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The name of this collection, Big Streets in a Little City, is an affectionate reference to the official City of Kiel slogan, "the little city that does big things." Located on the Sheboygan River in the southwest corner of Manitowoc County, this city of approximately 3,500 has a thriving downtown, beautiful parks, progressive schools, a strong employment base, and a growing respect for its heritage. In 2004 we celebrated our sesquicentennial with a year-long series of activities that involved residents and visitors of all ages.
Not long after that, the Kiel Public Library was the beneficiary of an amazing collection of photographs, original documents, newspaper clippings, indexed obituaries, and other archival materials. The donor, Edwin J. Majkrzak, a former library trustee and author of a comprehensive city history, had spent the better part of two decades collecting these items, and organizing them into 80 notebooks and dozens of enlarged and framed, vintage photographs. Mr. Majkrzak is well known in this community as the "go to" guy for questions about local legends or the history of this or that building. He is also the "give to" guy for families cleaning out grandparents' attics and seeking a permanent home for old treasures. Thanks to such gifts, the Edwin J. Majkrzak Historical Center now has more than 110 notebooks and dozens more enlarged photographs.
We see the publication of this online collection as the logical next step toward continuing Mr. Majkrzak's work and furthering the Research Center's mission, which reads in part: "to benefit the research efforts of history scholars of all ages … and to promote the inter-generational sharing of stories about the lives and accomplishments of Kiel area families and individuals from the past to the present day."
This collection of 630 photos is only a fraction of the thousands of items housed in our research center. But it is enough to give the user a taste of life in Kiel from the mid-1800s to the late 20th Century. These images depict commerce, recreation, cultural events, and other day-to-day activities of the men, women, and children who lived, worked, and played in the same neighborhoods that continue to thrive, albeit in different ways, in the 21st Century.
Taken together, these images tell a fascinating story of the evolution of the downtown area of a small, rural Wisconsin city through two World Wars, a Depression, a thriving post-WWII business climate, a well-coordinated Centennial celebration in 1954, and other economic, political, and social changes. We interpreted the term "downtown street scenes" very broadly, so as to include surrounding neighborhoods, local schools, leisure activities, and some of Kiel's earliest factories. We have also included dozens of turn-of-the-century portraits taken by the city's first photographer, Paul Schubert, who started his business in 1875 with a mobile studio using a horse and wagon. We are indebted to the Al and Helen Hingiss family for donating their large collection of Schubert's 3x5 glass negatives.
Library Director Nanette Bulebosh served as the project administrator of this collection. Library Assistant Terry Kuske, who worked closely with Mr. Majkrzak to provide much of the metadata, was the technical coordinator. She spent more time on this project than anyone. She was aided by library staff members and a few community volunteers. We would like to thank the members of the Kiel Public Library Board of Trustees for their enthusiastic support, Mike Mathes and the Tri-County News staff for their advice and assistance, Sharon Carlson and other members of the Kiel Area Historical Society for their assistance and endorsement and, most of all, our good friend Ed Majkrzak and the many people who helped him in his tireless efforts to illuminate the story of Kiel so compellingly.
We consider this collection a work in progress, because we continued to learn new details about the people in these photos right up until publication. We know there are more stories behind these images. If you have information to share, or if you find any errors in our descriptions, please contact the Kiel Public Library at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-894-7122.
Majkrzak, Edwin. History of Kiel. Kiel: Edwin Majkrzak, 2001.
Kiel: A Portrait at 150. Kiel, WI: Delta Publications, Inc., 2004.
Kiel Area Chamber of Commerce
Kiel's Heritage: A History of Kiel 1854-1954. Kiel: Kiel Centennial Committee, 1954.
Kiel Public Library
511 Third Street, Kiel, WI 53042