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Peter Holl
 1861 - 1911

Peter Holl 
c: 1884 Tintype
Minnie Holl - Gene Heezen Collection

Peter Holl was born in Brown County, Wisconsin April 09, 1861. He was the third child and son of Jacob and Margaret Dollar Holl, giving the couple three children under 4 years of age..  Witnesses for the baptism were Peter Holl and Catharina Sleiss at St. Francis Xavior Cathedral in Green Bay.

It was also the year that the Civil War in the United States began. Peter would be past infancy and well  into childhood by war's end. The immigrant people who had come to this country in hopes of starting a new life away from their homeland's nearly continuous centuries of warfare; with the disease, starvation and economic depression war brings; were disappointed. They were just starting to gain the rewards of hard work which meant entering a time of modest prosperity, not known to most of the loved ones left behind.  These first years saw Peter's little family build a home and barn, cultivate their own soil for crops and begin stocking their farm, after settling among other immigrant families. He was among the first generation of American born citizens in that area. Immigrant parents had hoped for a peaceful place to raise their families.

It was three years after his birth that the first daughter, Gertrude, joined the family. Oldest daughters were much anticipated, especially in large young families. It was the tradition that the first daughter become the "second mother" to younger siblings, and take on much of the adult woman's responsibilities as early as possible. Mothers tended to have large numbers of children in a short span of years, and rural life was notoriously hard work for them. A substantial number died young, so any help they could get gave them a better chance of survival. Having many children was the goal for couples. Children were needed for the work they provided, since it often made the difference between success and failure in farming. Without a doubt, even with what family history tells us were loving and nurturing parents, Peter, too, had to take on the responsibilities of chores, caring for younger siblings, and attending the nearby lof school at an early age. Education was one of the chief concerns of Peter's parents. In the Europe they were born in, education was available only to a few males, and meant the difference between constant struggle for basic needs, and being able to prosper. Jacob and Margaret were determined that all their children, male and female, would learn. They worked with neighbors to help build the public rural log school.

Peter Holl 
c: 1890
Minnie Holl - Gene Heezen Collection

The family fled the flames of the Great Peshtigo Fire on the night of October 8, 1871, but survived to return and rebuild from the damage. Peter was 10 years old when he helped his father and older brothers repair and rebuild the home and barns while his mother and younger children filled a large sack Margaret had sewn from burned scraps of material, with leaves, partially burned sticks,  straw and grass; anything that could be used for food and bedding for the stock. It had been a year of terrible drought in the Upper Great Lakes region, with not one rain the entire summer growing season. The two previous years had been dry and lean as well. Peter and his family were on the very edge of the early firestorm to work it's way northeast up the Wisconsin "thumb".  Latest scientific research into the huge blaze, still remaining the worst natural disaster in the history of the U.S.  (in terms of the estimated  15,000 lives lost) indicates that a meteor shower that night combined with the tinder dry landscape to start the fires simulaniously in several areas of Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois (Chicago). This created a merging holocaust of epic proportions and danger. For Peter and family,  food, shelter, personal posessions and farm supples were damaged or destroyed, but they were all alive. They had not experience the worst of the conflageration, and were spared the unimaginable suffering losses of so many in the area. Margaret dug with her hands in the still smoldering earth for half baked carrots, turnips and other root vegetables that had been left in the soil for winter and spring use. And used the unburned portions of stored potatoes and vegetables to feed the family until help was available. Area people helped neighbors, friends and families with medical and emotional needs in whatever way they could.

In close succession, Henry. Margaret, Joseph and Catherine were added to the clan by 1872, an average of one birth every other year., and now totaling eight. Along with the other older children in the family, Peter experienced his first real loss with the death of his sister Gertrude in 1874. She was only days away from her 10th birthday. Anna then Matthew came along and by this time Peter was 16 years old. He was tall, well skilled in farming and was contributing the work of a man. His education was complete and in this he was also accomplished.

At the end of January 1880 one of the much valued ox team slipped into the farm pit water well.  It was certainly unable to get out of the deep hole on it's own, and apparently did not suffer a life threatening injury, so the only thing to do was draw it out manually. A teepee tripod of heavy timber tied together at the top was most likely used, in the same manner as the stump pulleys of the day. It would be set up over the well. Peter's father Jacob, who had experienced chronic and increasingly debilitating back problems for several years, was lowered down into the well with block, tackle and ropes. He was able to secure a sling around an beneath the undoubtedly frightened ox, so that it was successfully drawn up to safety by Peter and others. The animal survived. However, Jacob soon took ill with pneumonia and 12 days later, on February 12, 1880, he died. Losing the head of the household is a hard thing on a family, especially so when the person was kind, nurturing and much loved. Jacob was laid to rest near his daughter Gertrude,  in the Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Church Cemetery that the family had been founders of. In

Opportunities were opening up for the oldest children of immigrant families by this time. Peter's brother Jake had claimed a homestead in neighboring Oconto County wilderness in 1879, soon followed by brother John in 1880. It was Peter who made his land claim in 1881, at age 20. At the time, they were all in town of How. In coming years that township was subdivided and Peter's homestead was to be in town of Underhill. Many homesteaders took great pride in naming their land, often using special features of the place as inspiration. John had named his "Sunny Hill Farm". Peter had chosen "Forest Home Farm", after the great woods it contained. To be awarded ownership of the property by the Federal Government, certain improvements were required within a specific length of time, usually 5 years. These improvements usually included the building of a house of minimum specification in measurement and accommodation; potable water well; barn of certain specifications; acreage cleared and planted sufficient to financially support residency and various other needs. This was a serious commitment for a young "would be" homesteader, but well worth the effort for the opportunity to own the farmland that was literally carved out of the wilderness.

Peter and Elizabeth Prinz Holl 
with sons
Peter and Joseph
c: 1893
Jim Holl Collection

Peter met the sister of his older brother Jacob's wife Clara. Her name was Elizabeth Prinz and her father was a Civil War veteran, successful local land owner, farmer and sawmill owner, Adam Prinz, who had also immigrated from what is now Germany before the war. Jacob had married Clara, and Peter married Elizabeth on April 1, 1885 at St. Michael's Church in Keshena, where both families were members. The following year they gave birth and lost their first born child. Peter's sister Maggie passed away in April 1887 from Typhoid Fever while in Marinette. She had just been home to plan her Spring wedding to Nick Ehlinger of How and had returned to Marinette for her belongings and new wedding gown when she became ill and died. She was brought home and rests with her father and sister in Holy Martyrs Cemetery.

In 1888 son Joseph was born, followed 17 months later, in 1889, by a second son, Peter Jr. Father Peter's work paid off over the years and he not only had a successful farm, but had started a dray service to deliver goods from the train station and stores to local farmers and village homes.

That same year, in 1889, Peter's widowed mother Margaret, remaried Frank Hammes. He was 15 years older and the widowed owner of large farmlands and at one time a hotel in eastern Brown County. His children were raised and Margaret was still raising her four youngest at the time. Frank's brother Joseph Hammes and family had been close friends and neighbors of the Holls for years.

Unfortunately the new union between Frank and Margaret was not a happy one. They differed on many personal beliefs. Frank was of the old school that believed the woman and children were the property of the husband, and all they owned also belonged to the husband. He immediately attempted to sell the Holl farm for his own gain. This was not the law of the times and Frank did not take well to being told it was not his to sell. Margaret had agreed with her late husband to keep the land for raising the children, and she absolutely refused to sell it.  The adult Holl family children, including Peter, petitioned the Probate Court for settlement of the late Jacob Holl's estate. The court awarded sole ownership of the estate to Margaret, and in the event of her death, it was to be divided among the children. Frank continued to insist that Margaret sign papers to sell the land, and she continued to refuse. In reparation for what he perceived as a personal loss of profit, Frank took the youngest two sons, Matthew age 11 and Edward age 9, who were still living with their mother, out of school. They were kept working full time on the Hammes farm; no wages were paid to them. Margaret and the boys could not leave or receive guests. They were isolated. Margaret continued to refuse Frank selling the Holl land.

One night in 1892, Matthew and Edward ran away to where their brother Henry was living and working in Brown County. They related seeing Frank Hammes come into the kitchen with an ax and threaten mother Margaret's life. They asked Henry to take them "up north" to live with older brothers in town of How. Henry did secret the boys away to John Holl's farm and they finished growing up in the area. Margaret, with the help of the Brown County Sheriff, was then removed from the home of Frank Hammes, who stood at the doorway and had threatened to shoot anyone coming for his wife and property. Margaret left with only the clothing she had on and a few items that she could carry. She also joined her youngest sons at John Holl's Sunny Hill Farm, remaining there with son Matthew and his family when he took over the farm. The entire remaining family, including new homesteading brother Henry Holl and sister Catherine Holl, who was a town of How teacher, were near to each other again.

Peter Jr. and Joseph Holl
Jim Holl Collection

Peter, as part of this first generation of Americans, made good use of the education he had received. A family farm had become a business that took skill in mathematics and a good understanding of written material to build and prosper. And as his parents before him, Peter was instrumental in the organization and building of the local public school.  Just north of his farm was the farm of his brother Jake who had donated land for the building of a fine brick one room schoolhouse. Peter and neighbors joined in the building and Peter served as school district clerk, keeping the books for many years. His children as well as some of his grandchildren attended that school over the following decades before the consolidation in the 1960's. All the while, Peter was enlarging his farm, building a new frame home to replace the original cabin, a fine new corn crib and barn. He and Lizzie were seeing their sons grow up when a family picture was taken in about 1893.

In 1897 Elizabeth began to weaken and have breathing difficulties. She was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. The contagious disease was entering the epidemic stages in the area and more often than not, in this time before antibiotics treatment, the Tuberculosis bascillus was fatal. Peter stood by helplessly as his beloved Lizzie continued to fail. She died on July 12, 1898, leaving  the Holl and Prinz families among the hundreds of grief stricken  community members from that disease.

Family history tells us that the loss was too great for Peter to handle and he went away for treatment. Some family descendants were told that Peter had gone away for Tuberculosis treatment in an attempt at survival. It was necessary for him to leave before his sons became infected as well. It was an attempt to be cured in order to raise their sons. Other were told he left for treatment because of the stress, depression and exhaustion he endured during Lizzie's illness and death.

Whatever the reasons for his absence, Minnie Guelker, the first cousin of his late wife came to care for the children and household while Peter's youngest brother, Edward, age 20 assumed responsibilities for running the farm and dray service in his absense. Upon Peter's return, Minnie stayed to continue helping. She was the daughter of another Civil War veteran, stage driver and farmer living in the area, Frederick Guelker. Lizzie's mother and Minnie's mother were sisters in the Simon family.

Peter Holl and Minnie Guelker
Catherine  Holl Philippi  Collection

On October 03, 1899 Peter and Minnie were married at St. Michael Church in Keshena, Wisconsin. From the collection of tenderly written post cards and Valentines saved from that time, this also grew into a loving relationship for both. Peter was described by those who knew him as a gentle and soft-spoken man who worked hard, enjoyed his family and the company of others. He was always ready to help out another. Peter was likened the most to his father Jacob in personality.

In 1900 the wife of his brother Jake, Clara Prinz, took ill and died of Tuberculosis. She had been his first wife Lizzie's sister and was first cousin to Minnie, so the loss was felt deeply by the couple. They grieved along with members of both large families as she was laid to rest, leaving 7 young children motherless. In 1901 Peter's brother Joseph, who owned a nearby farm, stage service and general storenear Mosling, died and was buried in Gillett Catholic Cemetery. In 1908 Peter's mother Margaret Dollar Holl Hammes died at the Sunny Hill Fram home of her son Matthew and his wife Ann Kopitsch.

More children joined Peter and Minnie in short order over the next decade.  Clara, Francis, Margaret , Julius, Frederick,  Mabel and Matthew had arrived by April 1911. Peter had been feeling poorly, weakening steadily for quite a while, and on July 24, 1911 he succumbed to Tuberculosis quietly while taking and after dinner nap at his Forest Home Farm. His widow Minnie continued to raise all 9 children on the farm, and welcomed orphaned grandchildren in later years. She lived with youngest son Matthew and his wife Ella Heiden on the farm until her retirement, when she moved to the home of her daughter Mable and husband Lambert Heezen in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she had been born and spent her early childhood. Minnie passed away at age 84 and is buried beside her husband Peter at St. Michael Cemetery in town of How.

Forest Home Farm
c: 1945
Jim Holl Collection

July 11, 1911


Peter Holl, for thirty years a resident of Oconto county, died at his home in Underhill at two o'clock Monday afternoon, death resulting from tuberculosis. Shortly after his dinner on Monday Mr. Holl took a nap and in about 10 minutes he was found dead on his bed. He was a life-long Democrat and served on the town board as assessor, and as clerk of the school district for many years.

Deseased was born in Brown countey, Wis, April 10, 1861, and came to this county in 1881, settling in town of How. The property on which he resided later became a part of the town of Underhill. He never moved from the property on which he settled and by good management and hard work kept adding to it. He was a thrifty man and one of the substantial, prosperous farmers who have done so much toward the upbuilding of Oconto county.

In the Spring of 1886 he was married to Miss Lizzie Prinz who died on the 12th of July, 1898. The two sons born to then, Joseph and Peter, still reside at home. In the fall of 1899 Mr. Holl was married to Miss Minnie Guelker, who with five children survive him. The children are: Fred, Frances, Julius, Mabel and Matthew. Five brothers and two sisters are left to mourn his death. John, Jacob, Matthew and Ed, all reside in Oconto County and Henry in Brown county, one of his sisters, Mrs. (Catherine) G. Edward Kaye lives in Green Bay, and the other, Mrs (Anna) Frank Witters, in Marshfield.

Rev.  Fr. Schmidt sung a solemn requiem high mass in St. Michael's church at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, and interment was had in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery.

Peter Holl was a devout Catholic, a kind and loving husband and father, an honest, upright and highly respected citizen in whose death not only his family suffers a great loss but the community as well.

Peter Holl farm buildings remaining in 2004
The frame house, granary building to the left, and barn roof is rear.

The chinking is not there and it is swayback, but for an 1882 building that as been moved at least once, it is still real impressive! It was built with hand saw, broad ax and wooden pegs by Peter and his brothers John and Jake, who already had their own homestead log building. They all helped each other as the younger brothers grew up and came to Oconto County. Old doors and some equipment are hanging on one side. Notches along the middle log of the long wall once held cross logs to support the second floor hay loft. The logs were cut from the forested homestead land with a two-man saw, peeled and squared with broad axes and moved into place by teams. This building was moved from Peter Holl's Forest Home Farm more than half a century ago and now stands on a farm to the west.

Photos from the Rita Neustifter Collection

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