Harborfront marker to provide a Port history lesson

Commission OKs plaque marking site of tannery destroyed by fire
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

In the late 1800s, what building stood at the current site of the Harborview Hotel in downtown Port Washington?

The Mueller Tannery — an answer that will be easy to discern in the near future. The city’s Plan Commission recently recommended a state historical marker commemorating the business be placed in Rotary Park overlooking the hotel.

The tannery stood on the site from 1872 until it was destroyed by fire in 1903.

Charles A. Mueller, who with his family emigrated from Germany in 1854, lived in Detroit for a year before moving to Wisconsin and settling in Two Rivers.

Mueller learned the tannery business there, but moved to Port in 1861 to work at a tannery here.

He continued that work “until a nor’easter blew the building into the lake,” said Mueller’s great-granddaughter Lou Helen Kirschling, who has been working with the Port Washington Historical Society on the marker project.

Mueller worked at a tannery in Sheboygan Falls before returning to Port and buying the Wolf Tannery in 1872.

A five-story brick building was built on the west slip in 1880 to house the tannery, which was serviced by the schooner John Mee. The business employed 10 to 20 men, tanned about 20,000 hides and did annual business worth $50,000 to $100,000, according to Kirschling.

“Tanning was a big business,” she said. “They would go around to the farmers in the area and get the cowhides. They would get the (tanning) bark from up north.”

According to the May 8, 1903, edition of the Plymouth Reporter, the fire had engulfed three stories of the building by the time firefighters arrived at the scene. The Wisconsin Chair Co. fire department was also called out.Several firefighters suffered severe burns, the newspaper reported.

The fire was believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion of materials used in the tannery, the newspaper said, adding “many persons in boats watched the fire from a distance.”

In 1906, the property was sold to the Milwaukee Northern Railway for a powerhouse that served the Interurban railway.

Mueller was more than just a businessman in the city, Kirschling said. He served as mayor from 1890-1892 and 1896 to 1906, she said, and was responsible for improvements that included electric lighting, waterworks, a library and sewers.

He also served as the harbormaster and sheriff during his lifetime, Kirschling said.

The $2,010 cost of the marker would be paid by Mueller’s six great-grandchildren — Kirschling, Harry and Paul E. Mueller, Judy Moeser Trump, Richard Plambeck and Jean Klopfer.

The marker placement has been approved by the Parks and Recreation Board.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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