For five generations, an Andrew Waterman has been involved in hotel operations in the Dells and another Andrew is waiting in the wings.

Judy, wife of Andrew John "Turk" Waterman, told the Watermans story to members of the Dells Country Historical Society Dec. 7 at Buffalo Phil's, where the society held its annual Christmas dinner. The Watermans own Buffalo Phil's.

She said much of the information came in bits and pieces from Iness Waterman Thompson, who also inspired Judy to put together a book on the Waterman family. "Iness always talked about the history of the Dells," Judy said, and she "hoarded" many items that eventually filled a barn on her property. Judy said Iness' son Tom said that people should not tell Inez they liked an item because they would soon own it.

After years of talking with Inez, Judy said she had a huge box of information and began trying to put it together.

The Waterman history in the Dells begins with Andrew Shepherd Waterman who moved from New York in 1850 to the Twin Valleys in Adams County. He served in the Civil War, training at Camp Randall and then being stationed at Cairo, Ill., where his unit protected the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Andrew Shepherd had eight children including Andrew Seth Waterman, the grandfather of Turk and Jack Waterman.

In 1895, the Watermans moved into the city of Wisconsin Dells, or Kilbourn as it was named then. They bought the Rose Hotel, renaming it the Waterman Hotel. It was on Superior Street, where later a laundry, post office and bank would stand. Andrew Seth and his wife Vinnie Belle Hayes Waterman had six children, and unlike many families at the time, they all lived to adulthood.

One girl died at age 20. She had fallen as a girl into the school ravine that then ran from Cedar to Washington and the river, Judy said. While she survived the fall, she was crippled.

The hotel, Judy said, had an office where the men would go to talk about the politics of the day such as whether the city needed a sewer and whether the planks on the sidewalks needed replacing. The office had a post with nails on it, so the men could lean their chairs back, hooking them on the nails to prevent the chairs from tipping over.

The women went to a sitting room for their talks.

The hotel, she said, had only two stoves, both on the ground floor, and the pipes running up to the roof heated the bedrooms on the second floor. This was in the days before indoor toilets, and the hotel had two outhouses: One for women and one for men.

$1.50 per night

The hotel charged guests $1.50 per night or $7 per week, and many of the guests lived at the hotel year round. Besides tourists, the hotel also served guests who came to the nearby stockyards or came through the Dells on the railroad.

Much of the work of running the hotel fell to Andrew Seth's wife, known as Granny Waterman. Granny had four "gals" to help her in running the hotel and cooking, but Granny insisted on doing the ironing for her children, who she always dressed in white, Judy said.

Granny was also known as very kind, and she fed any hobos or those who were down on their luck at the hotel's back door. She figured the hobos marked the doors somehow so they would know places to get a free meal, Judy said.

Town constable

Granny also made the meals for the prisoners in the city jail, mostly drunks and other minor criminals. Andrew Seth, in addition to having the hotel, was the town constable. Judy said some years ago, she got a call from the late Hans Michelson, a former police chief, who gave her the billy club/baton Andrew Seth carried.

Granny Waterman was quite a horsewoman, and she frequently took the hotel surrey to go to Davis Corners to visit her family, Judy said. The trip to Davis Corners would take about an hour and a half, one way. The surrey was also used to take tourists from the hotel to Devil's Lake for a day-long visit.

At the hotel, the six children always wanted to make money, Judy said. They gave tours of the schoolhouse ravine, that started by where the old Dells Grade School was - where now the Kilbourn Library is - and went to the river. Judy said she had never been to the ravine and did not know where to find it. Members of the audience said that while part of the ravine was filled, you can still enter it near the post office.

Besides tours, the children also had Granny make popcorn to sell to tourists on the street, and Judy said Andrew Victor "Poppy" Waterman, Jack and Turk's father, would shine shoes on the streets for a quarter.

Hotel sold

In 1916, the Watermans sold the hotel and it later became known as the Kilbourn Inn. In 1918, Andrew Seth died, leaving Granny to raise their six children. A friend of the Watermans' offered to buy the hotel back for Granny to run, but she refused, Judy said. She later told a daughter that she couldn't bear to go back to the hotel and deal with the roaches.

Granny took the children and went to live with her parents' farm not far from Jordan Lake. Granny had started her work life near there at the Adams County Poor Farm, which still stands along County G. Granny, at the poor farm, made linings for coffins for those buried in the Poor Farm Cemetery. Granny left that work to go to work at the hotel where she met and married Andrew Seth.

The Waterman children grew up on the Hayes farm, and the family went back there during the Depression. Victor Hayes, Granny's father, left the farm to her when he died.

When Charlotte Waterman Fulton, Andrew Seth and Granny's daughter, died at age 40, Granny took in and raised the five Fulton children even though she was elderly.

The next Waterman in business in the Dells was Andrew "Poppy" Waterman, Judy said. Poppy, the father of Turk and Jack, had a boat on the river and also worked at the Finch Hotel before he went into business with coin machines. Judy said he was known for his generosity. One of his best friends was Jimmy Wimmer, she said. When Wimmer could not get a loan to open the restaurant he would call the Del-Bar, Poppy loaned him the money in coins, she said.

Poppy had a route for collecting from the machines. He would stop for a drink at nearby bars and buy folks in the bar a drink, Judy said. He often found the same people at each location along the route, she said.

Poppy, besides coin machines, ran bingo games and was a justice of the peace. However, Judy said, he had to give up the justice of the peace post when Madison newspapers reported the justice of the peace in the Dells was running bingo games, which were illegal.

After his wife, Mae, died, Judy said Poppy was quite a ladies man, and would often be out shoveling snow for women who were alone, and often had parties at his home mostly attended by women. She said she and Turk tried to get Poppy to wear overshoes while shoveling, but he insisted on wearing his thin slipper shoes. He also was frequently called to set mousetraps. He would fasten a string to the trap so the woman could pick up the trap by the string and throw it away, Judy said. Poppy died in 1983.

The next generation in Dells businesses were Turk and Jack, who founded Noah's Ark and Great Wolf Lodge. Along with Turk and Jack, Turk's son Andrew W. is in the business and runs Waterman Log Crafters, which makes log furniture for Great Wolf, and is also involved with Buffalo Phil's, Tanger Mall and Great Wolf.

The next in line for the Waterman businesses is Andrew Rider, now 4, the sixth generation.

You might also like

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.