rink arm-in-arm to the sound of music from a Victrola is only a memory.
The abandoned Silver Creek clubhouse was sold by the city several years ago, giving the building a reprieve from a wrecking ball. The city was given the building after the last living member of the Silver Creek Club, Bill Schlueter, could no longer tale care of it, or afford to pay for curb and gutter along the property.
The skaters have gone west, but the clubhouse has a new life as "space" for a Watertown man. Clyde Gerth bought the building in November 1992 by sealed bid from the city and has refurnished it with memories in mind.
SILVER CREEK AND DAYS OF GOOD ICE. Winter in Wisconsin brings me a bittersweet feeling whenever I drive over the Division Street Bridge by Riverside Park in Watertown. On a crisp winter’s day with clear blue skies and pristine snowdrifts, this was a magical place 45 years ago. Every weekend and most school nights, when there was good ice, we were skating on the Rock River. Watertown, back then, was a small German city with 4 parochial grade schools, two Lutheran, two Catholic and several public grade schools. But when it came to skating, the Rock River was nondenominational; it was just good ice. There was a small warming house that sizzled with the sound and smell of wet woolen mittens drying on the heater, the thunk thunk thunk of our skates on the wooden floor and laughter . . . The river itself spoke to us with deep-throated cracks as it shifted its load of ice. We skated until we could barely stand. We were cold, wet and tired, but so energized by socializing, skating and the perfect setting it didn’t matter. We played crack-the-whip and oh the music! The warming house had a blaring speaker system and the Beatles were the rage. To this day I know every word of every early Beatle song from those days of skating and singing at the top of our lungs to songs like “8 days a week”. Our parents told us never to go under the bridges because the ice wasn’t safe, so of course we did. We skated to the Silver Creek warming house, a few bridges and miles down river, just for the adventure especially at night. The Beatle songs and frozen river remain, but the warming house, the kids and the laughter are no more. This saddens me because I cannot imagine a childhood without those days of good ice. Anonymous
ANOTHER MEMORY: Yes, it does evoke memories!! I was just in Watertown last weekend and drove over the Division St. Bridge and fondly remembered the hours spent skating. The warming house was the old Girl Scout building I think! I remember that some of the boys would bring their snowmobiles to the rink and we would sneak rides! I would also skate at the "Brick Yard" rink. They too had a TV in the warming house and I remember seeing the Beatles!
ANOTHER MEMORY: I have shared so many times how great it was to skate at Riverside Park and to take skating class in PE there. I learned so much and loved it. When I left for college in Missouri in 1980, I couldn't wait to come home for Christmas so I could skate. It was late at night and the park was dark, but I put on my skates and skated by moonlight. It was awesome! I was truly free and had all the space I needed. It was not too long when I saw a tall figure come walking out in boots on the ice toward me. I was a little nervous, and it wasn't until he was fairly close that I realized it was my dad. He taught me how to skate when I was three years old. He took us to rinks and also flooded the yard each year. He just wanted to be with me and make sure I was safe. I will never forget that night. A few years later while at college in Minneapolis, I was able to skate at the park rink in front of my dormitory. It was there that another man came out on the ice in boots to boot skate with me. It was my husband and soon after he proposed and we married in 1984. I have made sure to teach each of my kids to skate. I even host skating parties at my home here in Southern Indiana on the rare years when our pond freezes enough to skate. I have several pairs of skates on hand for those who need them . . . . I still have my skates. Although I am not as nimble as I used to be, I continue to love the freedom, excitement and camaraderie that skating brings. I'm looking forward to the next chapter when I can pass the baton on and teach my grand children.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin