Revamped Puddler's tavern to reflect workers' spirit
When Tim Capper first walked through the doors of one of Bay View's oldest buildings he felt a presence.
Admittedly, Capper, owner of Wauwatosa's Colonel Hart's Pub, is not an historian. But he has come to appreciate the significance of the building at 2463 S. St. Clair St., he eventually would purchase and is now refurbishing.
"I saw the place and I recognized its meaning to this community," Capper says of the structure on the corner of St. Clair and Potter Avenue, once a union hall for the immigrant iron workers, known as "puddlers," who toiled at the nearby Rolling Mills.
"This has been a number of businesses over the years (including Barbiere's, a long-time Bay View landmark. -ed.). The building served as restaurants and taverns. It was first built in 1873 by a fraternal society of laborers. We're going to open it up again as a bar that will serve burgers and sandwiches."
Capper is reviving the name Puddler's Hall.
"We literally gutted the place," Capper says. "We replaced the floors and painted the walls. We are working on the ceiling. Now we're refurbishing the bar and we'll redo the kitchen area."
Capper truly believes that restoring this once proud union hall and tavern - which most recently was called Marty's Party and before that, Sue's Bay View Bandwagon -- will pay homage to those who labored in the iron mill along the shores of Lake Michigan just blocks from the establishment.
"I plan on decorating the place with a lot of history about the puddlers and what they meant to this neighborhood," Capper says. "I want to bring this building back to life. I'm working on getting some nice pictures of the mill, the founding fathers of the community and the history of the workers. That's my theme."
More than a century ago, American workers were treated poorly. They believed no one was looking out for the workers and as a result employers were working those 10 hours a day, six days a week for less than $1.15 a day.
In Milwaukee, the Central Labor Union led by a Socialist Paul Grottkau and Catholic Church's Knights of Labor led by Robert Shilling, were formed to work for workers rights.
At the same time, The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions called for a great movement to win the eight-hour workday. Their plan was to spend two years urging all American employers to adopt a standard eight-hour day, instead of the 10- to 12-, even up to 16-hour days that were prevalent.
It came to a head in May 1886. Strikes hit the nation's manufacturers. There were over 1,600 such demonstrations across the country. These demonstrations led to serious trouble in Chicago's Haymarket Square where police shot four workers to death.
In Milwaukee, all but one factory, the North Chicago Railroad Rolling Mills Steel Foundry in Bay View, were shutdown. On May 5, more than 3,000 workers marched from St. Stanislaus Church (on 5th and Mitchell Streets) to the Bay View Rolling Mills in support of the struggle for the eight-hour day.
The following morning, the Wisconsin militia appeared as the marchers began to return to the mill, in defiance of a mayoral proclamation that citizens were forbidden to gather. Apparently at the order of Governor Jeremiah Rusk ordered the militia to fire on the crowd, killing seven protestors.
An historical marker in a parkway at the corner of Superior and Russell Streets serves as a reminder. Each year, the Wisconsin Labor Historical Society holds a memorial service for those who died at Rolling Mills.
That's the spirit Capper has felt since restoring the 130-year-old building.
"These people down here are proud of their heritage," he says. "They know their history and certainly want to preserve it."
"They're part of Milwaukee but they consider themselves a suburb. The businesses in this area have been committed here for a long time. Some of them have been passed along from generations to generations. We want the new Puddler's Hall to be a reminder of the past but also part of this community's vision for the future."
Capper would like to be open for business by the end of January. But realistically, he's giving himself some time to get the place all polished up.
"I would think no later than the end of February," he says. "I tell people that I haven't been this energized in a long time. I've got some good employees who have been with me a long time. I've challenged them, as well as myself, and I think this place will be a nice addition to Bay View."
I did not know the deep history tied with the area as far as mining is concerned. I think it is great that Puddler's Hall is honoring that history.
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