Father and daughter Thomas and Allison Sylke speak about their family's relationship to Garver Feed Mill. Their grandfather and great-grandfather, Hans Struck, built the original structure when it was used as a sugar beet factory in the early twentieth century. Allison participated in the recent bricklaying to commemorate the mill's history.
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Catherine Phan: This is Catherine Phan. I'm at the Garver Building on November 2, 2019. And I'm speaking with Thomas and Allison. And they are going to introduce themselves.
Allison Sylke: Hello. My name is Allison Sylke, A-L-L-I-S-O-N S-Y-L-K-E.
Thomas Sylke: And I'm Tom Sylke, C. Thomas Sylke, S-Y-L-K-E and Thomas is T-H-O-M-A-S.
Catherine Phan: Okay. So what memories or stories do you have to share?
Allison Sylke: Well I'm not sure if this is as much of a memory or story, but for me, my great-great grandpa at least played a key role or mostly built this facility around 1905.
Thomas Sylke: Right. My mother's family lived on Jenifer Street and my great grandfather, Hans Struck, built this building and was part of the sugar industry. He was an immigrant from Germany, came over around 1880 in his teens to the United States, and traveled around the Midwest. And based on family discussions and so forth, it's our understanding that they lived in more than 20 different locations building sugar beet processing plants. So, he did that through his teens and into his adult years. They got to the point where he eventually got married and his wife said, "Hans, you get one more move out of me. We can go anywhere you want. You can move as many times as you want, but I'm moving once and you pick the place and we'll go." And they came back to Madison and lived here, also on the east side. And he also founded Struck and Irwin on Williamson Street, which has been there since I think around 1905 as well.
And he was part of the sugar beet industry for many, many years. He passed away in 1937 and is buried here in Madison. And in addition, that is my mother's mother's side of her family. My mother's father's side of the family, her father was George Bremer, B-R-E-M-E-R. His sister was Anna Findorff. She was married to the John Findorff who started the Findorff Construction Company. So we have a lot of history with the city of Madison and the east side. And I spent my youth, my parents were school teachers so we had blocks of time to be together and travel. And so we would come to visit my grandmother in the 1960s, for example, and my brother and I basically lived on Jenifer Street and roamed around Willy Street and had just a terrific time.
Catherine Phan: Did you have any favorite spots that you had when you were visiting here or any specific memories about visiting this building or Olbrich Park?
Thomas Sylke: I remember certainly Vilas Park, which has, you want to talk about Vilas Park?
Allison Sylke: A little bit. It's one of my favorite places to go in Madison, besides sometimes going around the capital and some of the museums around there. And it's so pretty.
Thomas Sylke: Yep. Yep. I grew up going to Vilas Park when we were up here. And after Allison was born--we live in Milwaukee. We have a huge, beautiful zoo in Milwaukee, but we will, when Allison thought it would be fun to go see the animals, we would drive to Madison and go to Vilas. There's a small location where Spaight Street and Jenifer Street come together, not too far from what used to be the Fauerbach Brewery and the Elks Club on the east side there. And it's not big enough to be a park, but it's a little piece of land that has cyclone fencing going around it and it literally, the base of the fence is Lake Monona. And our father and my grandmother and my mom used to walk us down there because fish would congregate and you could stand at the fence and look down and see fish swimming around. And it was, when you were a small child, it's a big deal to see that sort of thing. So we would always ask to go see the fish.
It seemed like a big place and an important spot. You become an adult and you realize it's just some little piece of land next to the lake. But terrific. Yes.
Allison Sylke: [Whispers] Brick laying.
Thomas Sylke: The?
Allison Sylke: Brick laying. Oh well, also, about I think two and a half years ago was it?
Thomas Sylke: About.
Allison Sylke: Yeah, about. My dad and I and my mom came here for the brick laying. And my dad spoke for a little bit and I went up on stage with him or up to the podium for just a minute. And since I am the great-great granddaughter of Hans Struck, then they let me lay the first brick. And that was absolutely amazing. It's just changed so much from then to now and just how much they've done. Because especially in one of the back rooms at the time, there was a lot of graffiti and a lot of interesting comments they wrote. It seemed there were a lot of messages back and forth and it was just very interesting. But it just looks so different now. Yeah, it's amazing.
Thomas Sylke: We were very excited because my mom passed away in 2011 and about a year or two before her death, the [Wisconsin] State Journal called her in Milwaukee and said, "We understand you have some relationship to the Garver Feed Mill Building." And she said, "Well, it was my grandfather's workplace. You know, he built the building and he worked there." And he, in the 20s and 30s, would bring her out here on the weekends when he was working. And his office was in the small office building that Olbrich is now using. And she would come out and play out here. And in the 60s she would drive us out. My brother and I are about the same age. And she would drive us out here and say, you know, this is a building that her grandfather built and where he worked. And she got the call from the [Wisconsin] State Journal and they said, you know, "We understand the City of Madison may not demolish it. They may actually try to do something to save the building." And so she was very excited about the possibility of saving that piece of our family's history.
And despite her passing, I stayed in touch with the City of Madison and with the [Wisconsin] State Journal. And it's really been exciting to see what's happened. And this whole area is obviously just a tremendous rebirth of the east side.
Allison Sylke: Yeah. And also do you remember the picture?
Thomas Sylke: Oh, of the two girls?
Allison Sylke: Yeah.
Thomas Sylke: Yeah, there's a photograph associated with the Garver Feed Mill that's a picture from when it was the Sugar Castle, when it still had its gothic structure. And there are two girls standing out in front at the front road. And we aren't certain, but there's a pretty good chance that the girl on the left in the black is my grandmother and the girl on the right is her sister, Ella. And my grandmother, Minnie Struck Bremer, was very modest and you could see the girl there wearing a plain black cloth coat. And the girl on the right, if it was her sister Ella, through her entire life until the day she died, was called the Duchess by people in the family and people who knew her. And you could tell that the girl on the right has a little bit fancier coat and hat and has kind of a different expression on her face. I may just be projecting on that, but if it is them, there's a photograph in the slideshow that they showed here that I had of my grandmother and her sister near the ends of their lives in the late 60s.
And they're standing in the same relative positions as the girls in the photo. It's just neat to think about it. The industrial heritage that Madison has, has been either carried forward by new businesses, new industry that's come in, new technologies, or there have been efforts, like the Garver Feed Mill, to preserve it in some way. And this building now houses not just the space, but it helps preserve the memories and the experiences of all the people who built the building, who worked here, who lived in the area, and were part of the building's history, as opposed to tearing it down and putting up something different.
Allison Sylke: It's really nice to see that this building isn't now just part of the past or something kind of long gone, you'd only see in a photo album. But now it's kind of carried forward and it'll probably be part of the future for a long time.
Thomas Sylke: Right.
Catherine Phan: So Allison, I just have one question for you. When you laid that first brick down, did it make you feel or how meaningful was for you to continue that line of your great-great grandfather?
Allison Sylke: To me it was very meaningful and I felt this very proud sense. And I feel very grateful that they didn't demolish the building. It just felt amazing that even though everything that my great-great grandpa did, that I was still able to be just a small part of that. I'm just very grateful that they kept this and decided to do what they did with it.
Catherine Phan: Thank you. Thanks so much to both of you for your stories.
Thomas Sylke: Thank you, Catherine.
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