A sense of history and place.
Much moved by the funeral ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II this morning. The Queen was piped into Westminster Abbey by a phalanx of bagpipers. Watching at home, we could say that, a few years back, the Blaskas set foot in that glorious church. The Church of England plays like the Catholic Church except for a Pope.
The Lovely Lisa and I were married in a different kind of church — almost Shaker in its simplicity but Roman Catholic, nonetheless. Do read Barry Adams’ wonderful account in the Wisconsin State Journal of St. Wenceslaus Church in the Town of Waterloo, Jefferson County. Built of tamarack logs in 1863 by the German-speakers who began emigrating in the mid 1840s from the Sudetenland of Bohemia to what is called “The Island.” It is called so because it sits on a hill overlooking the marshland to the east that slopes to the oft-flooding Crawfish River.
It truly is a lovely, peaceful sight, this little white church up on its hill, surrounded by green fields — its crooked little steeple pointing imperfectly to the blue sky and heaven beyond.
That church resonates in our family because the blogger’s great-grandparents, John Peregrine Blaska and Anna Fiedler were married there in 1884 — 90 years before our own wedding.
Like those ancestors, we had to part as we left the church, newly married, around the cast-iron wood-burning stove sitting in the middle of the narrow aisle. Yes, there’s a choir loft, up two steps; it can hold maybe five people. Remember the well wishers looking through the four windows from outside; the 32’ by 34-foot church was too small to hold everyone.
Great-great grandfather Johan Fiedler constructed the pews of pine using wooden pegs instead of nails. At our wedding, youngest brother Rich, then 15, pulled the rope through the ceiling that rang the bell. Bride and groom made their exit via a Model T car supplied by the late (and great) Lloyd Yelk, also a descendant of the original settlers. Much of old Sun Prairie through Marshall and Waterloo is German Bohemian. Names like Bedner, Betlach, Benisch, Blaschka, Deppe, Fiedler, Fischer, Friedl, Haberman, Hebl, Peschel, Schuch, Skalitzky, Schuster, Suchomel, Stangler, Veith, Weisensel, Yelk, and Zimbrick. Many of those names leaf out our genealogical tree.
My own great-great grandparents (she was a Skalitzky) arrived on the Island from the town of Hertersdorf (now Horni Houzevec in the Czech Republic) in the spring of 1854. The Old Country was hill country more resembling Richland County than the rich land of eastern Dane County and Jefferson, as we discovered touring the so-called Lanskron area at the juncture with Poland to the north and Moravia eastward. The immigrants purchased their 40 acres for $50 from the federal government — President Franklin Pierce signed the deed — having first alighted in New York via the Bremen-based ship Jason in 1852. Spent their first year-plus in Chicago. They farmsteaded their new land on Island Road, its first European owners, until 1859 when they moved to the Town of Amherst in Portage County, presumably to participate in the great timber harvest. We think he was a blacksmith. That was well before the little church was built.
My father, Jerome, was one of the good folks (that history here) who wanted the church sitting on the hill it has always known rather than be moved to Old World Wisconsin, the outdoor historical site in the southwest corner of Waukesha County, in the Kettle Moraine. In the years since 1972, the Island Church Foundation put in a new floor and put the structure on a firm foundation — literally. For its first 140 years the floor had ridden out all the frost and heaving of Wisconsin winters, floating on flattened tamarack logs laid flat. I have one of them as a keepsake.
We discovered that the logs had been draped in exterior board and batten right away because the logs were still a honey brown instead of greying out, as they would if exposed to the elements. Lyle Lidholm, a consultant at Old World Wisconsin, guided us in our work that year, in 2002. The interior is a whitewashed plaster. As Barry Adams reports, the church ceased its daily mission in about 1891.
Several years ago the Foundation, under the able leadership of Chantel and Brian Blaschka (their grandmother was a Blaska), secured the steeple, which remains charmingly askew. Ed Langer, another descendant, wrote some of the history featured on the Island Church Foundation website (which I mismanage). He’s conducting a seminar on this history Saturday 09-24-22 at the Waterloo library. Do consider participating. More here.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: St. Wenceslaus, patron saint of Bohemia, is our tie to the people who gave us life.