By Kris Leonhardt
The neighborhood tavern is as immersed in Wisconsin history as the state’s rural cheese factories. Though socioeconomic change and changing laws have brought about the demise of many family-run bars, the communities they once served hold them in their memories.
The North Hewitt Tavern was built by John Hasenohrl in 1912. The building, a square, tin-sided, stately structure, sat at the corner of two horse and buggy trails that later became County Road Y and County Road T.
The building consisted of a first-level living quarters and bar with a 40-foot-by-40-foot dance hall on the second floor.
Hasenohrl ran the business for eight years before the advent of prohibition. The struggles created by the government restrictions proved too much for him, and he sold the business to his brother Charles.
Charles turned the facility into a “soft drink” saloon, which was a thin veil for serving home brew that Charles made from wort — malt that could be fermented to produce beer — from the Marshfield Brewing Company.
The establishment was raided by officials in one incident in which Charles received a $100 fine.
“I was only a little kid when Pa used to haul ice down there with the horses,” said Leon Schneider. “Then he unhooked the horses off the sleigh. A rope was on a pulley and pulled the block of ice into the ice house.
“Pa made ice on the pond. … They used the ice in the cooler, and then Charlie used to take that ice and wash it off and use it for mixed drinks.”
The tavern was the social center of the community where people gathered to play cards, do business, or just gossip. Funeral directors brought the deceased to the living quarters to host their wakes.
The dance hall was the site of weekly dances, fundraisers, and family celebrations.
“My mom and dad had their bridal shower up in what used to be the dance hall,” said Duane Bowman.
“My father-in-law played upstairs once for a wedding,” said Schneider.
In addition, the tavern supplied the community with gasoline, groceries, and other staples of the day.
“I grew up three quarters of a mile up the road, so my parents used to stop by Mrs. Hasenohrl on Sunday after church or sometimes in the evening,” said Mark Meyers. “She would sell eggs. A lot of people would get their eggs from her. I remember going in there as a kid.”
Meyers and his wife own several items of memorabilia from the longtime Hewitt landmark, including the back bar.
“Don Hasenohrl shared a story once when he came to visit,” said Meyers. “The center mirror on the back bar is gone, and he said that when he was just a kid, apparently two men got arguing in the bar. One left and came back with a pitchfork, and he threw it at the guy, and the guy ducked, and it hit the mirror on the back bar. It cracked it. It didn’t knock it out.
“He said it was like that for many, many years until one night there was a big thunderstorm and a big crack of thunder. They were all asleep in the middle of the night, and that mirror fell out of the bar and broke.”
Don, a former state assemblyman, was the youngest of nine children Charles and his wife, Theresa, raised while providing a social environment for the Hewitt community.
Reaching its end
After Charles’ death in 1972, Theresa continued to run the business until 1985, when many of the tavern’s contents were auctioned off.
The structure then became a residence until 2011, when it was gutted by fire.
“(The fire was) the first day of Farm Technology Days that Seehafers hosted,” said Meyers. “Because they had Highway 97 closed, County Road T was supposed to be the detour. Then they had to close it for the fire.”
The building sat damaged and abandoned until this winter. What remained of the structure that was once the site of many of the Hewitt community’s social events was recently torn down by the Wood County Highway Department.