History of the retaining wall
By Leona Mech
How many of you readers walked on this swinging bridge back around 1939 while the South Pearl Street bridge was being built?
The bridge ran from Borden’s to St. John Street, between the Pichelmeyer drug store and where the old Fay R. Smith building is located.
Note the water must have been high along the retaining wall.
Alice McFaul loaned me the photo. Her late husband, Myrl, worked for the city light and water department, under Ray Thomas from 1938 to 1951. One time he had to repair a water main under the Wolf River. He also worked at city garbage collection.
Myrl and George Humblet had an electrical business in New London during 1929-30. During the depression he also painted at the high school for .50 cents an hour, WPA wages then, says Alice.
Downtown retaining wall
In 1980, Leona Mech was asked by city council to do a story about the retaining wall along the Wolf River. The wall needed some repair and council members thought a historical story would be timely. The repairs were among the items covered in the TIF district project plan in 1980.
Leona passed the idea along to local historian Lester Lehman and he accepted the opportunity to share his research and information with the Press-Star.
The following information was provided by the late Lester Lehman.
History on known local retaining walls dates back at least to Feb. 16, 1915, when the city council accepted the bid of Leo Froehlich for the concrete work on the new public dock, where Taft Park is presently located.
The contact stated; “When the water is within two feet or less of the government gauge of water mark that conditions shall be considered favorable for the work. In case of freezing weather the contactor is to heat the gravel used.”
An article of the Aug. 5, 1925 issue stated that two ago, 1923, the city had driven piling for a retaining wall to extend eastward from Taft’s Park. Early as Jan. 29, 1924, the Milwaukee Office of the U.S. Engineers of the War Department suggested changes in the river line, indicating a plan of some kind may have been submitted.
On Jan. 1, 1924, a devastating fire ravaged much of the business district in the area between Taft’s Park and St. John’s Place, perhaps the worse since the one that destroyed about a dozen buildings in this area in 1880.
In August 1925 a group of citizens who owned property between St. Jon’s Place and Taft’s Park, appeared before the city council to urge completion of the proposed wall, for which the piling was driven about two years ago.
Property owners were Fred Krause, Chas Kische, Gus Sawall, and W.J. Sader. They were supported by the ladies of the Civic League, Mesdames Jost, Swift, Pfeifer and Daly, who were interested in aestheticism and sanitation.
The issue became dormant because the owners along the north river front were not unanimous, but it was revived in May 1926, when the local fire department barely saved the north side business district. The fire department was handicapped by having to reach the rear of the fire; they were faced to force the fire driven by terrific wind, causing serious burns to two of our firemen, and narrow escape from death to three more of them.
Two weeks later, in the May 26, 1926 issue, appeared a letter addressed to Hon. E.W. Wendlandt, Mayor, from J. E. Florin, Supt. Of Fire Prevention State Industrial Commission, in which he urged the completion of the wall and that he was condemning some of the shacks located in the rear, and further urging others to remove wooden buildings.
The following year, in August 1927, J. C. Hickey and G.A. Sawall, C.W. Hickey, and the Krause Bros. contracted Walter Schoenrock to build the section of the retaining wall abutting their lots. After having ordered the lumber, reinforcement irons and cement, they discovered the office of U.S. engineers had not approved the project. The first attempt was ultimately scrubbed.
Instead, Ironically, the plan proposed for the riverfront between St. John’s Place the Pearl Street Bridge was approved. The U.S. Engineers were still waiting for a reply to their letter requesting information about the cross-section of the proposed wall to be built between St. John’s Place and Taft’s Park.
A few days later, Thursday, Sept. 1, 1927 there was another fire, a rubbish fire on the north waterfront.
Plans for a retaining wall, nearly identical with the plan suggested by the U.S. Engineers on Jan. 1924 were finally approved on Tuesday evening, June 5, 1928 by the city council.
Plans finally approved
“River Wall Plans Are Approved by Engineeering Corps” appeared on the front page of the New London Press-Republican on June 22, 1928.
The state fire inspector spent a few days in New London at the time, and threatened drastic action unless corrective measures were applied. It was rumored that he would start condemnation proceedings if the property owners did not cooperate with the city.
At the Aug. 11, 1929, council meeting there was no opposition evident.
At the Aug. 20 meeting, the council accepted the bid of the Flour Brothers of Oshkosh to build the wall and the bid of Flour Brothers of Oshkosh to build the wall and the bid of the New London Construction Company for fill.
The city negotiated a satisfactory settlement with the property owners on Aug. 27 and 28.
The maximum cost of the construction charged the owners was $20 per lineal foot, anything over was absorbed by the city.
Project begins, cost disclosed
Construction began with the preparation of material, assembly of machinery, and construction of a cofferdam. Originally, the contractor had planned to work from barges moored next to the cofferdam, but the water level was too low, which caused a delay in landing machinery and some inconvenience.
Measurements of the wall were 10 feet – 6 inches high, 1 foot – 6 inches thick at the top, 5 feet thick at the base on piling.
Cost figures were disclosed at the council meeting of Dec. 3, 1929, when members were told that the wall between Taft’s Park and St. John’s Place had cost $11,513.47, of which $10,476.60 would be assessed against property owners who had been award all these years that the cost would be astronomical. That was a lot of money during the 1920s.
For many years the late Leona Mech was a local historian whose articles appeared in the New London Press Star.