Charles Werrebroeck built one of the few remaining Belgium homes and the only one not completely updated in 1924 on his 40-acre farm, located on Mill St., Oconto Wisconsin. Electricity was put into the house in the early 1940's, which was a common occurrence in that time period.
Charles Werrebroeck and his wife Emma Helena Ryckert, with their infant daughter Ann immigrated to the area from St. Margaret Caprijcke, Belgium in 1911. Charles built the home using the methods he had been taught in Belgium, where he learned his trade of masonry.
He formed the basement blocks by pouring concrete into individual molds, which he had made, and allowing them to dry, one at a time. He then bought the bricks for the balance of the structure from Urart. He calculated the amount need so accurately, that according to family stories, there were no bricks left when he finished his home. The eaves of the structure are vented to allow for air exchange when heating and cooling in the summer. The method is very similar as what is used in our modern homes. It should be noted that the pattern at the eave line is different on each side of the house.
The home consisted of two main rooms, kitchen and parlor. The wood-burning cook stove heated the kitchen and pantry. The parlor had a pot bellied stove that was used to heat the remainder of the house which consisted of 3 bedrooms. Two of the bedrooms were on the first floor the second was upstairs. The upstairs was heated by a register cut into the ceiling of the parlor and also contained a storage room.
An outdoor pump, located on the south side of the house provided the water. The water was hauled into the house a pail at a time year around. During the winter to avoid getting bundled up every time water was needed, they would set a milk can in the pantry and fill it, and use it as needed. There was a typical out house as there was no indoor plumbing and kerosene lamps provided light. The home originally had a porch across the front side to protect it from the north and westerly winds of winter. This also provided a nice place to sit on warm summer evenings.
The Farm in daily use
Charles worked as a builder in the Oconto area. They used the small farm as a secondary source of income as well as to provide many of their own needs. Emma had a huge vegetable garden, from which she harvested vegetables to trade with the local grocer for food items they needed to purchase. She was an early version of our modern vegetable truck farms. They maintained a herd of 6 to 8 cows from which they sold milk. Emma also churned, by hand, the cream into butter, which was also sold. Their last source of income was from the sale of eggs & chickens. The location of the property close to the city of Oconto, now in it, was ideal for the sale of these items
They lived a very frugal life as many of the Belgium immigrants did. Ann's story of when the first motion picture house opened in town is a good example. The story also relates the inventiveness of a young, energetic child to accomplish what she wanted. The cost was 8 cents and her father told her that was two much money, he would not give it to her. Her answer to the problem was to pick flowers, arrange them in bouquets and go into town to sell them, earning herself 10 cents to cover the cost of the movie, with two cents to spare.
The farm at one time had two barns, a woodshed and a summer cottage. The summer cottage was located to the east of the home across the driveway from the main house. It contained a kitchen and one bedroom and was heated by the wood-burning cook stove. All that remains of this farm is the home with the front porch removed.
The Belgium House today
The farm is now part of the Copper Culture State Park which was formed after 1952 when it was discovered by Oconto resident Dan Baldwin that the site of this farm was the location of a cemetery for the Copper Culture people.
The home is now known as the Charles Werrenbroeck Museum and is within the park. It is used to store and display the Copper Culture artifacts. It will show anyone visiting it a typical early Belgium home in Oconto and would be an ideal place to furnish like an early Belgium home.
Those visiting the museum on Sunday afternoons may have the pleasure of having Ann as their hostess to guide them through the exhibits and home. At 90 plus years, in year 2001, she is looking forward to greeting visitors on Sunday afternoons in the home she grew up in.
Information provided by Ann Werrebroeck Herman and her daughter Betty Badan.