Chamber of Commerce Building at 300 E. Main St.
This corner was part of the original 1842 survey with the earliest lineage at the Racine County Register of Deeds showing Samuel E. Chapman as first owner. He sold this parcel to his brother-in-law, Sam Russ, who subsequently had the land surveyed into a village of streets, blocks and lots.
Russ sold a large parcel of the village’s east side to Andrew B. Jones, when upon his – untimely death at age 36, it was passed on to his wife, Lodema. She re-married a number of years later, at which time, Mr. Jones had stipulated in his will that the land would have to be divided with his two sisters’ children, Polly Bemis and Loranda Whitney.1 Lot 5 on Block 2 was owned by Bemis and Lot 4 was owned by Whitney.
In 1863, John Hofer, a German emigrant, purchased lots 4 and 5 in block 2, for a total of $480 to develop his wagon-making and harness business2. Hofer was trained in Germany as a journeyman wagon maker – bringing a much-needed skill to the area. An early picture shows that the Hofer business was located on Second Street behind the present (Main Street Boutique – to be confirmed) building on the corner of Main and north Second streets.
John Halbach, a German immigrant, married Gertrud Grueter, a widow with two children, in 1853. They would have seven children of their own. The Halbach’s moved from Milwaukee to Waterford in 1873.
In August, Halbach purchased the vacant corner northeast corner of Second and Main streets from Hofer to build a small hotel which he called the Wisconsin House5. It served as short term housing for new settlers for about two years.
A small 12 by 12 foot corner room of the hotel was dedicated to the sale of millinery and notions. This profitable merchandising opportunity lead to the closing of the hotel and blossomed into G. Halbach & Sons store, where the proprietors bought and sold many of the items that farmers and others in the community needed. Later, the family also made trips to the city to sell farmer’s products (butter, poultry etc.) and buy stock for the store. Son, Herman, eventually took over the business from John5.. Click HERE to see the complete story of the Halbach Store as published in the 1923 edition of the Waterford Post’s Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life.6
In 1888, an addition was put on the west side of the building. It is assumed from the picture below that the addition was the Halbach family residence. It was severely damaged by the Great Fire of 1898, but, apparently, the stone store structure survived despite the damage. Just a year earlier, in February, 1897, John sold the property to his sons, Herman and Henry, with a complicated life lease which included other family members. That was how he generated his retirement income.
Pictures courtesy of the digital collection of Wisconsin Historical Society.
The Waterford Post’s July 9th, 1898 account of the fire states that there was damage to the store but does not detail the losses. But, the newspaper does state that the dwelling was an $800 loss without insurance. It further stated that in late 1899, in the spirit of redevelopment and opportunity, the Halbach’s rebuilt the building, to today’s appearance, with additional remodeling done through the years. It was re-opened as a general store offering groceries, dry goods, shoes, crockery, and hardware. As inventory grew, so did overall business. Ultimately, this successful merchandising operation led to its incorporation in 1901 with shareholders wife – Gertrude Halbach, sons – Herman W. and Henry B., daughter – Wilhelmina B., and A.G. Scheele. John died in 1901, shortly after the incorporation. In 1912, the capital stock was increased from $15,000 to $25,000 which represented a substantial amount of inventory.
Poultry was part of the success of store sales. Herman had a boyhood interest in becoming a chicken farmer and wanted to develop a strain of chicken that would be world class. As a youngster, he pursued his interest with passion and saved every penny he earned to get good quality chickens to work with. About 1898, he had perfected a new strain of White Rocks which ended up being world famous in show quality. Click HERE for the 1923 story of the world-famous chicken farmer from Waterford.
Herman Halbach died of pneumonia Jan. 23, 1920 contracted while attending the National Chicken Show in Chicago. In 1921, the Halbach’s wanted to focus on their growing, internationally-known poultry business, and sold the hardware line and building to partner A.G. Scheele, who, again remodeled the interior and operated the hardware store for many years.
For 46 years, the store’s motto was “THE STORE THAT TRIES TO PLEASE”.
Over the years, many businesses have occupied this building, while still keeping its original exterior character. Some of the businesses have included: Gambles hardware store in the 1930’s and ’40’s, Auterman’s Groceries and Dry Goods, Elmer Krakofasky’s Barbershop, movie rentals, a martial arts training studio, a re-sale clothing shop, a music studio, among others.
Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
- Register of Deeds, Vol. 43 p187, Exhibit A, p 190 dated June 19, 1862
- Register of Deeds, Vol. 43 p337 and Vol. 44 p459
- 3. Waterford Post, Wedded Fifty Years, 8/15/1907 (link to a page w/article)
- Register of Deeds, Vol. 63 p102
- Waterford Post, Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, 1923
- (Fire pix1)
- (Fire Pix2)