West Bend, WI – The remodel of the tavern in a landmark location in West Bend started just a couple months ago and over the past few weeks a noticeable transformation has taken place. How long did it take you to pinpoint the location?
The building at 228 N. Sixth Avenue in West Bend is listed in the National Register of Historic Properties.
From the book The Story of Washington County by Carl Quickert there was a brief mention of Baltazar Goetter.
“B. Goetter who in the spring of 1849 opened up the first brewery and later erected the “Washington House,” one of the largest and finest hotels in the State at the time, and for many years the preferred rendezvous of the German pioneers.”
The tavern portion of the building has had many names over the years. How many can you recall?
The book The Spirit of West Bend by Dorothy E. Williams has a section on the hotel fire involving the Washington House.
“Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the life of the Washington House occurred on January 1, 1864. It was a severely cold day, as New Year’s days usually are. Every room of the hotel was filled. The many stoves were crammed full of wood to ward off the frigid air, and inside in the cheery atmosphere the men played billiards, cards, or told stories to while away the holiday.
Suddenly the dreaded cry of “FIRE!” brought everyone to his feet. The roof was a fire! Instantly, townspeople and guests set to work to save what they could. There was no local fire department as yet, and the only equipment the village had was a “donkey engine” with 20 feet of hose, entirely inadequate to reach the river, which at any rate was frozen solid. Willing hands pitched blankets, beds, pitchers, washbasins, luggage, and looking glasses from the upper floors to the frozen ground below. After the entire first floor was cleared, men went into the cellar to rescue the sauerkraut jar and carried the heavy burden all the way up the steps and outside to safety.
Other helpers managed to carry out the cumbrous hotel range, with the holiday turkey still in the oven. The turkey promptly froze. Most of the food in the basement was well enough insulated so it did not freeze – the apples, potatoes, etc. When it was all over, the only item remaining on the spot where the hotel had been was the cast iron stove which had overheated and probably caused the terrible conflagration. There is no record of where the guests spent the rest of the day, but probably the townspeople took them in.
Almost at once Mr. Goetter began to rebuild, this time a three story cream colored brick building of local clay that rivaled the famed Cream City brick from Milwaukee, according to local observers. It could accommodate 100 guests and was ready for occupancy by October 15 of that same year. By this time West Bend had its own cabinet maker, Mr. Roecker, who made some of the furniture for the new rooms.
Many famous Americans have stayed at the Washington House including William Jennings Bryan, William Barkley (Vice President), and John F. Kennedy and it is the oldest business left in the city, having celebrated both the centennial and bicentennial.
A note in the book West Bend Historic Building Tour the “elaborate cornice and beltcourse below the second floor windows were removed and replaced by pink brick after 1900. The location has been used as a hotel and a theatre for most of its existence.”
Coming soon 228 Tap House