Stroebe Island: The Horsefeather Tavern

Archibald Caldwell

As the tribesmen were gathered about the mission in 1835 an epidemic of smallpox broke out among them which swept over about one-third of the tribe. Col. George Boyd, then Indian agent at Green Bay, sent to their relief a surgeon of the regular army, stationed at Fort Howard, to give them the benefit of vaccination. But Archibald Caldwell, a trader at the settlement, benevolently took charge of the sufferers, nursing and nourishing the sick and watching them night and day at the risk of his own life. He took the disease himself, suffered severely and barely escaped the fate of many of the unfortunate victims.”

He remained a resident and was still living in Winnebago Rapids (a government settlement at present-day Neenah) many years after. He once maintained a trading post on the sixty-acre island at the foot of Little Lake Butte des Morts, since known as Stroebe Island, but then and for many years known as Caldwell’s Island. He is said to have had six Menominee wives at the same time!

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Joseph Stroebe (Strobe Island Namesake)

Joseph Stroebe settled his island (Stroebe Island) by 1860 (some say he purchased the land in 1866); he arrived from Milwaukee, mostly by foot and ox-cart, because the train went no further than Fond du Lac. He later said Appleton and Neenah were “struggling” when he built his cabin, and he shared the island with Indians who showed him how to spear fish and bag ducks. Allegedly the island was “lined with tepees.”

In February 1902, Dudley Pierce of Appleton had a cockfighting match with a man from Chicago on the island. Gamblers stood around and as much as $5,000 was exchanged.

When Joseph reached the age of 72, in 1902, he relinquished the island to Harry and Frank, the two sons who stayed on the land to help their father operate the place.

Stroebe Island 1977
Stroebe Island 1977

Stroebe Island 1955
Map (affiliate link)

Harry and Frank Stroebe

Harry Stroebe operated a resort on the island in the 1920s, which caused friction with Prohibition authorities. He was charged with possession of gin and “moon” in November 1923. Stroebe paid $150 in fines to avoid jail time. He moved his residence and soda parlor uphill in October 1926 because his first floor was regularly flooded.

In Spring 1929, high water eroded “yards” of land, removing trees and damaging boathouses and icehouses. Harry Stroebe expressed worry that without proper damming the acreage would continue to decrease.

Frank Stroebe established the Island Haven tavern about 1932, on the bluff where the original log cabin stood.


In 1962, the north 46 acres were platted for a planned, residential development for between 40 and 50 families. Prior to that, only the Stroebe family had owned the 96 acres for nearly 100 years.

Development continued through August 1964, spearheaded by Mildred Stroebe (Harry’s widow). The southern half (owned by Anna Stroebe) was not affected. A marina with 40 slips was also to be built. The year-plus delay occurred while neighboring cities debated purchasing the land and making it a park. This fell through because it would have required Appleton and Menasha to work together, which they could not agree. The state was interested, but decided it was too close to High Cliff to be its own state park.

By March 1968, the Island Haven (2137 Stroebe Road) was renamed Alex’s Plantation Haven. At this time, the building was destroyed by fire and soon rebuilt as the Horsefeather.


Although ads for lunch specials, live music and talent shows appeared slightly earlier, the first full mention of the Horsefeather in local newspapers came following a morning train derailment on November 22, 1971.

A train tipped over, blocking the road to Stroebe Island, trapping residents inside and making access to the bar rather difficult. The owner, BJ Eddy (2217 Sunrise Drive), devised a clever solution – if patrons could climb over the train, he would have a car shuttle them the rest of the way. Many people did, in fact, take him up on this offer.

1971 Train Issue

Children were unable to get to school, and conversely two teachers – Mrs. Pearl Cox and Mrs. Jack Barrett – were trapped on the island, too. Clarence Doberstein, on his way home from hunting, was trapped outside the island! (In fact, Doberstein owned the Horsefeather property and Eddy was merely a renter.)

The bar was apparently respectable in its early days, as evidenced by the December 1971 wedding of Valerine Ann Weinert (insurance adjuster) and Randall Charles Melzer (assistant manager of an S&L), which held a buffet and dance at the establishment.

Trouble Begins

The first sign of trouble came in April 1972, though not necessarily the fault of the tavern and its patrons. While helping out a stalled car at the Horsefeather, someone stole a starting motor and a toolbox from the cab of a Denny’s Towing tow truck. Owner Dennis Eldman placed the combined value at $285.

1972 Ad
1972 Ad

On April 29, Peter Joseph Zak pulled into the driveway of BJ Eddy’s residence. This apparently upset him, as he hit Zak’s station wagon to the point of damaging the left rear door and fender. Eddy was charged with damage to property and disorderly conduct, but pleaded not guilty.
June 26, 1972: While parked at the Horsefeather, someone went in Darlene DePagter’s vehicle and stole the contents: jewelry, costumes, three wigs and several suitcases valued at $700.

July 27, 1972: Someone broke into the car belonging to Scott Swarmer, the Horsefeather assistant manager, and stole a 357 magnum Colt pistol valued at $160.

August 26, 1972: John W Kroll stole a truck belonging to Janet VanOrnum from the Horsefeather parking lot.

November 9, 1972: James VanDriesse tried to sell $50 worth of marijuana to a bartender at the Horsefeather. The bartender turned down the offer, but another man in the bar agreed to pay. The second man ended up being Gerald Fritch, a police officer. VanDriesse waved a jury trial and the case was pushed off to at least April 1973.

Obscenity Laws

Around the early 1970s we know the Horsefeather has nude dancing because communities in the Fox Cities were trying to find what was legal or not, based on what was considered obscene.

The obscenity issue has been controversial and hard to nail down, because the Supreme Court made a wide variety of opinions between 1957 and 1973 on the matter, sometimes seemingly contracting themselves.

  • In 1957, the Court did not clearly define obscenity but said it would be found by “applying contemporary community standards.”
  • In 1972, it was decided that it was not obscene to show adult films at a drive-in theater. Miller v. California (1973) was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court modifying its definition of obscenity from that of “utterly without socially redeeming value” to that which lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
    • Other “nudie” bars named in a December 1972 article included Ewald “Sony” Rehfeldt’s The Club (East Wisconsin Avenue), The Paradise Club (West Wisconsin Avenue), and Clarence DeLeeuw’s Connie’s Club on Highway BB (exact location unknown, but not far from the Horsefeather).
      • DeLeeuw, incidentally, was one of the co-founders of Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, and had previously owned a topless bar in Kimberly.

Lorraine and BJ Eddy

April 23, 1973: Lorraine Eddy, wife of owner BJ Eddy, was arrested for soliciting prostitution. She was released on $310 bond. State agent Ronald Himberg was in conversation with Eddy, when she brought him to a back room, and told him she was “lonesome.” She left briefly, and then returned fully disrobed, and laid down near Himberg, asking for $50. Himberg pretended not to understand and asked what the money was for. She said “a straight f— or anything you want, as long as we get out of here in 20 minutes.” He gave her the money, which she put in her purse, and he immediately arrested her.

A court appearance was set for May 1, then postponed to June 8 because Eddy’s attorney (Dennis Herrling) was on vacation.

While trial was pending, the club’s liquor license came up for renewal.

In addition to the felony prostitution charge, BJ Eddy was facing a misdemeanor charge of buying alcohol from an unlicensed wholesaler. The misdemeanor charge would not affect the license, but the felony would. The board determined that if they had to make a decision, they would renew the license and revoke it later, based on the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty – Lorraine wasn’t a convicted felon yet.

Also in April, the town board passed a resolution banning nude dancing in taverns.

June 4, 1973: A John Doe hearing looked into vice in Winnebago County. Two men from Sheboygan testified that Horsefeather dancer Helena Dala Friedman charged them $35 each for sex in a small house adjacent to the tavern. Also named was dancer Beverly Marie Bowie.

Horsefeather Burns Down

June 11, 1973: The Horsefeather burned down, less than two months after nude dancing was banned. Officials suspected arson but couldn’t prove it. BJ Eddy said the government was framing him, claiming the state agent was having an affair with a dancer and the local police were corrupt and had friends blaming Eddy to cover up for their crimes of theft and worthless checks.

1973 Horsefeather Burns
June 11, 1973 Newspaper Photo

Liquor Licenses

On September 14, 1973, BJ Eddy forfeited his claim on the Stroebe Island property. His liquor license was given to Clarence Doberstein, who was to operate a new tavern near the burned down one. As of October, Friedman, Bowie and Lorraine Eddy were still awaiting trial on prostitution charges.

In November 1973, Connie’s Club lost its license after police repeatedly observed fully nude dancing to continue on in defiance of the town’s ban.

January 7, 1974: The reverberations of the Horsefeather continued. James Vanderloop was denied a liquor license to operate a tavern at 105 West Wisconsin Avenue in Kaukauna. Despite his having no police record, allegations that he was linked to a motorcycle club, two Oshkosh go-go bars and the Horsefeather were enough for the City to pass.

Stay Tuned

What became of BJ and Lorraine Eddy is not known. Watch this spot for further updates.

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