The Tragedies of Mackville

I was asked to provide on-camera history for the Gainor property in Mackville, an unincorporated area north of Appleton, Wisconsin. These are my very rough, incomplete notes. The details of the final fire are not included here (and were not mentioned by me on camera) out of respect for the family’s privacy. This was part of n episode of “My Haunted Hometown,” which should premiere in the fall of 2024.

Mackville really began in the fall of 1848, with the settling of three families: those of Patrick Barry, David William Barry (1819-1885) and Peter Hephner (1806-1863). The Barry families were Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine, while Hephner was said to be descended from a Hessian soldier who fought alongside the British in 1776. There would be quite a bit of intermarriage between the Barry, Hephner, Sage and Gainor families over the next century, both in Mackville and in Chilton. Another relative, Thomas Hayes, was instrumental in building the locks along the Fox River, which opened up Wisconsin to commerce and industry.

The three families were Catholic and started having regular mass at Hephner’s home. Father Theodore Vandenbroek fom Little Chute would visit, though there would often be a rotation of priests. A log cabin church went up on Hephner’s property, serving 22 families by 1855. In 1873, St. Edward’s Church was built and served over 50 families. Rev. John Adelaar arrived the following year as the first resident priest.

September 16, 1860: Johanna Barry born in Mackville to David Barry and Mary Ann Taggert.

May 29, 1876: Johanna married Michael Gainor, who had been working for the Barry family on their farm the last two years. He was an Irish immigrant like her parents. His store building and saloon were built in 1877 from the savings he accumulated, with goods purchased in Chicago. At the time, the area had two other saloons – run by George Rabb and Edward McGillan. For fifty years, Gainor would entertain by playing violin and singing Irish songs.

May 1893, Mike Gainor sells the general store to Philip George Barry and Theodore Calmes (1866-1952). (Philip was the son of Michael’s sister, Mary Jane Gainor Barry.) These “young men” were energetic and eager to sell dry goods, groceries and general merchandise. (It seems he may have sold the business but maintained ownership of the property.)

1893, the Gainor family moved to Appleton and purchased five houses.

December 1894, Theodore Calmes resigned as postmaster. His business partner Phil Barry took over. Calmes, and wife Susan Ellenbecker, would soon move to Marathon County and have a sizable family.

April 11, 1895: Johanna Barry-Gainor died at home on Edwards Street in Appleton, only 35 years old. She had recently given birth and had not fully recovered. Cause of death was pleurisy. Surviving were her husband and five children – the oldest being 12. Also surviving were four brothers and four sisters. The four who lived in the area were: John Barry, Mrs. F. Elliott, Mrs. D. Devine, and Mrs. Joseph Batzler.

April 19, 1898: Michael Gainor’s Mackville property, consisting of a residence, ice house, saloon, post office and large store, burned. The store was operated by Gainor’s nephew Phil Barry. The post office lost “everything.” Phil Barry’s parents lived in the residence portion and escaped with only their clothes. Gainor’s loss was estimated at $2,000 with $900 covered by insurance. Barry’s loss was unknown, but total. Following this, Gainor sold his five houses in Appleton to invest in rebuilding his Mackville property.

April 28, 1905: Michael Gainor’s barn in Mackville burned. Frank McMahon, a “town character” and former tinsmith known as “Frank the Tramp,” was staying inside and suffered severe burns, dying the next day. He was allowed to sleep in th barn in exchange for performing odd jobs. McMahon had with him a lantern that was likely the source of the blaze. Neighbor George Batzler saw that McMahon was inside by his boots – he was so drunk that he did not notice the fire. Batzler pulled McMahon out by his ankles, but according to the newspaper his “skin was literally cooked and in many placed burned off.”

December 24, 1924: Michael Gainor died at Mackville, age 88. He was survived by four dughters and three sons. His property was operated by Michael Joseph Gainor (known as Joseph to distinguish him). Joseph’s wife was Katherine Reiland. Another son, Victor, also resided in Mackville.

Mackville experienced a diphtheria outbreak in October 1926. While we rarely hear about the illness today, at that time it was deadly serious. Queen Victoria’s daughter died from it, as did one of President Grover Cleveland’s children. Fresh in people’s minds was the “Great Race of Mercy,” where dogs led by Balto rushed across Alaska to deliver a cure to those suffering there. That run is commemorated as the Iditarod, and Balto’s taxidermied corpse is on display today in Cleveland.

In Mackville, the outbreak struck St. Edward’s school, across the street from the Gainor property. Raymond Griesbach, 8, died, and another student, a young daughter of Joseph Warner, was gravely ill. The families were ordered to quarantine and the school was closed for a week as a precaution. While ultimately not a major event in town history, it could have easily gone the other way.

February 1944, Victor Gainor had developed a drinking problem. He was spending a significant portion of his paycheck at the tavern, and his wife insisted she turn it over to her. After threatening her, she took out a restraining order. At court, Victor told Judge Archie McComb he had to spend so much because “there were a lot of us in there, and you have to take your turn buying, you know.” McComb retorted, “Why? You’re not running for office.” Less than twelve hours later, Victor was back in his aprtment at 823 1/2 Adams Street when his wife arrived with two police officers (Robert Wickman and Clem Faikel) to remove him. As they entered, Victor put a 16-gauge shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. He died instantly, at 31 years old. The couple had no children, and Victor’s only living sibling was Mrs. Louis Hartl of Seymour.

Later the Gainor property was sold to nephew Floyd J. Reiland and his wife Frances Murphy “Babe” Reiland. Floyd was the son of Katherine Reiland Gainor’s younger brother George. (Further demonstrating how small and interconnected Mackville is, Floyd was also the second cousin of Raymond Griesbach.)

Babe took her own life in the building(?) on August 13, 1970 at age 43. (Cause of death NOT confirmed.) Floyd passed in 1984.

Floyd’s children rented it out. (Who??)

October 11, 1987, a fire broke out killing three children – a fourth child died two weeks later.

the living quarters “half” of the building was torn down

1993, Beansnappers opened

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