Category Archives: Mader Family Stories

People’s Ice and Fuel Company, Grosch and Mader

People’s Ice and Fuel Company, Grosch and Mader

Grosch and Mader were partners in People’s Ice and Fuel Co.. All winter long, they harvested ice on the river and stored it in warehouses, packed in sawdust, where it stayed frozen until it was needed during the summer. The delivery of ice was primarily a summer business. The iceman would deliver blocks of ice to home iceboxes several times a week. In winter, they delivered fuel.

At first, the ice and fuel were delivered by horse and wagon. In 1914, Grosch and Mader bought one of the first trucks in La Crosse at a cost of $4,000.00. This would be about $85,000.00 today. The truck had an H.E. Wilcox motor, an all wood steering wheel, and wooden wheels with hard rubber tires. It was white with “Grosch and Mader” painted in bold lettering on the sides. (This truck still runs and is owned by Frank Mader.)

Later it became more practical to make ice artificially. This plant was located near the West Channel Bridge between La Crosse and La Crescent. The coming of electric refrigeration put an end to the ice block business.

The Schnell Brick Yard

The Schnell Brick Yard

The brick yard owned and operated by the Schnell brothers was opened ca. 1890 and had three sheds. They first learned the brick business by working in Weimer’s and later Dominick’s brick yard, located only a half a mile away. Eventually the Schnell yard was taken over by John Schnell, Julia’s husband, and his brother Charles. (It was located at the present sit of the trailer park on Highway 33, on the right side going East.)

As a boy, John Mader can remember kids in the neighborhood working at the brick yard for 17 cents a day which was the going rate at that time. John didn’t know then that the Mader family had been in the brick business.

Andy North recalled working for John, Charlie, and old Schnell. He stayed up nights firing the kilns to keep the brick at a certain temperature. “Those old timers were sharp!” Andy said, “If you missed a firing, John knew it in the morning by the feel of the brick. They really knew their business. Boy, you kept up with the machinery or you got so far behind!”

Helen remembered:

“Dad and Grandfather worked till they were real old because they were the only ones who knew the mixture of the clay – no one else could do it. The consistency of the mud had to be just firm enough and the firing of the kilns at just the right temperature or the brick would crack.”

The brothers John and Charlie stopped making brick during World War II. There was no building going on and all the young men were off to war so they could not get help.

Mader Clothing

Mader Clothing

The Mader Clothing Co. was first established in 1893 by the clothing merchants Volz and Reuter at 125-127 South Fourth St.. They operated the store eleven years before Frank Jr. bought Volz’s share and the firm became Reuter and Mader.

“…It is the busy store of the town. All that is new and substantial in the line of clothing is kept in full stock, nothing is carried over from old seasons. Their goods sells on merit and their success is due to sound business principles and fair dealing. They are experienced and efficient salesmen and good judge of the goods at hand. A choice line of shoes from the standard factories are carried and a substantial patronage is theirs. They are also agents for the New Home Sewing Machine. Their store is an attraction in all its departments and clerks pleasant and quick. They are rated high in business circles.” (1)

Reuter and Frank Mader Jr. were partners for 10 years when Reuter was bought out by Frank Mader Sr. “to set his sons up” and the store became the Mader Clothing Co., Frank Jr. having 1/2 interest and Joseph and Henry 1/4 interests each.

Frank Jr., the principal owner and manager, was in charge of clothes, Joseph was in charge of the shoe department, and Henry was bookkeeper.

At one time the clothing store was a thriving and prosperous store. During World War I, it was going quite well. The store was primarily a men’s store. At first, they carried only men’s shoes and when they expanded into ladies’ shoes, the style changed and they were stuck with a whole bunch of women’s shoes.

The venture that started so promising led to disagreements between the brothers. Although they were in business together, their families didn’t socialize on holidays.

Frank Jr. purchased Joseph’s share upon his death and in 1940, also bought the building. The two brothers remained in business until 1951 when The Mader Clothing Co. was sold to Frank Wanner. It then became known as Mader’s Store for Men.

Wanner eventually sold the men’s store to Herchan who still called the store Mader’s. Because of bad management and other reasons, Herchan went bankrupt and sold to Dad and Lads, a men’s store chain. The building still remained in the Mader family and was sold in 1977 by Frank Jr’s. daughter Florence to Dad and Lads.

Joseph Mader Jr. had been an employee of the store for 50 years until Dad and Lads closed its doors forever. (2)

Growing Up at 1402 South 13th Street

Growing Up at 1402 South 13th Street

Being first cousins and the same age, Florence and Ben played together and were good friends. Too young to say Bernard, Florence called him Bama, a nickname some people call him to this day. When they were about 5 years old they like to go over to the fire station and watch the horses. Their parents bawled them out for this because they were afraid they might get hurt. Ben’s mother Angeline would bring them bread with butter and white sugar on it which Ben liked. The children played on the beautiful open stairway.

Living so close to church, the Mader boys would get a kick out of crawling underneath the wagon hearse and teasing the horses.

During World War I, there was a lot of hatred towards the Germans. Posters against the Kaiser were all over town. Their mother’s maiden name was Kaiser and the children couldn’t understand it. John felt he didn’t do anything! Everybody’s activities were for the war. The children played war and the Mader kids always had to be the bad side and the neighbor kids who weren’t German were the good side.

Angie and Edith, Dominick Mader Jr.’s wife were very close friends and they visited back and forth. Their son Bill remembers when they would play ball on the double lot on 13th St. with Father Plecity. One time the kids broke a window and Father Plecity took the blame for it.

Oak Springs Farm


Oak Springs farm, owned by Dominick Mader, got its name from the water which was piped from springs in the hills. On Oak Springs was a big two-story farm house with an open front porch on three sides. A wood canopy extended from the side of the house so one could drive a horse and buggy up to the house without getting wet. The road came to the farm from the east. In winter, the Mader family drove by the County Home because the farm road was too hard to plow out.

Inside the house was a beautiful open oak stairway which led to the upper floor. The stairway had a closet beneath it. Off the kitchen was a second back stairway which was used by Arthur, being the oldest, while the other children used the front stairs. A third stairway went to a full attic. There were four bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs with a fireplace in each one. Later, a furnace was installed in the basement and enclosed in brick so the heat wouldn’t escape. The house was cold in winter. (The farm house stood north of Hass Park where 3012 Willow St. is today.)

The Mader family lived in the house from 1909 to 1919 when Dominick sold the farm on a land contract to partners Hyde and Funk. They bought the farm with the idea of making money and tried several unsuccessful ventures.

On land below the house and also extending into Hass’s land, they built a one-mile harness racing track with a grandstand. The city extended the street car line to go out to the track. In this area there was a little lake where Doerflingers had a cottage. Due to a lot of wet weather the track because too muddy and they could not make a success of it.

They invested in cattle but the bull died and that didn’t work out. Then they went into tobacco and put up big tobacco sheds. When that failed they dissolved the partnership and the farm returned to Dominick. His sons, Dominick Jr. and Arthur, moved back to run the farm. They purchased the farm upon the death of their father in 1934.