John Holl was born in Bay Settlement, Brown County, Wisconsin on April 28, 1857. He was the first born child of the family, and the first to have US citizenship. Green Bay and Brown County as a whole were a very large immigrant center for over 100 years and Bay Settlement was at first French, then Belgium, in ethnic settlers. The Holl family was among the first German families to live there. As the oldest son, John took on the traditional family responsibilities of that position at a young age. He remained "second father" to his siblings, and to many friends and neighbors, throughout his life.
Witnesses for the baptism of John were John Dollar, and Margaret Holl. He was baptized in Green Bay since the congregation of Holy Martyrs of Gorcum was not yet established on Finger Road. During his early years, he saw his father and mother purchase land for farming, clear and plant crops, build a cabin and barn along with fencing pasture land, bring in cattle and chickens, and add children every two years to the family. He grew tall with black hair, deeply tanned skin and dark eyes, while learning at the local log cabin school and working at the family farm.
The barn, hay and most of the house were destroyed or damaged in the Great Peshitgo Fire of October 8, 1871, when John was 14 years old. He, along with his older brothers and father, moved the small herd and family west toward La Bay of Lake Michigan. This was a fortunate decision, as the firestorm moved northeast up the thumb of Wisconsin's Door County from one of several starting points near their home. Although there is still no definite answer to the cause of what is still the worst natural disaster, recent studies indicate that the combination of months of severe drought before a large, widespread meteor shower on the evening of Sunday, October 8, triggered the holocaust that took an estimated 15,000 lives in Wisconsin and Michigan. The Holl family was fortunate compared to the losses of those who were more directly in the path of the flames.
John, his father and his older brothers began immediate repairs and rebuilding while his mother and the older daughters cared for the youngest children as they hunted for food and bedding for the family members and their animals. His mother, Margaret, gathered pieces of material and grain sacks that were not totally burned, hand sewing them together into a large bag. The she and the others hiked through the embers and hot sand to pick up twigs, leaves, dry grasses and any other partially burned materials that could be used by their stock. Using her bare hands, she also dug the carrots and other root vegetables that had been left in the ground for winter use. The hot ground had partially cooked them and she prepared them as best she could for her family, until help would come. It was also necessary to clear all that fell into the pit well well quickly before the water became contaminated and unusable. They lost all their silage and hay. Friends and neighbors came together to help each other struggle through life right after the fire and during the long winter that followed. The experience left a deep impression on John.
On the 1880 US Census for Oconto County, John is listed as a single man working in the railroad tie (cutting) factory in the city of Oconto and living in a boarding house. In the fall of that year he bought land in western Oconto County, Town of How, where he began to homestead a farm from the wilderness. Family homesteads were given names by their proud pioneers. In 1880 the John Holl homestead was named "Sunny Hill Farm, and still goes by that name, although no longer owned by the family.
The township of How had belonged to Shawano
County until 1879 when
it was made a part of Oconto County. The northern part of Oconto County
was also divided into three new counties at the same time due to
increases in permanent population. Oldest brother, John Holl, followed
brother Jacob Jr. to town of How in 1880. There he homesteaded a large
acreage, developed a fine log home, good sized log barn, chicken coop,
several acres of cleared land, a team of oxen, field equipment, two
sheep and several head of dairy cows five years later. He was also
with delivering the tax money from town of How to Green Bay. This was a
dangerous mission, as highway bandits knew when the money was to travel
and positioned themselves along the few routes available. John had
several traveling methods from local Indian friends and road his horse
along stream beds, walked through less wooded forested areas, and
near cedar swamps. John had been a woodsman before settling in town of
How. It was a much harder journey to make but he was always successful
On his 28th birthday, April 28, 1885, John Holl
Kurz at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Shawano. From that day on, John
and Veronica made every year's celebration a very special event
each year, for the next 50 years, by family, neighbors and friends.
(Veronica) and John worked hard on their homestead, continuing to clear
land of the tree stumps left from logging; cut trees and haul them to
sawmill for use in farm building and for lumber to sell;
and develop pasture land; grow garden food for their meals and for
prepare and store food for winter months; harvest and store grain, hay
and silage; feed and clean up for the livestock; milk cows and make
cheese; take produce to town; sew, wash and mend family clothing. A
Victorian house was built on the homestead in the early 1890's to
the sizable extended family that was beginning to join the couple.
Fronnie and John became parents for the first
time just before their
first wedding anniversary when daughter Margaret was born March 14,
Margaret Holl, sister of John Holl, was her godmother. Baby Margaret
named in honor of her paternal grandmother, Margaret Dollar Holl.
Two years later in 1888 another daughter, Catherine, joined the family and another of John's sisters, Catherine Holl, was her godmother. She was named in honor of her maternal grandmother Catherine Bibelhausen Kurz. Their first son joined the family in June 1890. This was cause for great pride and celebration as the family name was now sure to be carried on. The boy was named after John's brother Joseph Charles Holl, who lived nearby and also farmed a homestead. In 1994 third daughter Anna Alice was born, bringing the number of offspring to four. The township was quickly becoming filled with Holl families as brothers Joseph, Peter and Henry developed their own homesteads along with John and Jacob. By the mid 1890's, all 7 brothers with spouses and several small children of the oldest ones, two surviving sisters and their widowed mother lived in Oconto County. Family history tells us that they were a close knit group who worked and celebrated together often, helping each other start side businesses.
Life was not all work, and although simple, there were times of pleasure and excitement. Second daughter, Catherine Holl Philippi related her memories on winter travel and visits.
."We'll Be There With Bells On!".
once snow had a good covering on
the ground, people used horse drawn sleds and sleighs. The rural roads
plowed and the
runners of these vehicles left
ruts to be followed in the deep snow cover. Many folks walked to their
and used the ruts as
"the path of least resistance"
to follow. Since these pedestrians were bundled up from head to toe
cold, it was
impossible for them to hear a
sleigh coming until it was on top of them. The snow cushioned the hoof
bell was slightly different in shape
and size, it had it's own sound. Putting a set together meant that each
horse harness had
it's own distinctive sound
and rhythm with the horses movements. People would know long before
them, who was coming
down the lane. Inhabitants
living in roadside homes could tell who was passing and in what
they were going
without looking. They also
knew when there was a stranger in the vicinity or someone was using new
the sleigh was covered with blankets
or fur hides to keep warm. Sleighs were not often very roomy so it was
quarters, but added
to the warmth. Quarry
stones that were cut into squares or rectangles were set against the
hours in advance of a
planned trip. Once heated,
these were used as foot warmers on the trip, tucked in front of the
behind the part of
the sleigh that curled
up to block snow kicked off the horse's hooves. That is also where the
were nestled; sitting
up front, behind the
sleigh front, on the adult's feet which were on the warmer stones,
and hides. Sometimes
even under the seat itself.
Snug and warm, you could get a load of them in there, along with a few
gifts and some
"dishes" of food. Once at their
destination, the blankets were pulled off and out would tumble the
Older children were
to bring in the footstones
to place by the stove until it was time to go home. If they forgot,
During this time the couple was also helping to raise John's youngest brothers, Matthew and Edward Holl on the Sunny Hill homestead. They had been brought secretly by middle brother Henry, from Brown County at ages 11 and 13 in 1892, after their stepfather, Frank Hammes, removed them from school and had them working full time on his farms. John's mother, Margaret Dollar Holl Hammes, joined the family at "Sunny Hill" shortly afterward.
Also at the homestead were the parents of John's wife, Peter Joseph and Catherine Bibelhausen Kurz, who had moved there in the mid 1890's with their daughter Josephine and two youngest sons Vincent and Henry. John's brother, Matthew Holl, age 18, then ran the farm and later purchased it. Youngest brother Edward went to business school in Milwaukee. Anna Holl and Catherine Holl, John's younger sisters, also lived at the homestead in the 1890's. Catherine Holl was a school teacher in town of How and Brown County before her marriage.
John Holl bought a general store in 1896 from Hankwitz in the once prosperous town of How village of Hayes. The original store had been built by pioneer Suring as a fur trading post and later provided supplies for loggers. It was illegal at the time for Native Americans to enter and do business in building that sold liquor. From the beginning, John had decided to have his general store open to all customers, and did not sell distilled spirits. With a saloon, or two, just down the street, it was no inconvenience for his customers to fill those needs elsewhere while in town. In 1898 John built a much larger store to accommodate the growing needs of the developing farms and by the late 1890's he owned 9 properties and buildings in Hayes.
While John Holl was running the original general store in Hayes, and building the larger one, Peter Joseph Kurz ran the homestead until his sudden and unexpected death in 1898. Earlier that year John and Veronica had moved to a large apartment above the new store, until their own house was built next to the Hayes store the following year. The village of Hayes now boasted a large creamery for cheese making, two churches, a Lutheran school, two general stores, two saloons, a wagon making shop, full service blacksmith shop (important for making those "special needs "items that farmers designed, and to repair metal equipment), photography studio, shoemaker and repair, and several other small businesses as well as quite a few residences.
Hayes was at the center of this activity and the "day laborers" would meet there for lunch break in the large room that attached to the back of the Holl house. At one end of the room was an oversized wood burning stove and ovens used to prepare the meals that the lumber companies contracted for the woodsmen. Unlike the deep woods lumber resident camps, only lunch was a meal provided to the day laborers, who were home for breakfast and supper. These were cooked by the Holl family, and hired farm wives, and served on long board tables set up with wooden saw horses. Board and block benches were along either side od the tables for the diners. The food was set out in large bowls and platters at intervals along the tables to be shared by the group sitting nearest. Top quality offerings in abundance were expected by the men, who needed the nutrition to cope with the long hours of cold weather and hard labor. Cleanup and washing dishes followed for the Holl people.
It was the custom not to speak during the logging meals as the men were to finish fast and get back to the woods for several more hours of cutting until nightfall, when they walked home for dinner and sleep. The important income money provided by this winter work usually went into farming needs for the following growing season, and it often meant the difference between the farm's success and failure, especially during hard times.
The hall room was also used for other
gatherings. When the homes
of people were too small to accommodate the numbers of people, wedding
receptions, funeral wakes, and anniversaries were held there. The huge
old iron cook stove had many uses. Also, community and private dances
live music, township business meetings, court hearings for the Justice
of the Peace, social gathers, school graduations and entertainment took
place within the walls. Square dancing became a popular social event
the ladies in full skirts, petticoats and ruffled blouses danced and
to the spoken dance directions of the "caller" was. This was
a grown John Philippi, eventual husband of Catherine Holl. . The
were "called", not sung, which was a form of rhythmic talking to the
that included phrases such as "do se do that pretty little
"promenade your lady fair", "circle to the left", "bow to your
"change partners" and "swing your partner round and round". Often the
included some funny little local jokes and good natured teasing that
understood by the dancers. There were groups of four couples
square, and as many squares dancing as there were people for.
would happily watch from the "sidelines" and learn, occasionally
in for an empty place in a dance square. Since many folks played
at home, locals most often provided the music.
John and Veronica Kurz Holl's Children
After his children were grown, John had more time to enjoy those around him. He was easy to recognize as he traveled and visited. John always drove a team of matching dapple gray horses and visited family and friends with frequency up to his last few years. This included trips to visit his brother Henry and family on their Brown County farm, where they enjoyed evenings together over good food, card games and talk of old and new.
As age came upon him, John developed chronic back and leg problems that were shared by his father and many others in the Holl family. He eventually used two canes for walking, but refused to be halted. The hearts of his many grandchildren soared when they saw his team of "dapple grays" coming down the lane toward the house. He wore a vest and jacket, each having several pockets. The grandchildren each had to choose a pocket they thought had a piece of candy in it. If they guessed correctly, they were given the treasured piece of "store bought" candy. It was discovered years later that Grandpa John's kind heart could not bring disappointment to any of them, and he had carefully put candy in each and every pocket before his visits. He would use his cane to pull a little one over to him. Once up on his lap, he would playfully pull their little legs to "help his little tootsie wootsie grow". John sent Valentines and Christmas Cards often, sometimes using special glitter inks to sign them with his name. These loving treasures are found in the family heritage collections of his descendants.
40th Wedding Anniversary
Each July 4th there was a grand community picnic and dance help by the Holl couple in Hayes. The evenings most anticipated event was the fireworks display. John Holl looked foreword to the event as much as anyone. This was also the time of year that corn crops needed hoeing of weeds between the rows, and on more than one occasion, grandchildren were working hard right up to the day before, with the understanding that if they did not finish the hoeing, they did not go to the celebration. Grandpa John would turn his team down the farm lane to see how the weeding was coming along. He would then decide to speed things up with a little help. Taking a hoe in each hand, he would reach over two or three corn rows on each side at a time, vigorously and quickly whacking weeds. With the children, John would get the job done in time. Now this covered a lot of corn rows in a short time, and it also left quite a few weeds standing along the way. But the Papa could not "get after" the kids for missing those weeds left standing, because Grandpa John had done those and he had also declared the job done, so the next day everyone went to the picnic.
Each family brought homemade "dishes" to "pass". The grills, corn on the cob, sausages and meats were supplied by the Holl Store and blankets were spread in the mowed field behind the store. The "menfolks" set up the long board serving tables and tended the grills while the ladies set out the dishes to share, sliced fresh breads, set out the butter, condiments, pickled produce, deserts and got the meat platters ready. There was smoke, wonderful smells, cold lemonade and laughter all afternoon. Children played games. Adults "discussed" weather, politics, news and such.
Then the local volunteer fire departments challenged each other to tug of war, greased pole climbs and other tests of skill. The most impressive one involved a large wooden barrel suspended from metal ring on a long taught rope between two buildings. The barrel was filled with sand for sufficient weight. at each end of the rope stood the opposing fire teams holding the heavy canvas and brass hoses connected to the push pumps. Water was drawn from Hayes Creek that ran through the village. At the sound of the pistol, the men on either side of the pumps would work furiously up and down to fill the hoses with water and pressure. Each team holding the end of the hoses would try to use their water pressure to move the heavy barrel all the way down the rope to the other side and be the winners. The crowd cheered and chanted wildly as the barrel went first one way, and then the other. The men working the pumps began to shout cadence moving up and down faster and faster. Keeping the water gushing became a supreme test of stamina until finally one side was able to out do the other and push the barrel all the way to one end of the rope. Firemen and cheering crowd fell quiet and were almost completely exhausted, when just then the dinner bell was rung. Suddenly all were in motion moving toward the serving tables and vigor was restored. The few folks from each farm who had taken a quick trip home to do necessary chores during the firemen's games were now back for the evening.
Just after sunset, the fireworks were begun. Certain local men had been handling this much appreciated job for years, many having considerable experience with "blasting" stumps in fields and fully understood the dangers inherent to setting off the display. Long metal tubes had been set up in groups at the far end of the mowed field. The "shells" were placed two or three at a time, sliding into the pipes with the fuses extending from them. The fuses were of slightly different lengths and lit at the same time so that they would fire off one after another in groups. As the shells were fired from one group of tubes, the men ran to the next group to set them up for firing. It was fascinating to watch the dark shadows amongst the red sparking fuses; scampering from one place to another with speed and efficiency, so as not to disappoint the crowd with long waits between displays. There was usually one man "calling the shots" that kept things organized and moving along safely. The sight, smell and voices were exciting and unforgettable. The crowd was literally right beneath the soaring fireworks.
The evening was finished with music and dance under the stars until the wee hours, and sleepy children were carried home. John Holl "close up" and tucked another good memory away.
50th Wedding Anniversary
78th Birthday Celebration for John
The railroad station being built at Suring, 1898, instead of the original plans at Hayes, where produce and grain could be shipped from, was the eventual downfall of Hayes. The railroad owned a right of way right past Hayes as early as the 1870's, but construction of rail line waited until the population and farming production reached profitable levels for the company. John Suring changed the projected plans for the railroad line by quietly donating land for a station at the east end of village of Suring. The rail line was built there instead.
Still, life went on for the Holl General Store,
which was the mainstay
of local farm families and their needs; operated by John for more than
40 years. The special effort to have or order all the items they asked
for and sell them at reasonable prices competed well with both the
in Suring and the catalogs mailed to farming families. John was Justice
of the Peace, Notary Public, Tax Assessor, Town Treasurer, Highway
and Postmaster and served on the township school board during his long
life. The family was always active in, and members of first Sacred
Catholic Church in Shawano; then the original St. Michael Church in
St. Joseph of the Lake, Little Oconto (now South Branch) and were
members of St. Michael Church in Suring in 1907. For many years, the
sponsored the annual Independence Day festival and picnic with
in the evening, and had Santa visit for several days each November to
with the children of both white settlers and Native American families.
These events, and the surprise pieces of candy that were found among
household purchases during unpacking at home, are remembered fondly by
generations of Oconto County residents.
One obituary for John described him as someone people turned to for good advice. This was the hallmark of his life. He used his well founded common sense to help the many who came to him in thinking through their problems. He was no stranger to hardship and never one to turn his back on someone in real need. His gentle humor, endearing nature and kind smile embraced many a worried mind and struggling heart. Whether it was making sure a family had the medicine it needed during hard times, or that a troubled father would buy his family food and supplies first, before spending the evening and much of his crop money at the local saloons, John was there. He knew well how to keep a confidence.
John and Veronica raised 9 of their own
children and enjoyed having
grandchildren as part of their later life. The store was purchased by
daughter Anna Alice Holl, who continued to serve the families of the
Anna enlarged and modernized the store in the 1950's and continued to
It remained open as a general store until the 1970's and was sold upon
Anna's death, becoming a wood furniture manufacturing shop. It was
by fire in the following decade. The main part of the family home is
only building left as of 2004. The gingerbread front porch and large
dining and gathering hall, are no longer. John passed away February 28,
1936, only months after their celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary
and John's 78th birthday. He had been in poor health for three years.
lived on to January 03, 1947. John and Veronica rest at St. Michael
Cemetery in town of How, surrounded by generations of their families,
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