Movies, photos offer glimpse of Sparta in 40s, 50s

Some old photographs and 8-mm movies recently made available to the Monroe County Local History Room will give viewers a sense of Sparta and other areas in the county as they were in the 1940s and 1950s.
Herald “Butch” Hoffman recently offered the history room access to his late father’s collection of photos and homemade movies. While the collection consists mostly of images of Harold “Hap” Hoffman’s family, it includes glimpses of events people should find of interest.
In the 40s and 50s, Hap Hoffman owned a photography shop in downtown Sparta called “Harold’s Studio” where he sold photography equipment and sporting goods.
He was originally from Hammond, Ind. After completing officers school, he was stationed at Ft. McCoy during WWII and met his future bride, the former Pat Rice, on trips to Sparta. He later sold his store and was appointed Sparta’s post master in 1952.
Despite giving up the store, Hap never lost his love for photography.
“He always had a camera in his hand and we always thought we the most photographed kids around at the time,” said Butch.
History Room Director Jarrod Roll had the movies and photos converted to a digital format so they can be viewed on a computer screen and he is still exploring ways to be able to share the images with the public.
A Rural Youth Day parade in the 1940s is among the events on the films Roll thinks carry historical value. “It’s really cool to see,” he said. “That’s when the rural schools in the county would each create a float and go down Water Street.”
There also is footage of workers harvesting ice on Perch Lake and loading the blocks into warehouses owned by Harold Wilgrubs located at the end of Rusk Avenue near where the VFW now stands.
The ice was packed in sawdust and delivered to houses before the advent of refrigerators when old-fashioned ice boxes were the norm.
Deer camp near Warrens and Christmas morning at the Hoffman house in the 1940s also are included in the collection.
“Even that stuff we love because it’s a snapshot of the past,” said Roll, adding those familiar with Spring Bank near Fort McCoy will find film footage of the pond and cabins of interest. “There’s some neat things there.”
Among the 2,400 still photos in the collection are images of the German prisoner-of-war camp at Ft. McCoy, which Hap took while stationed at the military installation. There are photos of a German POW funeral and a POW Christmas celebration.
Roll said there are other movies donated to the History Room, which also were converted to digital format including footage of the Untied Congregational Church on North Water Street going up in flames in late 1970s; the 1983 Sparta Centennial parade; the first Butterfest parade in 1985; and images of the 1979 July 4 flood.
While those are all without sound, there is a professional film by the late Don Goodman that he created for the Tomah Fire Department in 1971 for its centennial celebration that includes sound.
Roll said he’s excited about the new additions to the History Room’s archives and looks forward to releasing them to the public in the future.

Evans Print & Media Group

1302 River Rd.
P.O. Box 252

Sparta, WI 54656-0252

Office Number: (608) 269-3186
Fax Number: (608) 269-6876