Garver Feed Mill story by Ken Baun

Ken Baun shares childhood memories about visiting the Garver Feed Mill to purchase animal feed. Ken relates memories about the east side Madison neighborhood where he grew up, about exploring the area around Voit farm and pond, and about the toboggan run at Olbrich Park.

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    Eric Schafer: Hi. So this is Eric Schafer. I'm at the Garver building on November 2, 2019. And I'm speaking with Ken --

    Ken Baun: Baun.

    Eric Schafer: --Baun. Could I have you spell your last name, please?

    Ken Baun: B-A-U-N.

    Eric Schafer: All right. So Ken will be sharing a memory--or story about the Garver building. And--why don't you go ahead?

    Ken Baun: I grew up in Madison not far from here. My parents built the first house on the block on Gannon Avenue--530 Gannon Avenue, which is down near the intersection of Fair Oaks and Highway 30. It was the first house on the block, and there was nothing beyond Highway 30 at that point. And there wasn't--certainly wasn't an overpass. And over the years, that became a very dangerous intersection. Anyway, when I was a little kid, probably 8 or 10 years old, so late '50s--I was born in 1950, late '50s. We had a rabbit. And I used to walk from there down to here with a bucket and get rabbit food from them. So this great big industrial place would sell me a bucket of rabbit food, you know? Get a little shovel out and fill this. And it couldn't have been very much or very big because I'd have to walk it home, which is about a mile from here.

    But I remember, you know, people were always -- I was this little kid with my quarter or whatever it was. They were always happy, willing to, you know, sell a little bit of something. So it was a great big industrial plant. So that's my little anecdote about the Garver building.

    Eric Schafer: Did it look substantially different than it does now?

    Ken Baun: Certainly than it does now. Yeah, so over the years it certainly fell into [inaudible] use. But it was used heavily at that point. So I was glad to see that there was--there's a few remnants from its era as a feed mill. And I don't know what all he made food for, but--and I don't--for all I know, they might've been giving us chicken food. But it worked, and it was a prominent part of the East Side here.

    Eric Schafer: Did you walk down--did you say you walked down Fair Oaks Street?

    Ken Baun: Yeah. Mm-hmm. The bus at that time, growing up, would come down here. And basically, Milwaukee Street was as far as it went. And it stayed that way for all of my youth. I think it wasn't until after I left high school that the bus line ever got extended. But it was in the--you know, it must've been the early '60s that the population over here finally grew enough to build Hawthorne School. And then in the '80s or something, they closed Hawthorne because of the baby boom's population had completely dropped off--only to open it up again, you know, a decade or two later. The town and this area certainly has changed a lot over the seventy years I've been around.

    Eric Schafer: And was Starkweather Creek basically where it is now? Everything was [inaudible]?

    Ken Baun: Oh yeah, it was always funky. Starkweather was always a--you know, a nasty polluted stream. So we spent a lot of time in Starkweather, literally. It used to be a salvage yard where--you know, where Thurber Park is down by the railroad tracks that cross there. That's where Madison ends and Blooming Grove continues beyond the--and right by the tracks there, there was this salvage yard. And we would go down there and salvage the makings for rafts. And we spent--you know, and every time we fell in the stream, the creek would just get reeking. You know, it was pretty foul back then too. But there was--there were some larger industries out here, and they certainly polluted it. And there was a lot of dead fish around. Also, the stream was never [inaudible].

    And of course, you had French Battery up on this branch of [inaudible] Starkweather that goes up under East Washington and all the way out to the airport. And you know, French Battery Company. So that was heavily polluted as well. So it wasn't much of a stream. But that didn't deter, you know, some young kids from getting in it. And the--what is it? The place where--the cement folks. [inaudible] I'm blanking on their names. Where the carnival was every summer. You know where they--God, why am I--the big empty field, Voit. Voit. Voit Pond, which is again becoming an issue in the community. But Voit was a very active extraction. They basically dug sand and gravel.

    And when I was really little, there wasn't a Voit Pond there, but they dug that out. And I think they hit a groundwater table and it filled up very quickly. I spent a lot of time getting chased out of Voit Fields and later Voit Pond. Growing up on the East Side.

    Eric Schafer: So when you came over here, I mean, was like there a--do feed mills have a smell or is it--

    Ken Baun: Yeah--yes, they did. But you know, I can't describe it. And it wasn't--it wasn't really prominent and it wasn't rank. But you know, it smelled of processing. And actually, you know, I think of like some of the canning factories that go back past. You know, and you ride through rural Wisconsin, and you occasionally come upon a canning factory. And it was not unlike that, you know?

    Eric Schafer: Was it really busy? Were there a lot of people?

    Ken Baun: No, it was--I don't know. Not the part that I saw, anyway. We would go into a door down over on that corner. And that's where they--you know, people could drive up and buy directly from the dock. And so, I never got very far into the building. Not until I came in here this last year.

    Eric Schafer: Well, thank you so much.

    Ken Baun: Yeah. Thanks for offering to do this.

    Eric Schafer: Sure. Let me make sure I've got--I think that's all we need to do. Do you have any questions for me or--

    Ken Baun: What's going on, do you know, with the little houses that they've talked about out here?

    Eric Schafer: I don't know for sure. I've actually only--the information I have about the building is--mostly is what's available publicly on the project. There's some information they gave us. Some background for the--for this project, too, just about the building. We talked about how it was a feed mill. It was built--the history project thesis, a student thesis.

    Ken Baun: Mm-hmm.

    Eric Schafer: A 2014 project thesis.

    Ken Baun: Yeah. Well, I'm sure as a sugar beet mill and as a beet mill, I'm sure they dumped a lot of, you know, stuff into the creek here.

    Eric Schafer: Sure.

    Ken Baun: And you know, we had folks reminisce about how much more polluted the lake has become. And you know, I don't think so, actually. I remember, you know, there was always algae blooms here. And that creek was always nasty. So you know, it always depended on which way the wind was blowing where you were going to go swimming.

    Eric Schafer: Right.

    Ken Baun: And we swam a lot over here at--it was Hudson Beach at the time. I don't know if you know where that little spot is. There was Olbrich Beach here, and that was a very--that was a thriving beach. And up off of where Hudson Avenue hits the lake down by the Indian mounds, there isn't a beach access. There isn't a beach there now, but that was also a thriving beach in its day. So I took swimming lessons. They had--you know, there'd be two lifeguards on duty all the time. And then, we were just reminiscing about the toboggan slide on the top of Olbrich Hill. Do you know of that?

    Eric Schafer: I think so. The--I think people still sled there now, right?

    Ken Baun: Yeah. Yeah, people sled there, but they had a toboggan slide.

    Eric Schafer: Oh.

    Ken Baun: That was phenomenal. And I just saw pictures of it. Actually, someone just sent me a picture of it yesterday. [Recorder feedback] All through--well, apparently, it goes back quite a ways. Oh I think I have it on my computer at home, and I think I--well, it should be in there. It was a super structure that they would build. So the hill was pretty high. But then they'd build another 20 feet, it seemed, or higher structure that had a shoot--an ice shoot. So it would meet at the bottom of the hill. So it'd be a whole lot steeper than the current hill. And you know, this was a formed shoot. So they must've had a form where they would make these things so, you know, the toboggan wouldn't fall off this shoot. And it was just pure ice. And they'd set it up every winter.

    And there was a line going up that--of people getting up on top of it. Here's a couple of pictures of it.

    Eric Schafer: Oh wow.

    Ken Baun: Yeah. And I think it cost ten cents if you had your own toboggan or a quarter if you had to rent one from them for the day. So the shoot would come down there, and then it would continue out across that field. And they would build a temporary bridge across Starkweather Creek every winter. And it had to be not only big enough for the stream--you know, for the toboggan shoot to go across, but there was also a walkway for people to walk back. So this thing--you would go so fast down this thing that you'd go all the way across that field. And that's 300 feet, at least--400 feet? All the way across, continue across the river, and maybe another 100 feet on the other side. And they would build--they would put it up every year and take it down every--you know, every spring. The city invested in that every time. And I think it ended. I don't know if it was because of the investment or because of liability.

    Because a lot of people got hurt on it. Because the little kids wouldn't know enough to get off the track before the next toboggan came down. And you know, a little toboggan with little kids on it didn't have much mass or momentum, and it wouldn't go nearly as far. And then you get a toboggan full of big people and it'd go a lot faster and further. And there were too many occasions when the little kids didn't get out of the way. So maybe that was the end of the toboggan slide. But it was pretty fascinating going--looking back on it and looking back on the changes in the city and the community and the neighborhood. Yeah. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

    Eric Schafer: Sure. Thanks for coming in. This was fantastic. Thank you so much.

    Ken Baun: Yeah, so are you going to be doing this all afternoon or all day? Or a chunk of it, anyway?

    Eric Schafer: I'm here--I'm going to turn this off.