An Unexpected Treasure in Oneida County: The Stovewood Building

Aug 29, 2014

You might think you’ve stumbled upon a movie set where County Trunks B and Z come together in Oneida County. There stands a general store from the dawn of the 20th century - painstakingly restored.

Prussian immigrants built it from scratch.

The building had deteriorated when it caught the eye of a UW-Madison researcher. It was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Why? Because of its unique construction – called stovewood. Marilyn Riggs is a docent.

Credit S Bence

“They would go logging, they would chop of 16 inches of the end of each log as giveaway stovewood; not good enough for the lumber mill," docent Marilyn Riggs explains. "You could go to the lumber mill and pick it up and it was all free, and so that’s what they built the side walls out of."

The immigrant who built the building, John Mecikalski, stacked the chunks of wood perpendicularly and then set them in lime mortar. The result is a striking mosaic.

According to the sign planted outside, “this is one of the largest stovewood buildings known to exist.”

“As far as anyone as been able to figure out,” Marilyn Riggs says, “it is the only building built of stovewood that was not a residence – the only commercial building.”

Gradually, a post office was added – so was a boarding house, and later a bar. It catered to lumberjacks at the height of the industry.

Marilyn Riggs (right) and friend inside visitors center.
Credit S Bence

Riggs is sitting inside what has become the visitor center.

“This was the ladies area, because by the time they built this building, they had added the bar to the original building and women weren’t allowed in bars,
 Riggs says. "So this was fabric, flour, that sort of thing and then the little area to the side was the candy store for children."

Riggs says this spot in Oneida County has always been a part of her life, even though as a child, she doesn’t recall laying eyes on these building. She may have been too busy frolicking in the nearby Wolf River.

“My grandparents were up here on their honeymoon in 1913,” Riggs says.

Not long after, Riggs say her grandparents built what she fondly calls a shack. That’s where she’d spend the waning days of summer vacation.

“We stayed in the one-room tarpaper shack with the outhouse and we bought a wood stove and we bought an old ice box and that was our summer vacation for the last two weeks in August in the 50s and 60s," Riggs says. "We had a couple of boats and poles, couldn’t really row them because the river was too rocky, but we would go out and spend all day fishing or wading."

The shack still stands, but Rigg’s parents later built a cottage – with plumbing and power. Her mom joined the original team of docents when the Stovewood Building museum opened in 1987.

Riggs’ life and work took her to Arizona. But when she returned, she took the docent spot her mom left behind.

“I love the area – love the people; beautiful, clean, fresh air – always smells good – I don’t know, what can I say,” Riggs says.

Veronica Duvall purchased the bar (left) during the Stovewood's restoration. She believes her building predates the museum.
Credit S Bence

Veronica Duvall is across the street, where a band is playing next to her bar, Wayne’s World. Duvall says there’s nowhere else she’d rather live.

“It’s awesome, it’s an awesome place to live, I know everybody. Everybody joins together to help each other, it’s kind of like Little House on the Prairie to be honest,” Duvall says.

She says her grandmother moved here from Chicago in the 1940s, but her parents – and 13 year old Veronica - had to return to the city, when times got tough.

As an adult, Duvall found a way to move back. She bought the bar from her aunt - and to make ends meet, commutes 30 minutes to Rhinelander.

She calls herself lucky. Duvall says most people here are loggers and struggle to make a living.

Yet, they’d do anything to keep this small hamlet afloat. So every year, on the first Saturday of August – locals team up to hold a fundraiser for the stovewood building.

Duvall mixes up huge batches of her Polish grandmother’s sauerkraut. "It’s a combination of pork, split peas and salt pork on the top and I donate it every year to help fund the museum," Duvall says.

Marilyn Riggs (left) & Veronica Duvall
Credit S Bence