Rock & Roll came early to county

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • for The Review

Every city experiences calamities and Sheboygan, over the years, has had its share. One of the most unusual occurred on January 2, 1912 and even though there was no great property loss or loss of life it most likely led to a situation that could have been very serious. On this bitter cold January day Sheboygan residents and, in fact, much of the mid-west were startled when they suddenly heard a low rumbling sound as the ground began to shake.

Here in Sheboygan plaster and windows cracked and dishes fell from cupboards as Sheboygan experienced an earthquake. Even though, by California standards, this quake would have been considered very mild, Sheboygan residents were deeply shaken.

The winter of 1911 and 1912 had been a particularly bitter one. Week after week snowstorms swept across Sheboygan County only to be followed by bitter cold sub zero temperatures when the weather cleared.

The bitter cold and heavy snow made it almost impossible for rural mail carriers to deliver the mail. In Sheboygan fire fighters were plagued with a series of chimney fires all related to overheated furnaces and stoves as people tried to keep warm.

On January 9 of 1912 the old Volrath homestead, known by many as “Schuetzen Park” was totally destroyed in a raging blaze. For hours on end firefighters, with their clothes covered with ice due to the sub zero cold, fought the blaze.

The firefighters were unable to save the home or its contents due to the bitter cold and the high wind blowing at the time. The city’s water tower, which was located near the inferno, soon became encased in a thick sheet of ice due to the large amount of water being pumped from the tower.

These two seemly unrelated incidents were to have a profound impact on the city of Sheboygan’s water supply for months.

On the evening of January 16, 1912 residents of Sheboygan’s north east side, near today’s Volrath Bowl, at approximately 6:05 PM again were shaken by a huge tremor.

Once again, as during the recent earthquake, windows cracked and dishes fell from cupboards but this time area residents said the tremors were preceded by what many describe as a huge explosion.

Residents fearing that another earthquake was taking place rushed from their homes to assess the damage to their property. The amazed homeowners found no damage to their homes but were confronted by what looked like a lake rising around their residences. Water was rushing down the streets in torrents and began pouring into basements through broken windows. Small buildings, such as chicken coops, were badly damaged and swept off their foundations.

It did not take long for area residents to discover that the source of what sounded like a explosion and the tremors they thought was caused by an earthquake were actually caused by the collapse of the city’s huge water tower.

The water tower, or as it was better known, the stand pipe, which stood at a location today occupied by a round brick building just south of the water filtration plant, was a total wreck.

It took over an hour for the tremendous amount of water to drain away and permit water department personal to survey the damage. Once engineers could examine the wreckage of the tank they declared nothing could be salvaged. It took water department workers several hours to re-route water into water mains so that the city had a functioning water supply. Final repairs to the system took several months and cost the city thousands of dollars.

The huge pipe had been built in 1888 and was made of heavy steel plates and stood 140 feet high and was 20 feet in diameter. When filled, which it was at the time of its collapse, the pipe could hold 240 thousand gallons of water. Engineers had inspected the tank in November of 1911 and declared it to be in good condition.

After a thorough investigation was held, engineers determined that the tank, which was still encased in a heavy sheet of ice from the night of the Volrath fire, had collapsed due to the tremendous strain on the tank caused by the thousands of pounds of ice clinging to the tank.

Engineers also theorized that the recent earth tremors had weakened the foundation which contributed to the collapse of the water tower.

On August 2, 1928 in the 1200 block of N. 8th Street, a new building was under construction. The old building that had occupied this lot had been torn down to make way for the new structure. Directly next door to the construction site at 1219 N. 8th Street the Eggert Auto Supply Company was doing business as usual.

But this day for the Eggert Company would prove to be anything but usual. As was the case in many areas on 8th Street the building that was torn down and the Eggert Auto Supply had been constructed with zero space between them.

The auto supply buildings second floor was occupied by Mr. Eggert and his family. At about 9:40 AM Mr. Eggert was away from home on business.

On the first floor the store manager was suddenly startled when the store’s large display window cracked and then blew out onto the sidewalk. Then the building gave a violent shake. The frightened employee turned and ran out the back door as the building started to collapse around him.

On the second floor Mrs. Eggert feeling the violent shaking of the building grabbed her children and rushed frantically down the steps and out of the collapsing structure.

Next door at the construction site workmen were laying the foundation for the new building in an excavation that measured some 60 feet long and about 20 feet wide.

The workmen suddenly heard a low rumbling and then the breaking of timbers and glass. Looking up they saw an unbelievable sight. The auto parts building was sharply leaning towards them and beginning to break up. The astonished workmen dropped their tools and ran for their lives.

They watched in utter amazement as with a tremendous roar the Eggert building collapsed in a shower of debris and dust into the very excavation where just a few seconds before they had been working.

The building was a total loss. The loss to the stock of the auto parts store was estimated at $75,000, a huge sum in 1928.

It was discovered that the building next to the Eggert building had been acting as a support and when the support was removed the Eggert building could not stand on its own.

Also the heavy machinery used in the construction of the new building generated vibrations that helped to weaken the Eggert building.

It’s a near miracle that Eggert’s family, his store manager and the construction crew was not injured in the catastrophic collapse.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for a future column please feel free to contact me at 920-458-2974 or email

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