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Early History

While Fr. J. B. Hasselbauer was pastor of St. Augustine's parish, Roman Goetz hewed a white oak cross from a tree that grew at the foot of the hill. (Mr. Goetz was a parishioner who served as the hill's custodian and did much to advance its popularity.) The cross, now on display in the Marian Halway, is five by seven inches thick and originally stood fifteen feet above the ground. Engraved on the cross in German are the words, Ich Bin das Leben wer an mich glaubt wird selig - lam the life, who believes in Me shall be saved. Roman Goetz, his son-in-law Mathias Werner and several friends carried the cross to the top of the hill and placed it into position. Once there, a hardwood box with a lock was fastened to the cross for donations. Fr. Hasselbauer led a procession from St. Augustine's parish to the top of the hill for the solemn blessing of the cross in June 1858.

In 1861 Fr. George Strickner relieved Fr. Hasselbauer as pastor of the Richfield parishes. At this time, the priests cared for the needs of Holy Hill from their residence in Richfield.^ Under Fr. Strickner's direction, the industrious German members of St. Augustine's congregation, especially those living near Holy Hill, made plans to build a log chapel on top the hill. Work on the chapel began in the summer of 1862. Timbers for the chapel were cut from trees at the bottom of the hill. Once cut, the trees were hewn smooth on two sides. The finished timbers were hauled about halfway up the hill to a level spot by a team of horses. From there, resting on levers, they were carried up the remaining distance by hand. With the passage of time, the logs of this chapel were completely disfigured by names and dates carved into them.

The chapel was sixteen feet square and stood on a stone foundation facing west. A crucifix was mounted on the peak of the roof above the entrance. It had four windows, two facing north and two south. It stood about ten feet high from ground to eaves and eight feet from ceiling to floor. The inside walls and ceiling were plastered and painted. The walls were adorned with pictures and charts of Christian religious history. There were a number of crutches and other tokens of illness cured through prayer placed in the southwest corner of the chapel. Benches sat along each wall and in front of the altar. A brass container for holy water and an offering box completed the chapel interior. The workers finished on Good Friday 1863.

At the dedication ceremony on May 24, 1863 Fr. George Strickner stood on the front step of this simple log chapel and preached the first sermon from the Shrine of Mary - Help of Christians to about 1500 persons. In this sermon, Fr. Strickner used the name Holy Hill formally for the first time.

Holy Hill was in the care of local priests for thirty years. One who contributed many improvements during his eight years of service was Fr. Ferdinand Raess. (Fr. Raess was instrumental in correcting the original deed for Holy Hill.) He was the first to live at St. Hubert's in Hubertus when he became pastor on April 9, 1875. Under his direction, the road from below the hill to its top was graded in order to allow teams of horses to ascend with comparative ease. He installed the first stations by the side of this path. These were simple wooden crosses with pictures of Christ's passion attached at the center. This set of stations was built by George Klippel of Richfield.

In winter of 1879, Fr. Raess summitted a proposal to Archbishop Henni for a new shrine at Holy Hill. He requested the service of H. C. Koch, a Milwaukee Architect. For $100, Mr. Koch provided plans, specifications and cost estimates for the second shrine. John Fellenz of Milwaukee was the contractor.

The specifications called for 200,000 bricks. This presented two major transportation problems. The first problem was getting bricks to the hill and the second was getting them up the hill. John Rover, a brickmaker from Sheboygan, solved the first problem. Mr. Rover found suitable clay for bricks sixty rods north of the northeast corner of the hill. The bricks made with this clay proved excellent in quality.

Getting materials up the hill was extremely difficult. Ordinary horse teams could haul only 200 bricks at one time. This would have meant a total of 1000 trips. Fortunately, enough fieldstone was found after leveling the hill to build the foundation of the church. This reduced the number of trips needed.

Work began in spring of 1879. It was necessary to excavate the hill about fifteen or twenty feet before a spot was leveled to a size adequate for the foundation. The peculiar formation of the hill would not permit the church to stand on a true compass line. Consequently, it fronted nearly south with sides extending twenty-three degrees east from a line running due north and south.

The church was built in accordance with the original plans of architect Koch for the cost of $5000. When finished, the church was seventy-six feet long including altar extension, forty-six feet wide with an eighteen square foot annex at the northeast corner for the sacristy. The walls were twenty feet high to the eaves and were solid brick anchored with iron rods to the heavy stone foundation. The roof was steep and above it rose a steeple with gilt cross on top. The chapel elevation was about sixty-eight feet.

In the fall of 1879, Fr. Raess requested John Fellenz to begin con- struction of a new parsonage in the ravine across from the present ninth station. Fr. Raess lived there from its completion in October 1880 until September 1883. This residence, which later became the first guest house, was destroyed by fire on a Sunday morning in October, 1933.

Many pilgrims staying at the guest house came to Holy Hill via Hartford or Richfield. During this era, it was easiest for pilgrims to reach Holy Hill by taking the train to either town and traveling the remaining distance by horse-drawn carriage. In 1903, Richfield offered the services of Benny Dickel, proprietor of the Dickel Hotel and Livery. Mr. Dickel became a livery boy at age twelve and remained active until age 85. The two-fold purpose of the Dickel's hotel was (1) to bring visitors up to Holy Hill, and (2) for transporting salesman to the neighboring communities. Dickel's had various rigs, some three and four seaters, and a buggy bus that held twelve to fourteen passengers. The approximately two and one-half hour trip cost fifty cents.

The pilgrim route via Hartford was popular between 1883 and 1893 while Fr. Nicholas M. Zimmer was pastor of St. Kilian's in Hartford. He coordinated and widely advertised the Hartford pilgrimages to Holy Hill. Fr. Zimmer became pastor of St. Kilian's in September of 1883 and simultaneously took on responsibility for Holy Hill."

Among his additions to the second shrine were a 1200 pound bell purchased in 1885 from McShane & Co. of Baltimore for which a separate bell tower was erected (the largest of the three bells used today); three Gothic altars dedicated on August 15, 1887 (the statue of Our Lady of Holy Hill was placed above the main altar); the second set of stations (made from brick) erected in 1889; the purchase of land in 1890 belonging to Mathias Werner for the road leading from present State Highway 167 to the first station and the painting of frescos by Leibig and Gaerdner of Milwaukee in 1891. Fr. Zimmer was in charge until his successor, Fr. John Bertram, arrrived in 1893. Fr. Bertram's directorship was responsible for the addition of the first Lourdes grotto, a new pipe organ and the completion of many needed repairs.

About this time it was felt by officials of the Milwaukee Archdiocese that because of its increasing popularity, Holy Hill should be placed in the care of a religious order. Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer first offered the Hill to the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin but instead placed it in the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars. As an order dedicated to Mary, the Discalced Carmelites are especially suited for the care of the Shrine of Mary - Holy Hill.