Over the last 23 years, as I explored the rich history of Evansville, its people, businesses, buildings, and organizations, there is one man whose spirit and determination to make this community a better place has earned my designation as Evansville’s Man of the 20th Century. His name was Robert J. Antes and he wore many official hats during his lifetime of service to the community; newspaperman, conservationist, city councilman, park board chairman, and postmaster.
Antes was raised in a family that believed in community service. His father, Robert M. Antes, was a newspaper publisher and had purchased the Evansville Review from Isaac Hoxie in November 1883. Six years later, on November 14, 1889, Robert M. married Margaret Cornelius, a young lady who had been educated in the Evansville public schools and the Evansville Seminary. The couple had four children, two girls, Josephine and Madeline; and two boys, Robert Jacob and William Bowes.
Soon after he purchased the Review, Robert M. Antes took as his partner, George Magee. George also operated the Magee Theater. For many years, the Review was published on the first floor of the Magee Theater building. Magee and Robert M. Antes dissolved their partnership in 1903, but the Review continued to use the Magee Theater building for the next 11 years.
After he became sole proprietor of the Review, Robert M. Antes expanded the printing business and also purchased Evansville’s three competing newspapers, the Badger in 1906, the Enterprise and Tribune in 1911. The Review and the Antes Press proved so successful that from 1912 until the 1970s, the company served as Evansville’s only local source for printed news.
The Antes printing and publishing business outgrew the space in the Magee
Theater building, and Robert M. purchased land at the east end of the business
block, on the northwest corner of Railroad and East Main Streets. Antes
organized the construction of the three-story brick publishing office that was
completed in 1913 and furnished the new print house with the “most complete and
Orders came from throughout the Midwest, according to Antes’ announcement of the move into the new building in February 1914. The Baker Manufacturing Company’s catalogs, state contracts, and the printing of the Footville Hustler were major local contracts for the Antes’.
The construction of the new publishing plant coincided with Antes’ son,
Robert J.’s graduation from high school in 1913. Robert J. completed a
one-year business course at the Evansville Seminary and another course in
printing at a school in Chicago. Robert J. then entered the publishing
business with his father.
Robert J. Antes, high school basketball player 1911-12
World War I and the nation’s draft board interrupted Robert J.’s work at the Review and Antes Press offices in 1918. From March until the war ended in November, Robert J. spent several months training as an aviator at army bases in Champaign and Rantoul, Illinois. He had just received his second lieutenant commission when the November 11, 1918 armistice ended his army life. The short period of army service in 1918 was the only time Robert J. ever lived away from Evansville.
After returning from his tour of duty, he rejoined the family publishing and printing business. In 1920, Robert M., his son, Robert J., and son-in-law, Philip D. Pearsall (husband of Josephine Antes) incorporated the business as the Antes Press. Robert M. served as president; Robert J. as vice president, and Philip Pearsall as secretary-treasurer of the company. The publishing team worked together for nearly 30 years.
In April 1921, a year after he became vice-president of the Antes Press, Robert J. Antes married Olive Robinson, the daughter of a prominent Evansville farm family. They moved into their home on West Main Street and lived there for the rest of their lives.
The Antes family ties were strong and the Local column of the Evansville Review often carried news items about the family gatherings for dinner, or special trips to the family cabin on Found Lake in Vilas County, in northern Wisconsin. Robert M. Antes was a great sportsman and taught his children a respect for nature and conservation. There were many enjoyable hunting and fishing expeditions to the family cabin, which had at one time been a resort. Family and friends were invited to Found Lake where there were miles of beach and ample wildlife for those who wanted to hunt and fish.
It was this interest in conservation and nature that prompted Robert J. Antes to join the Izaak Walton League in the 1920s. The Izaak Walton league was an organization formed in 1922 by a group of Chicago sportsmen who wanted to promote hunting and fishing activities and the conservation of natural habitats for wildlife.
The Izaak Waltons were concerned about the destruction of fishing streams and wildlife habitat because of industrial pollution and urban growth. Aldo Leopold was probably the most famous member of this national conservation effort and was frequently a speaker at the national conventions held in Chicago.
Robert Antes and his friend, Dr. James W. Ames, led the local Izaak Walton club for many years. The group was very active in the conservation of game birds, raccoons, and fish. Dr. James W. Ames, a local dentist, served as president of the group and Robert J. Antes as secretary. There were year-round activities for the nearly 100 members of the Evansville “Ikes”.
The national organization established a junior membership for those under 18 years of age, in 1930 and Robert J. lost no time in establishing a junior membership in Evansville. He announced in the Evansville Review edition, January 1, 1931, that there were junior membership cards and buttons available to anyone interested in becoming a junior member of the Evansville club.
Conservation of the local water resources were championed by Robert J. and his fellow club members. Each spring the Izaak Waltons stocked game fish in Allen’s Creek, Lake Leota, Badfish Creek, and Little and Big Gibbs’ Lakes. Cans of brown trout, walleyed pike, small mouth bass, croppies and pickerel were released to assure good fishing for local sportsmen. The club members also seined the rough fish from the lake so that the game fish could survive.
Fishermen who used carp minnows that were imported from the South were bringing rough fish, such as carp, into local lakes. These unwanted fish were destroying the habitat of the game fish and each year, the seining helped to restore the lakes. In 1937, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission reported that the state crews and the local Izaak Waltons had seined 8,000 pounds of carp and buffalo fish from Big Gibbs’ lake. Three thousand pounds were taken from Little Gibbs’ Lake. In the late 1940s’ conservationists argued among themselves about the seining, as fishermen supported the seining and duck hunters opposed it because they believed it destroyed the feeding areas for the ducks.
The Wisconsin Conservation Commission was also experimenting with raising wild turkeys, cottontail rabbits, partridges and Bob White quail. However, it was the pheasant and raccoon breeding efforts that proved most successful in the early 1930s.
In early summer, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission gave pheasant chicks to Evansville’s Izaak Walton Chapter. The first chicks were raised in the summer of 1926. Each year, Robert J. Antes took charge of raising the chicks at the club’s pens on Garfield Avenue. The pens were built on property owned by Dr. Ames, who donated the use of the land, helped build the pens to confine the pheasants, and helped feed and care for the birds until they were large enough to be released.
In late August, the club members took the birds to farm fields and marsh areas in the surrounding countryside. The Blum, Pierce, and Hart marshes south of Evansville were frequently the location for the release of the game birds. By freeing the birds in late summer, the young pheasants had a chance to become acclimated to the wild before the pheasant hunting season began in early October.
In August 1930, the club released 30 Chinese ringneck pheasants. Antes placed an article in the Evansville Review asking Rock County farmers and town sportsmen to refrain from hunting to allow some of the birds to survive the fall hunt so they could breed in the wild, the following spring.
Usually the chicks were raised without any problem, but wild animals and dogs sometimes took their toll on the baby birds. In the late summer of 1936, just as the conservationists were about to release nearly one hundred birds into the countryside, a mink or some other small animal got into the pens on Dr. Ames’ property on Garfield Avenue and killed forty-two of the pheasants. Antes and his assistant, Burr Jones, were devastated by the loss and quickly turned the remaining pheasants loose into the countryside before the animal returned.
In the winter months, the club members set up feeding stations in the surrounding countryside so that the birds could survive the deep snow and cold winter. Ear corn and grain were placed at feeders built by the Izaak Waltons. Although the club had insufficient funds to purchase all the needed feed, Antes placed articles in the Review to encourage farmers to leave stalks of corn along the edge of corn fields and to supply other food for the birds. Sometimes donation canisters were placed in local businesses to get additional funds for bird feed.
The winter of 1936 was especially severe with blizzards and large amounts of snow. There were reports of dead pheasants, Hungarian partridge and small quail prompted Dr. Ames and R. J. Antes to appeal to people to provide feed for the birds. Antes gathered a supply of ear corn and grain and stored it at the Review Office for those who wanted to take part in feeding the game birds.
In 1937, the Evansville Izaak Waltons’ released 342 birds. The Evansville club’s pheasant project represented more than one third of the total birds released in Rock County in 1937. The numbers of birds released increased each year, with some birds imported from the game farm in Poynette to supplement the birds raised locally. Propagation of the birds in the wild and in confined pens increased the population of the species.
When the Garfield land became prime residential property in the late 1940s, the pheasant pens were set up on the old fair grounds (the location of the high school). Eleven new brooder houses and 150-foot long pens were built. By 1948, the Evansville Izaak Walton League pens housed more than 3,000 pheasants. Arthur H. Devine was hired as the caretaker for the birds and Antes asked for donations from local sportsmen to pay Devine’s salary. The pheasant raising activities continued in Evansville until the old fair grounds was sold to the Evansville School District in 1960.
To fund the local programs, Robert J. and his friend, Dr. James Ames organized a raccoon supper that was held in January of each year. Local hunters supplied the raccoons and proceeds of the supper went into the treasury of the local Izaak Walton League chapter. The first supper was held in the City Hall. By 1933, the suppers had been moved to Frank’s Café and years later the event had increased in popularity and had to be moved to the Masonic Temple to accommodate the large crowds.
Raccoon Suppers at Masonic Temple
At the 1932 dinner held at Frank’s Café, sixty-one guests heard W. F. Hintzman, president of the Wisconsin Raccoon and Fox Hunter Association speak. Hintzman credited Robert J. Antes with originating and staging the first raccoon supper. The annual supper drew sportsmen and conservationists from throughout the state.
Another fund raising effort promoted by Antes was the sale of conservation stamps by public school students. School Superintendent J. C. McKenna headed the sale of a conservation stamp. The stamps were colorful depictions of Wisconsin’s fish, wild flowers, trees and outdoor scenes. The Izaak Walton League funded a trip to the Wisconsin State Game Farm at Poynette for all students who sold more than a dollar’s worth of stamps during the campaign. The trip was an educational opportunity for students who wanted to learn more about the state’s conservation efforts and its native animals.
Just as they had instituted the propagation of pheasants, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission also encouraged local sports groups to raise black raccoons. The black raccoons were considered superior to the native grey raccoons because of the markings on the fur. By releasing the black raccoons, the Conservation Commission hoped that they would breed with the native grey raccoons and improve the quality of the raccoon fur, making the animals more attractive to hunters and trappers.
Robert J. Antes and his brother-in-law Phil Pearsall joined the Wisconsin Raccoon and Fox Hunter’s Association in 1926 and in the late 1930s, Antes served as the vice-president of the state organization and later, president. Through the columns of the Review, Antes urged local sportsmen to join the Wisconsin Raccoon and Fox Hunter Association. This group assisted the state Conservation Commission in the raising and releasing of raccoons into the wild.
Robert J. Antes entered into the conservation effort and supervised the raising of raccoon on a small game farm on East Church Street. The annual meeting of the state Raccoon and Fox Hunters Association group was held in Evansville. Wisconsin chapters sent representatives to learn more about conservation efforts on behalf of the raccoon and also to take the raccoons raised by Antes for release in other areas of the state.
State employees of the Conservation Commission distributed the raccoons according to the number of members in each chapter of the Wisconsin Raccoon and Fox Hunters Association. With the help of the volunteers, the Conservation Commission was able to release Evansville’s stock of 162 live raccoon in 30 localities throughout the state. More than 1,000 raccoon were also released from the state game farm at Poynette.
The annual meetings were held in the spring and Conservation Commission
encouraged the Raccoon and Fox Hunters Association to hold field trials each
summer and fall to demonstrate the hunting skills of the dogs and their
masters. Robert J. Antes was a prime mover in the development of
Evansville field trials.
Evansville’s field trials in 1938 were held on October 2, on the John McDermott farm, located southwest of Evansville. (Glen Maas purchased the farm in the late 1940s.) The trials attracted dogs and their owners from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Robert Antes and his hunting dogs
Over 200 dogs participated in the tri-state meet and perfect weather conditions brought a crowd of nearly 3,000 people to the event. H. W. McKenzie, the director of the Wisconsin Conservation Commission and other noted Wisconsin conservationists attended the festivities and the trials proved such a success that Antes was continued to organize the events for more than 30 years.
Although coon dog trials were held throughout the state of Wisconsin, Evansville’s field trials were the most popular. The trials became a family affair as Robert J. involved his young children, including John, Richard, and Margaret, who served as starters and field trial workers.
His interest in conservation, led Robert J. Antes into many other ventures, including the promotion of state owned public hunting grounds. In 1946, Antes was elected as a state officer of the Wisconsin Izaak Walton League. A main focus of the group in the late 1940s was urging the state to purchase public hunting grounds.
Antes became a leading spokesman for the public hunting grounds, especially in Rock County. In March 1949, Antes and County Clerk Walter M. Lindeman spoke before the state conservation commission and persuaded them to purchase 400 acres of land on the northeast side of Milton Village to use as a state game reserve. The land was known as the Goodrich and Marquart properties and bordered Bowers” and Storr’s lakes.
As one of Rock County’s leading conservationists, Antes also served as a member of the Rock County fish and game committee and as an officer of the Rock County Pheasant Association. Through his local conservation work, Antes was named as a member of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an advisory group to the State Conservation Commission. The members of the Congress made recommendations on fishing and hunting regulations, dates for hunting seasons, and bag limits on fish and game.
Antes interest in conservation included educating the public about Wisconsin’s wildlife and beginning in the late 1940s, the local pheasant breeding buildings and pens were opened to the public, at least once during the summer. County and local conservationists acted as guides for the people who toured the facilities.
Robert J. Antes also arranged for a small zoo of Wisconsin’s wild animals to be brought to Evansville for community activities, including the annual raccoon dog field trials and the city’s Fourth of July celebration. The animals were part of the Wisconsin Conservation Commission exhibits to promote conservation and educate the public about state’s native species. The zoo included red, blue and silver fox, black raccoon and a variety of game birds.
Robert J. Antes was Mr. Conservation to many Evansville residents. During various interviews with reporters during his lifetime, Antes always listed his conservation efforts among his principal achievements. However, conservation was only one facet of the contributions Antes made to Evansville during the 20th century.
Robert Antes, the Great Depression, and Evansville’s
Allen's Creek in early 1900s after the dam was removed
The Antes family-owned newspaper, the Evansville Review, had supported the restoration of Lake Leota in the early 1920s and interest in the maintenance of Evansville’s parks and the lake remained a life-long project for Robert J. Antes.
Young Robert’s father, Robert M. Antes, was owner of the Review at the time of the lake’s demise at the turn of the century. By the time, the Review’s lead headline on November 15, 1923, “OVER THE TOP”, announced the filling of Lake Leota, Robert M. had supported various schemes to restore Lake Leota for more than 20 years.
No doubt there were endless family conversations about Lake Leota during the fight for restoration. His father’s love for the Evansville city park and attractive lake was passed on to Robert J. Antes, who continued the fight to protect and enhance this valuable recreational resource. Once the lake was restored, maintenance of the dam, dredging, and other measures needed to keep a healthy lake environment, became a costly and divisive issue for city residents and the Evansville City Council.
For more than 20 years, from the late 1920s until 1950, Robert J. served as a City councilman from Ward 1, and used his influence to see that funds were appropriated and improvements were made to maintain the lake. For much of this period of service, Robert J. also served as chairman of the park board and in various other official capacities. He used these opportunities to improve Evansville recreational facilities.
Within five years after the restoration of the lake, the Antes’ were once again fighting to save another valuable recreation site. In 1928, Evansville lost one of its major attractions, the Rock County Fair. When the Janesville Park Association offered the Evansville fair stockholders $4,200 for the fair franchise, there were many willing sellers. Prior to 1928, the Evansville fair shareholders had lost money and were assessed additional funds to cover the cost of holding the fair and maintaining the fairgrounds and buildings. Only a few of the 420 stockholders spoke in favor of maintaining the fair.
The Janesville group already had a site for the fair and they were intent on moving the event to Janesville. The new fair franchise owners had no interest in purchasing the land located southwest of the Evansville city limits. Once the sale of the fair franchise was complete, the old fairgrounds was put on the auction block. The Evansville Review supported a petition by Evansville residents, asking the City of Evansville to purchase the land.
The petitioners believed that the land was valuable to the City. Some proposed that the site was an ideal landing field for a municipal airport other saw its potential as a city-owned athletic field. However, the 1928 City Council had not appropriated funds to purchase the land and the councilmen would not approve borrowing money for this purpose.
As the news of the impending sale of the fair franchise spread, the owners of the Evansville Review, Robert M. Antes and his son, Robert J. invested their own money and organized a group of 33 business leaders to purchase the fairgrounds. Just as he led the fight to restore the lake, Robert M. Antes, on behalf of a group of the local businessmen, purchased the fairgrounds at auction for $3,300. The purchase included the grand stand, the fine arts building, the judges’ stand, the secretary’s office and the gate stand.
The group held the land until the City could appropriate money in the 1929 City budget to purchase the site. As a city councilman, Robert J. Antes supported the purchase of the old fairgrounds and later, as a member of the park board, Antes, saw that the land was used for recreational and conservation purposes for many years after. During the 1930s, Robert J. Antes led hundreds of workers in project that improved and enhanced Evansville’s Leonard and Leota parks and the old fairgrounds.
By 1931, Evansville was beginning to experience the Great Depression. Men were laid off from jobs and families were going hungry. Evansville’s poor received received some temporary relief with the building of the viaduct, a massive bridge that took automobile traffic over the railroad tracks on North Madison Street. This monument to the first of the Depression work projects in Evansville was torn down in 1981.
When word spread that the viaduct project needed local workers, the men signing up for jobs outnumbered the available positions. Already, Evansville had men who wanted to work, but could find none and the unemployment was viewed as a terrible blow to the local economy.
In July 1931, the Review issued an editorial suggesting that the state and federal government needed to do more in the way of providing work for the unemployed and withholding food that was held in government storage. “Despite the honest and sincere efforts of the state government to provide employment for the laboring classes there are still many hungry mouths that are not getting the food they should have. And this in spite of clogged wheat elevators, and beef and dairy cold storages. The present program of $100,000 does not arrange for a great enough distribution of state money to do much good in giving men wages with which to feed loved ones when the cold of winter settles upon us.”
As the Depression became more severe, the federal government instituted the National Recovery Act (NRA) and in 1933, tried to gain volunteer support from businessmen. The National Recovery Act was described as a nation-wide plan to raise wages, create employment, and thus increase purchasing power and restore business.
Although there was wide spread support for the NRA, it proved an ineffective way to get people back to work. As Evansville merchants and manufacturers learned about the program, more than 100 businessmen volunteered to reemploy their laid-off workers and shorten the hours of other employees who were working overtime so that more people would find work. Those businessmen who signed pledges supporting the NRA displayed a sign with a blue eagle emblem in their store window.
Consumers were also enlisted to support for the program. There was a door-to-door campaign to get Evansville residents to sign pledges to patronize only those businesses that were signed up for the NRA. The government hoped that this volunteer program would create needed jobs, but the effort failed both locally and nationally. In late 1933, a new program the Civics Work Administration (CWA) was presented as the federal plan that would end unemployment and restore the nation’s economy.
In November 1933, the city hall became an employment office and Ben Ellis, the City Clerk and C. J. Smith took applications for the CWA projects. In the first few days, seventy-five men signed up for employment. Some of them had been unemployed for more than three years.
Robert J. Antes was named the city’s CWA administrator, and he planned many projects for the workers. Antes donated his time to administer the projects so that the funds could be used to support the men who needed work. In the early part of the program, the local CWA administration was given a quota of 185 jobs for the unemployed.
While the intent of the projects was primarily to employ out-of-work men, five Evansville women also registered with the labor office to do housework. Those who could give work to the women were asked to contact the employment office at City Hall.
The city planned to employ all who signed up for the program. However, the number of people seeking employment exceeded the available funding and within a few months the project goals were reduced.
The first projects were started on November 28, 1933, and included painting of the fair ground and park buildings, and straightening Allen’s creek from the park through the city to the sewage disposal plant, located just south of Water Street.
The straightening and rip-rapping of the creek from Main Street to North Madison was started earlier in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC’s) that had camp headquarters on the old fairgrounds. The continuation of the project won easy approval from the new CWA program advisors.
According to the Review, as soon as the local workers began the project, the unemployment situation in Evansville was considerably relieved. Businessmen reported their sales increased by as much as 50 percent after the CWA workers received paychecks. It was a temporary reprieve from the deepening economic decline.
There were plans for many more projects but with hand labor and little machinery, the workers made slow progress. The men filled low spots in the park and at the fairgrounds. These low areas were prepared for building athletic fields.
The fairground projects, included painting and repairing buildings, building an athletic field for the schools and public. The organizers dreamed that there would be baseball diamonds, a gridiron for the football team, and tennis courts.
The CWA workers were also put to work resurfacing the cemetery roads with gravel, painting the city hall, the library, and public school buildings. By December, there was a crew of 140 men and eight engineers at work on the CWA projects, with a payroll of nearly $2,000.
Projects in the public schools used many tradesmen including carpenters, painters and general laborers. At the schools the floors, walls and ceilings received new coats of paint and woodwork was varnished. Walls that needed repair received new coats of plaster. Cupboards, floors and cloak rooms were repaired by carpenters. Gravel was removed from the front of the grade school building and replaced with top dirt to improve the quality of the lawn.
In December 1933, some men were also working on park projects. A fleet of eleven trucks moved dirt from Brigham’s pit, just north of the city, to fill in low spots at the city park.
However, within a few months, the state administered funds were depleted, as there were more unemployed men and more public projects, than had been anticipated. By February 1934, Antes reported to the Review that the CWA program was in trouble. The original quota of 185 men was reduced to 71 in January 1934 and in February the number employed was reduced to 49. State officials, who had charge of dispersing the money for CWA, reported there were more men looking for work than there was money available to pay them.
The first persons to be laid off were those with another member of the family working in either public or private employment. Those who sought employment had to answer questions concerning the size of their families, income sources and the county aid they had received. Although Evansville’s crew numbered 49 workers, there were 31 more requesting work.
To further increase opportunities for the unemployed, working hours were reduced to a 15-hour week. With this plan, more men could at least earn some wages and remain employed.
Only certain activities were allowed under the federally funded programs, but Antes secured as much work as he could to keep his crews employed. In February 1934, Antes had secured another employment opportunity for Evansville’s workers. Crews were assigned to survey local homes to get data on building characteristics so that City assessors could use the information to determine tax assessments.
The federally funded CWA project ended in March 1934 and was replaced by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). There was some improvement under the new programs as a new minimum wage of 30 cents per hour was introduced.
By the end of March, Robert J. Antes had received application blanks from FERA so that the projects started under the CWA could continue. By June, Antes once again had crews working at the fairgrounds and at the park.
However, the number of men put to work had been drastically reduced. Only those who were eligible for county relief could be employed under the FERA program. In June, there were fifteen men at work. Six men were working at the fairgrounds and nine were working at the park.
The FERA employees worked six-hour days, four days a week and the average weekly wage was $10.80. The numbers of employees varied throughout the summer, depending on the money that was available. However, during the FERA project, the number of employed seldom reached 25.
Those lucky enough to be employed continued the straightening and rip-rapping
of the stream from the spillway of the dam to the bridge on North Madison
Street. The rip-rapping was a soil erosion preventative and the
straightening of the stream was expected to decrease the damage caused by
Allen’s Creek riprapping project
FERA crews also built three small waterfalls below the spillway and built a
new concrete basin just below the west spillway. The original
spillway was not deep enough and water from the basin had caused damage to the
bathhouse next to the dam. Work crews also installed a new flood gate at
the dam and landscaped the park with trees, shrubs, and flowers.
A bridge was purchased from Rock and Green Counties and installed in the northeast section of the lower park. Then a new drive was built from the lake to North Madison Street.
The fairgrounds crew continued building the baseball diamond, gridiron and more tennis courts. The athletic fields were predicted to be one of Evansville’s most popular amusement centers. Then a sudden summer storm blew the roof off the grandstand and the FERA crews stopped the athletic field project and were put to work replacing the roof.
However, before the year ended the FERA program had run out of funds and for a month, even those few lucky workers who had found jobs were once again unemployed. Antes once again struggled with getting money for the projects to put the desperate men to work.
As more federal funds were released, the FERA workers were reinstated and to find employment through the summer of 1935. In June 1935, there were 24 men employed at the park, the fairgrounds, and Milbrandt’s quarry. Crews quarried the lime rock which was taken from the quarry and used at the park for walks and stream rip-rapping. The city council furnished the crews with sacks of cement and other supplies needed to do the rip-rapping.
By September 1935, yet another federal program replaced the FERA funds. Workers Progress Administration (WPA) was the newly funded employment plan and once again Antes took charge of the administration of the Evansville projects. Antes continued to head this program as a volunteer.
Antes & The WPA
The Depression of the 1930s forced many people out of jobs and Evansville was no exception. Local, state and federal work programs helped ease the unemployment and Robert J. Antes volunteered his time to administer the funding and programs in Evansville.
In the fall of 1935, the Workers Progress Administration (WPA) programs brought a new round of funding for the community work projects. WPA funds allowed Robert J. Antes to employ 30 men who had anxiously waited for the announcement that the federal work projects could continue in the city.
Work projects already in place at the city park, fairgrounds and cemetery
were allowed to continue, and new projects were added. Under the WPA
program Antes had gained approval for several park improvements, including four
horseshoe courts, shuffle boards and two new showers in the Lake Leota bath
Lake Leota Bath House and swimming area
By January, a new street project was also in progress. Thirty-three men were at work installing cast iron water pipes and concrete storm and sanitary sewers on North Madison, Church, Third and Liberty Streets. The project was under the direction of Allie Ballard and crew foremen John Powers and Jacob Nihart. George Berry, described as an experienced pipe layer also helped direct the workers. The construction was expected to cost $20,000. The City was required to cover only a small portion of the project, while the WPA covered $17,518.51 of the cost.
Antes, who was also serving on the City Council and had urged the City to provide the additional funding, said the City could not have paid for the projects without the assistance of the WPA program. Many taxpayers did not have money to pay their real estate taxes and the City Council had moved the normal deadline date for payment ahead by several months to accommodate those having financial problems.
The men working on the North Madison Street sewer project were hampered as waters from Allen’s Creek rose and filled the trenches. The workers solved the problem by laying pipe to divert the water from the work area. Despite heavy snowfalls and severe cold, the WPA crews worked through the winter months of 1936.
By April 1936, WPA project supervisor, Robert J. Antes reported that 1,600 feet of eight-inch sanitary sewer, a small lift station, and 665 feet of four inch cast iron force main had been laid on North Madison Street from Grove Street to the North City limits.
The installation of new manholes and an automatic lift station on North Madison Street occupied the workers from May to September 1936. A hollow-brick pump house was built at the south end of the North Madison Street viaduct. Water from Grove Street, North Madison and South Madison Streets was diverted into a 13-foot deep manhole and when the manhole filled with water, the electric pump diverted it into the main sewer system.
WPA projects resumed at the park in the summer of 1936. A small island, a lagoon and a stone bridge were created. Water was diverted from the creek to a small half-circle, four-feet deep lagoon. Water flowed from the lagoon, under the arch of the stone bridge, and returned to the main stream of Allen’s creek .
The water in the lagoon was also fed by a spring, making it clear and fresh and an ideal habitat for game fish. Antes had WPA workers install screens at both outlets of the lagoon and stocked the area with small black bass. The WPA crews made stone picnic tables and benches and planted trees on the small island.
With the WPA program paying the worker’s wages for the various projects, the City of Evansville, was only required to furnish materials. For 1937, Antes planned more park projects including rip-rapping, a pool with a water fountain and more tree planting at the park projects. Frank Francis, an Evansville area farmer furnished elm trees for planting in the park.
Antes also encouraged donations of funds to cover more expensive trees. He suggested memorial trees be planted to honor local citizens and circulated a petition asking for funds. More than 70 people responded and the first one planted was a memorial to Fred Wilder. Many people remembered Wilder, a park custodian and strong supporter of the lake project in the 1920s. Antes referred to Wilder as the “father of Evansville’s park”. The tree purchased in Wilder’s honor was Colorado Blue Spruce purchased at a cost of $70 from the McKay nursery in Waterloo.
There were still so many Evansville people unemployed the following year that the WPA projects were funded for more work in 1938. This year the cemetery was the focus of much of the work. In March, Antes reported that there were 45 men installing water pipes in the cemetery. The only water at the cemetery to this time was a windmill and hand pumps.
The size of the crews varied throughout the summer of 1938. In June, Antes reported 35 men working on a 100 hour per month schedule. Antes submitted new proposals for WPA projects, in order to keep the unemployed at work. When WPA money was depleted, or a new project was not yet approved, the work crews were reduced in number. Those who could get transportation often worked on other WPA projects in neighboring communities, until Antes could secure more funds for Evansville.
There were also several veterans memorials built at the park in 1938.
In June 1938, the City of Evansville was in the midst of extensive W.P.A. work to improve the Evansville Park. Local civic organizations, enthused about the progress, found this an opportune time to establish memorials. The Woman's Relief Corp, an auxiliary for the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR,), purchased a new flagpole, through contributions of its members and friends. Workmen placed it near the original Lake Leota bathhouse on the southeast side of the lake.
A parade of local organizations, a drum corps, Boy Scouts, Woman's Relief Corps and Evansville's only surviving Civil War veteran, Gardner Babcock, led the participants to the new flag pole. Following speeches and the singing of patriotic songs, the Boy Scouts raised the flag.
The oldest veterans monument in the city was the historic old cannon at the
Evansville City Hall. The cannon was donated to the T. L. Sutphen Post,
No. 41 of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1900 and placed on the City Hall
lawn. Civil War soldiers and sailors of Rock County held a reunion
on August 15, 1900 in Evansville. During the reunion, the cannon, a gift
from the United States Naval department, was dedicated in memory of the heroic
dead. The 330 point parrott gun was originally used for both naval
and fortification service. It was given to the city with the provision
that it not be fired due to danger to life and property.
In August 1938, the cannon was moved to Legion Point on the east side of Lake Leota. WPA workers found imbedded in its original base the record of the gift from the United States Naval department; copies of four local newspapers and rosters of the local post of the G.A.R. and the Woman's Relief Corps.
In the late 1930s, in addition to the veterans’ contributions, there were also several individuals who furnished their own funds to help with the Leota Park projects. These funds supplemented the WPA money coming into the City. Park crews filled in low areas on the Burr Jones recreational area just east of the lake. Funds from Burr Jones’s estate and the WPA were used to complete this $500 project.
Local residents Stacia and Richard Henneberry donated $600 to be used for a
park shelter house. The building was to be called the Henneberry
Memorial. The gift was accepted by the City Council in December 1937, but
was not started until the late summer of 1938 when WPA funds for the project
were approved in July.
After more than five years of federally funded public works projects, the Great Depression had not eased. Evansville was only one small part of the national WPA program and other communities in Wisconsin also benefited. Throughout Wisconsin there were swamp drainage projects to improve Wisconsin’s agricultural land, dam building programs to improve Wisconsin’s rivers and streams, and conservation projects to improve wild game habitat.
However small Evansville’s program was in the national scheme of things, to
those in the community who were unemployed, the WPA work was important.
Robert J. Antes received word in March 1938 that a new round of funding was
available for the 1938-39 Evansville projects. Once again Antes
planned for the park to be the focus of the WPA work. Stone
buildings, landscaping and rip-rapping the creek were on Antes’ list.
Evansville’s Leonard Park and Lake Leota was a popular recreational area and attracted tourists to the city. Park caretakers reported each summer that thousands of people from southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois enjoyed the facilities that had been created by the WPA projects.
“Hardly a day goes by without practically every picnic and recreational area in the tract being used by picnic groups, tennis players, horseshoe pitchers, shuffleboard fans, bathers and hundreds of children. The lower section of the park is growing to be the most popular due to the night kittenball games and Lake Leota’s ideal bathing beach,” a Review reporter said in July 1938.
Substantial buildings were constructed at the park during the Great Depression. Since the WPA funds could not be used for materials, local funding was needed. For a new shelter house, Richard Henneberry and his sister, Stacia, made a gift of $600, which was accepted by the City in December 1938. WPA crews began work on the project.
The Henneberry’s gift paid for the stone, wood, and cement and WPA funds paid the workers wages. The 24 by 50-foot building was built from hand-cut rock taken from the Milbrandt quarry, south of the city. The building was completed in the summer of 1939.
Other WPA projects under Robert J. Antes’ administration were the continuation of sewer and water projects on Garfield Avenue. Although the land had been platted for residential development for several years, the lack of sewer and water had prevented most people from considering building in that area.
In the spring of 1938, the WPA workers built sewer and water systems on Garfield from Madison to Third Street. This opened new residential lots for building. Lester Patterson was the first to take advantage of the new utilities. Patterson built a bungalow on Garfield, near Third.
Antes planned for more work projects in1939, but in March, the projects were halted for a few weeks. “For the first time since the inauguration of the CWA administration several years ago, Evansville is without a public works program,” Antes told readers in the March 2, 1939 Review.
While Antes waited to hear news of another round of WPA funding, he found work for the unemployed at a lime crushing project in Cooksville and another WPA project in Orfordville. Antes noted the benefits that the city had received during the CWA, FERA, and WPA funding rounds.
Everyone was very hopeful that Evansville’s new high school project that had been approved for another type of federal funding, the Public Works Administration (PWA), in the amount of $99,818 would continue to provide work for Evansville’s unemployed.
The contractor, J. P. Cullen and Son of Janesville had been awarded the contract for the $220,000 project. Cullen put local men to work on the building as soon as the excavating for trenches for the footings began in March 1939.
By April, there were 25 men employed on the new school. As work progressed, a crew of nearly 50 workers was employed for a 40-hour week. Craftsmen included brick layers, carpenters, plumbers, steam-fitters, electricians, as well as general laborers.
Antes learned in June that in addition to the PWA funds, Evansville’s WPA funding had also been approved. Thirty men reported back to work on the building of the new Henneberry shelter house. Other projects that had been approved for the new round of funding were a new stone park store building and a skater’s warming house underneath the band stand.
More park landscaping and rip-rapping the park streams had been included in the approved funding request. The new WPA sewer and water projects extended the system from Third to Fourth Streets on the West end of Garfield Avenue.
In June 1939, men were also set to work cleaning up the old fair grounds, setting up bleachers and a pageant platform, and preparing the baseball fields for Evansville’s centennial celebration. The three-day celebration was the largest gathering of people for an event, since the old Rock County Fairs had moved from Evansville to Janesville.
When the new school building project was complete, the only remaining part of the razed 1860s and 1890s school buildings was the old school bell. It was saved from the scrap iron heap through the efforts of Harry Loomis who purchased the bell, then donated it the city to be used at the park.
The bell had called many hundreds of students to class. In 1940, workers Progress Administration (WPA) crews built a 20-foot bell tower at the city park. The stone was quarried at Milbrandt’s quarry of stone that matched the Henneberry Memorial shelter house. The rescued bell was placed in the stone tower. It was intended that the bell would be rung to summon people to concerts in the park and other community activities.
One of the last projects planned for the WPA workers was the building of a new $80,000 sewage disposal plant. The old sewage plant was condemned by the state health department, forcing the city to seek funds for its replacement. However, the WPA and PWA projects ended in 1940 before the project was completed.
Antes estimated that $50,000 had been spent on federal works projects in the seven years that he administered the program. The end of the federal works projects did not complete Robert J. Antes work on the park projects. Through the 1940s, Antes, an Evansville City Councilman, served as chairman of the park board and continued to see that the grounds and buildings were maintained.
Each winter the skating area was cleared by city crews and the Antes made sure that the skater’s warming house was heated. Antes also saw to the replacement of tennis court nets and maintenance of the park equipment so that citizens could enjoy the recreational facilities that had been created during the Great Depression.
Antes and the War Effort in the 1940s
In the 1940s, Antes shifted his civic duties from federal projects administration to the war effort. He was a leader the community’s drives to recycle scrap metal and conserve valuable resources for the war effort.
In late November 1942, Antes, his conservation friend, Dr. J. W. Ames and H. F. Brunsell headed the program to collect scrap metal from farmers and others. The metal salvage was used to produce war machinery during World War II. As the war progressed and more scrap metal was needed, the men arranged for a truck to make regular rounds of the city to collect tin, waste paper and rags.
From 1943-1945, the old fairgrounds was turned into garden plots for victory gardens to raise vegetables for home use, so that the commercially raised vegetables could be used by the government to feed the thousands of servicemen and women.
. In 1943, as the war continued and there were fewer men to work on farms to produce the food products, counties organized efforts to find farm laborers. There was also a shortage of farm machinery, as manufacturing was focused on war machines.
Antes and local farmer, Lloyd F. Hubbard served as local representatives on
the Rock County Farm Mobilization committee to find extra help for farmers
during the planting and harvest seasons. Antes offered to help publicize
ads for workers and Hubbard was assigned to the machinery rationing committee.
March 11, 1943, Evansville Review
By 1944 the Wisconsin Acting Governor, Walter S. Goodland, was calling for Wisconsin residents to help towards the national goal of 22 million Victory gardens. In a news release, Goodland said, “Nearly 50 percent of the 1944 commercially canned vegetables and 70 percent of the commercially canned fruits have been reserved for government requirement. In 1943, Victory Gardens produced 40 per cent of all fresh vegetables produced in the United States.”
Antes and City Clerk, Ben Ellis headed the Victory Garden project in Evansville. The city council arranged to have the garden’s plowed and offered them free of charge to anyone who would plant a vegetable garden.
By 1944, the United States was desperate for raw materials needed to supply the equipment need for the war effort. Robert J. Antes, one of Evansville’s leaders in the collection of metal and paper salvage, victory gardens, and organizing farm labor for planting and harvesting, was also given the responsibility for collection of milkweed pods.
By 1944, the kapok normally used for stuffing life jackets was in short supply and the fluffy white seeds of the milkweed were used as a replacement. The Union Co-op provided feed sacks for local citizens who would go out to the countryside and collect the milkweed pods. Those who picked and dried the seeds were paid 20 cents per sack.
Antes and his friend Dr. J. W. Ames, through the Review columns, gave weekly reminders of the importance of the recycling materials, especially tin. “Tin is a most essential war material right now and the only tin mines in the United States are the kitchens of the United States. No woman, regardless of whether or not she is the mother of a soldier, or a mother at all would want some mother’s son to die because she had neglected to save, prepare and turn in tin cans.”
The August 16, 1945 Evansville Review announced the end of the war. The old school bell in the stone bell tower in the park rang out the news that the war had ended. It was the first time the bell had been rung since Antes’ WPA workers placed it in the tower. The reporter noted the reactions of the local citizens to the news the war had ended. “Some shed tears of joy, others laughed, some were hysterical and many confined themselves to silent prayers of thanksgiving.”
Antes and Community Activities
Robert J. Antes’ leadership skills during the Depression and World War II and his lifelong interest in public service led him into many activities in the community. Through his membership in the Lions Club, the Masonic Lodge, and the Methodist Church, Antes was able to help provide funding and activities for many of Evansville’s charitable and social events.
Robert J. was one of the charter members of the Evansville Lions Club. The local Lions Club formed on December 21, 1925 with 22 charter members. The first meeting was held at the Central House Hotel on the northwest corner of Main and Madison Streets. The organizing members were local businessmen and civic leaders who focused their attention on promoting Evansville. Phil D. Pearsall, Robert Antes’ brother-in-law, served as the club’s first president.
In 1930, Robert J. Antes was elected president of the Lions Club. The round of activities that year was impressive and energetic for the small group of men. The members were assigned to various committees and began the year with the Charity Ball, a fund raising activity to support Evansville’s poor had been a traditional mid-winter activity. At the turn of the century, local residents, serving as a charity committee, operated the Ball. When the committee’s energy and enthusiasm ebbed, the Lion’s Club took on the organization of the event.
During Robert J. Antes’ term as president of the Lion’s Club, he also served on the committee that organized the balls. The Charity Ball was held at the Magee Theater and Leaver’s orchestra from Beloit provided the music. The 1930 ball raised $150 and the Lion’s Club kept the funds in a separate account to be used for aiding those in need.
In late January, Antes and other Lions Club members sponsored Farmer’s Day with exhibits, speakers, and entertainment of interest to rural families. Working with the County Agricultural Extension Agent, the Lions held the programs in the Magee Theater and the featured themes were improving crops, dairying, livestock, and poultry. Programs for women included household management, cooking and sewing.
Businesses were encouraged to offer prizes for the best exhibits of farm products, sewing and cooking. The Lions Club used the Farmer’s Day as a vehicle to promote local businesses and manufacturers. Exhibitors who set up booths included Baker Manufacturing, Union Implement Company, Hart Sales, and the City Water and Light Company that demonstrated and sold electric appliances. For more than 20 years, this cooperative effort between the Lions Club and the farming community was an important early winter activity.
In late May, the club sponsored a family picnic supper for its members. The slogan for the meeting was “all the baked ham and ice cream you can eat.” The wives furnished potluck dishes. Sugar and other food rationing during World War II changed food options at the picnic, but there was still plenty of dishes provided for the Lions Club members and their families.
Although Lions Club meetings ended in May and resumed in September, the activities of the club did not cease during the summer months. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, the Lions Club also organized of the Evansville Fourth of July celebration. Robert J. Antes made sure the event was widely publicized in the Review and that many other community organizations were involved in the activities.
The 1931 program was typical of the celebrations. The announcement in the Review said the 4th would be “a rousing celebration,” with the Lions Club sparing no expense in making the program the best patriotic and industrial demonstration. Antes and his fellow Lions Club members also worked with other local organizations, including the Boy Scouts, the American Legion, the community band and local businesses to staff the parade, water carnival, ball games, dances, and fireworks.
In the summer months, the Lions Club also sponsored kitten ball tournaments. Local sports teams and rural school teams played on the fairground sports field, built and maintained by the WPA workers in the 1930s.
The Lions also sponsored amateur shows, often imitating the famous the Chicago radio station WLS Barn Dance. Local singers, dancers, and comedians demonstrated their talent and were generally well received by the audience.
In the winter, the club encouraged businessmen to decorate for the holiday season. Club members placed a 30-foot Christmas tree in the center of Main and Madison Streets decorated with wreaths, bells, electric lights and a large star on the top.
Local merchants also placed smaller decorated trees along Main Street from the library to the railroad depot. Some business places, including the Antes Press, decorated their buildings with electric lights, a novel addition to the holiday atmosphere.
By 1938, the Christmas tree was placed on the lawn of the City Hall, so as not to interfere with the traffic at the corner of Main and Madison. The Lion’s Club sponsored the first house and business Christmas decorating contest in 1938.
In 1939, the Lions Club decided to plant an evergreen on the City Hall lawn that could be used as a permanent Christmas tree, as well as a beautiful landscaping addition. Antes served on the committee that chose the tree and saw that it was planted.
The Lions Club also sponsored a movie at the Magee Theater for any Evansville child who wanted to attend. The members made Christmas boxes filled with candy that was passed out to the hundreds of children who gathered for the celebration. By the late 1930s the crowd of children reached nearly 1,000 and the Lions Club asked the Boy Scouts to assist in handing out the candy.
The arrival of Santa Claus and the many activities the Lions Club planned for the children served as both a promotional activity for local businessmen and a holiday treat for the youngsters.
When William Bone, owner of the Leota School for Girls and an enthusiastic horseman, wanted to organize a horse show, the Lions Club served as the sponsor. Once again Robert J. Antes helped promote the shows with advertising and publicity in the Evansville Review.
Robert J. Antes served in nearly every office during his years as a Lions Club member. He was the last surviving charter member of the organization. In December 1965, on the 40th anniversary of the club’s organization, Antes was honored at a banquet given by the Lions.
Antes did not confine his activities to just one club or organization. In addition to his Lion’s Club work, Antes was involved in many other community organizations. He was an active member and officer of the American Legion.
In 1938, the Methodist men organized a ham supper as a fundraising activity for the church. Robert J. Antes took an active part in planning and working at the suppers, sometimes serving as the committee chairman and sometimes as the dishwasher. The suppers were an annual event, with the exception of 1943, when World War II rationing of meat, and other food products was so severe that the men decided to forego the dinner.
Antes was also a member of the local Blue Lodge of the local Masons Lodge. By the 1940s, the Masons were the oldest lodge in Evansville. Antes was elected to head the organization in 1941 and at that time there were nearly 85 members.
Robert J. Antes: Work and Public Service
Robert J. Antes was first elected to the Evansville City Council in 1929 and served until 1951. He was appointed to various committees over the years, including finance, public property (including the park), streets and alleys, cemetery, sanitary and Board of Review. When the first park committee was formed, Antes served as the new committee’s chairman.
Antes maintained a life-long interest in the park and when he served as chairman of the park board he was a strong voice for preservation of the recreational facilities at the park. In the winter, usually around Christmas when the lake froze, Antes directed the maintenance of a coasting hill, skating area, and warming house. The skating rink on Lake Leota was flooded, if the ice was too rough for skating. The rink was lighted at night and a caretaker was hired to supervise the warming house under the bandstand. Whenever necessary, City crews cleared the snow from the skating area on the lake.
The City park and Lake Leota had been an attraction since the 1880s. Even during the period when the dam was taken out and the lake reverted to a stream from 1900 to 1923, the park remained a favorite picnic spot for local families and a fishing spot for youngsters.
Beginning in the 1920s, with the development of better roads and more dependable automobiles, the park began to serve as a tourist camp. Year after year, the Review carried articles about the campers who had enjoyed the excellent facilities, including tables, platforms for tents, and water. The park board, under Antes’ leadership provided many amenities for summer visitors, including a lifeguard, bathhouse caretaker, and park store.
For many visitors, their first impression of Evansville was the view of the City park as they arrived from the north. Frequently visitors would send letters to the City or to the Review extolling the wonderful camping facilities and well-maintained park. After the lake was restored in 1923 and the WPA projects improved park facilities in the 1930s, the park became even more popular.
This was done at great expense to the City. The lake and swimming beach required constant maintenance. The diving tower frequently needed new diving boards and sand was brought in each year to keep the beach clean and attractive. However, the expense was considered necessary in order to provide recreational facilities for residents and the hundreds of visitors. Antes, in his role as park board chairman, held the financing of the park projects as a high priority for the City Council.
However, there were also many contributions to the park for equipment from individuals and organizations. Through his membership, Antes was able to influence at least two organizations to fund equipment for the park. The Lion’s Club and the American Legion contributed funds from the 4th of G. I. and other fundraisers towards the purchase of playground equipment.
One of these donations prompted Antes to remind the City Council of their good fortune in receiving the funding. When a check from the proceeds of the American Legion 4th of G. I. was presented to the City Council in August 1957, Robert J. Antes sent a memo to the councilmen: “Until now, the city has never had to invest a penny in playground equipment. All of the present park playground apparatus has been contributed by the Lions Club and others.”
The maintenance of the Lake was an ongoing expense for the City. Dredging and cleaning vegetation from the lake to make it habitable for game fish became an important issue in the late 1950s. Robert J. Antes led the fight to keep the lake clean.
A fund drive to build a new swimming pool and abandon swimming in Lake Leota began in the late 1940s. By the late 1950s, the lake had filled with mud and there were many days when high bacterial counts in the water made the lake an unhealthy place for swimmers. The local health officer, Dr. Samuel Sorkin checked the water condition of the lake on a daily basis before swimmers were allowed to enter the water.
Voters approved the building of the pool in 1958 as enough funds had been raised to build a pool. Antes worried that the City Council would abandon maintenance of the lake and there were those who wanted to abandon the lake rather than keep it clean and useable.
Antes, named by the local press as “the biggest booster and developer of the local park and lake”, urged the City Council to investigate dredging Lake Leota. The Council put Antes in charge of getting an expert opinion about the cleanup and the cost. For the rest of his life, Antes fought to keep Lake Leota a beautiful and vital recreational area in the Evansville City park.
Robert J. Antes and the Antes Press
Robert J. Antes joined his father’s printing and publishing company after completing a year of business courses at the Evansville Seminary and a year of courses in the printing business at a school in Chicago.
Robert J.’s father, Robert M. Antes, purchased the Evansville Review in 1895 with his partner George Magee. Magee sold his share of the business to Antes in 1903. Antes was successful and in 1913 contracted for the building of a three-story brick structure at the corner of Main and Madison. In addition to publishing the Evansville Review, the Antes Press published books, printed business forms, catalogs, and other did other job work for businesses throughout the United States.
Although Robert J. had worked for his father for a number of years, it was
not until 1921, that Robert M. brought his son, Robert J. and son-in-law, Phil
Pearsall into the corporation known as the Antes Press.
Five years later, in 1926, Robert J.’s younger brother William B. Antes, joined the Review staff . William completed his degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin and as his final thesis wrote a history of the Evansville Review and the Antes publishing business. The report detailed the early history of the community, as well as the Antes Press.
William had an outgoing personality and was a talented musician and business promoter. He served as editor of the Review and frequently had other businesses going as well. During the Depression years of the 1930s, William organized dance bands, opened a miniature golf course on North Madison Street, and actively promoted the Evansville Centennial celebration in 1939, while serving as editor of the Evansville Review.
Beginning in the summer of 1936, William also traveled with a national circus as a radio and newspaper promoter. In his absence, J. I. Scott served as Review editor and Donovan Every, as his assistant. When the circuses went into winter quarters, William returned to Evansville and resumed his job with the Review. Eventually, William gave up his editing job and went with the circus full-time.
Robert J. was most interested in the printing portion of the Antes Press. In addition to the firms regular business, the company welcomed authors of self-published books. Several histories of Evansville and biographies of Evansville people were published by the Antes Press, including Nine Decades by Supreme Court Justice Burr Jones; Pullen’s Pencilings, by L. T. Pullen; a Centennial Book for the 1939 celebration of the settlement of Evansville; and William Antes’ history of the Review. Privately published poetry, cookbooks, and other writings were also published by the company.
In the fall of 1934, an unusual order came from a honey dealer on the Island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The Antes Press received a request to publish letterhead, envelopes and other business forms for the honey dealer. When completed the boxes were sent to New York to begin their ocean journey.
It was not unusual for the company to receive printing orders from firms in England and other European countries. The Antes Press often received large contracts that required the firm to run night and day shifts. The huge three-story building at the corner of Railroad Streets and East Main was a busy industry, printing materials for private industry, as well as local, county and state government publications.
Robert M. Antes died in April 1949 and for two more years, Robert J. and Phil
Pearsall operated the business. Just a little over a year later, in June
1950, Robert J. and Pearsall sold the business to Will Sumner, Jr., Ralph E.
Ammon, Gordon Crump and W. A. Sumner, Sr. Robert J. continued to
work for the new organization, until 1954, when he received the appointment as
Evansville’s Acting Postmaster and left a career of over 40 years in the
Evansville’s Post Master
Long before he became postmaster, Robert J. Antes had promoted building a new post office for Evansville. It would take nearly 30 years of persuasion before federal officials granted the new building.
The quest for a new post office had begun in the late 1930s. In 1938, Robert J. Antes and other progressive Evansville businessmen and civic leaders tried a variety of political means to persuade the federal government to build a new post office. The businessmen began by inviting Wisconsin’s Senator F. Ryan Duffy from Fond du Lac to visit Evansville and attend a booster meeting at the Masonic Temple.
During the visit Evansville boosters to persuade Duffy to lobby for a new post office. However, the efforts were futile and when Robert J. was appointed Evansville acting postmaster in August 1954, the new post office was still only a dream. An old store on the northside of East Main Street was used as a post office for many years.
Antes did not give up. As he had fought battles to keep men working
during the Depression and to maintain the City Park and Lake, Antes also kept up
the fight to get a new post office. Six years after his appointment, in
1960, a new post office was built on the site of the old Episcopal Church and
later St. John’s Lutheran Church, next to the library on South First
Street. The building was privately owned and rented to the federal
Many improvements in postal service were made after the new building was complete. Receipts nearly doubled in the ten years that Antes served as postmaster. The post office had new equipment and office furniture. Three rural routes were consolidated into two and a new station wagon was purchased and used to deliver parcel post and service the mail relay boxes located in various parts of the city.
Antes retired on his 70th birthday, January 22, 1964 and Michael J. Finnane, was sworn in as the new postmaster. The community hosted a retirement party for Antes a month after his retirement. The retirement party was held at the high school gym on South Forth Street. Businessmen and a committee, including John Thurman, Charles Maas, Roger Rasmussen, Claire Ehle, John Wyse, Norm Teckham, Mrs. Dee Losey and Mrs. Ruth Thayer, planned the event.
More than 300 people attended the program and dinner and it served as a celebration of Robert J. Antes’ many activities and achievements. The local Lions Club and the Stoughton Lions Club each presented him with a plaque for his years of service as a charter member of the Evansville club.
Many of Antes’ conservation friends praised his work and announced that
several hundred acres of land that had recently been purchased near Evansville
would be designated as the Antes wildlife area.
Antes was also granted a certificate of good citizenship from the Evansville Chamber of Commerce. Then Mayor Wilson Brown told Antes that the circular drive through the lower portion of the City park had been named “Antes Drive”.
He received county and statewide recognition for his interest in parks and recreation. In 1968, the Rock County Board of Supervisors appointed Robert J. Antes to the Rock County Beautification Council.
Two years later, Antes received an Honorary Service Award from the Milwaukee Public Schools division of municipal recreation and adult education for his service in conservation and the development of the municipal park programs in Evansville. In 1977, the Evansville Jaycees named Antes their Distinguished Service Award winner.
His love of nature was manifested in a beautiful city park. During the
Great Depression, Antes was a devoted public servant, leading the battle to give
work to many during a time of great need and his conservation efforts provided
recreational activities for many local sportsmen. His persistence,
energy and desire to serve led to a lifetime of achievement.
At his death on August 28, 1985, at the age of 91, Robert J. Antes had given
great service to the City of Evansville.