The Adler Family, Part I: From shoe business to show business
By Kris Leonhardt
During the late 1800s, thousands of desperate emigrants packed the ports of Liverpool, Queenstown, Hamburg, and other European cities, destined for a land that promised hope and prosperity; a land free from religious persecution, forced military conscription, and poverty; a land called America.
The promise of a better life prompted these families and individuals to sell what little they had and purchase one-way tickets on a steamship that would traverse the Atlantic Ocean to deliver them to the “New World” and the vast opportunities it held.
The trip took two weeks in substandard conditions as thousands of individuals squeezed into the bottom levels of the ship with filthy accommodations, rampant sickness, and meager food available.
As the Statue of Liberty stood welcoming them, many stepped off at Ellis Island with little in hand while trying to make their way as people spoke a language they could not understand.
Immigrants streamed into cities, taking low-paying factory jobs, forming small communities within their cities with their own stores and publishing their own newspapers. Some used these jobs as stepping stones to earn enough money to buy land and return to their farming roots.
Among these immigrants were Christopher and Margaret (Kramer) Adler, who had migrated from Germany and settled north of Milwaukee in a place named Germantown and farmed on Holy Hill Road, an area that still greatly reflects its German-Catholic roots.
The pair thrived in their new home, building up a large farm while welcoming in five children. However, along with success the Adler family would also encounter its share of tragedy. While pregnant with their sixth child, a farming accident would claim both mother and child, while the youngest, Philip, was just 4 years old.
Philip spent his youth working on the family farm and later went to apprentice under a shoemaker in Milwaukee. After learning the trade, he moved to Chicago and opened his own business, where he met and married Margaret Hoffman.
The pair came to the growing city of Marshfield in 1880, where he farmed and opened a shoe store. The flourishing town offered much opportunity for investing, and Philip began dabbling in real estate.
In 1887 he constructed a building on a piece of land he owned at the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street.
“It (became) a three-story building with Weber’s grocery store on the first floor, some law offices on the second floor, and apartments on the third floor,” explained Philip’s granddaughter, Bette Adler.
Philip owned other buildings to the north at the time, and with the new construction the area would perpetually become known as the “Adler Block.”
After Marshfield’s only opera house burned to the ground, Philip would develop plans to add a brick building to the Adler Block to replace the facility as a meeting and dance/show hall. This decision would become one of Adler’s most brilliant business actions, one that would provide for future generations and the future of Marshfield itself.
Next week — The Adler Family, Part II: The building of an industry