Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Historic Legacy of Green Bay’s Frank Duchateau


In Green Bay, Wisconsin, a town known for its football team rather than archeology,  Frank John Baptiste Duchateau, who had inherited a thriving liquor dealership from his father, used his riches to amass a collection of Native American and other early artifacts that became the basis of the city’s noted history and science museum.  The local newspaper called Dechateau’s gift “a historic legacy.”

Frank was the son of Abelard (sometimes “Abeillard”) Louis Donat Duchateau, a native of Oud-Heverlee, Vlaams Brabant Province, Belgium, and his wife, Felicite Juliane, also of Belgian origin.  At the age of 20, Abelard had immigrated to the United States arriving at Green Bay as a port of entry in July 1856.  He initially found work as a tailor in Door County, Wisconsin,  moving to Green Bay around 1867, with Felicite, whom he had married in 1861.

About 1870 with his brother, Abelard established a liquor dealership in Green Bay,  calling it Duchateau & Brother.   It was located at the corner of Main and Washington Streets in the heart of the city’s commercial district.  The locale is shown above on a postcard, apparently during a patriotic parade.  The 1880 Census found the family residing on Cedar Street with their five children, ages 18 to 11.  Frank, born in 1868, was 12.  Abelard’s occupation was recorded by the census taker as “liquor dealer - merchant.”
The Duchateaus were not only liquor dealers but also rectifiers, that is, blending and compounding whiskeys to achieve a specific taste.  They packaged their products in glass with an embossed logo on the front.  The company’s flagship brand was “Old Beauford Rye.”  Although the name apparently was never trademarked, it was advertised on saloon signs like the one shown here depicting an affectionate elderly couple at mealtime with a flagon of booze at hand.

But not all the Duchateaus advertising was so benign.  A trade card has a definite suggestive motif.  It shows what appears to be a couple sprawled on the ground under a large red umbrella.  A man, identified by his shoes, pants, and jacket, appears to be atop a woman.  We see only one of her shoes and a bit of stocking.   Most surprising is the figure of a second man with a straw hat and a fishing pole who is calling out, “Hold on, I’m in for some of that too.”   What is this, a group grope?  But no!  When opened it reveals a young foursome sitting by a lake drinking from a full case of “Old Beauford Rye.”  Everyone is enjoying a beer glass full of the liquor, which may indicate that the real action may come later.

Frank Duchateau was educated in the Green Bay public schools but left at the age of 16, working first as an office boy and then as a clerk in a shoe store owned by a relative, entering his father’s liquor business in 1885.  His first job was as bookkeeper, advancing to manager. The company progressed to being Green Bay’s largest import and wholesale liquor operation.  Frank was fully trained and capable of taking over the business when Abelard died in 1889 and was buried in the Green Bay’s Allouez Cemetery.   

Frank Duchateau was married in September 1890 to Marie Beaupre. a native of Green Bay and the daughter of a local doctor.  Three years later she died in 1893 leaving him with a daughter, Olive Felicite, to raise.  Frank subsequently married a second time, to Mrs. Julia Lucas O’Leary, a widow whose father had been an early settler of Green Bay.  This marriage produced no children before Julia too died in 1911. Despite these tragedies in his personal life, Frank proved to be undeterred and as acute a businessman as Abelard.  In tribute to his father, about 1900 he changed the name of the firm to simply “A. Duchateau Company.”  

Like many other whiskey men of his time Duchateau branched out with a patent medicine called “Dr. Munros’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters.,” said to be a remedy for all type of intestinal disturbances.  The label carried a picture purported to be the visage of the estimable Dr. Munro, possibly a fictitious personage.  This nostrum eventually would be targeted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Food and Drug officials among purported medicinal preparations with an excess amount of alcohol and reported to be “insufficiently medicated to render them unfit for use as a beverage.”  As a result, Dr. Munro’s Celebrated Stomach Bitters thereafter would be subject to a special Federal tax on sales and were branded by Dr. Wiley, head of the Food and Drug administration, as a useless potion.

Meanwhile, Frank Duchateau was making a name for himself in Green Bay.  His business interests encompassed real estate, banking, the telephone and electric companies.  A Republican, he served five years as a city alderman from 1892 to 1897.  He also was active socially as a trustee of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, a member of the Knights of Pythias Lodge, the Green Bay Yacht Club, the Green Bay Driving Club, the Green Bay Turn Verein and the Green Bay Gun Club.  In 1919 the king of Belgium honored Duchateau for his money-raising efforts to aid wartorn Belgium after World War I by awarding him the King Albert Medal.

Important as these activities were, Duchateau’s real passion was for archeology.  For many years he avidly pursued the collecting of relics of early Native American and French trader life.   Described as “one of Wisconsin’s most ambitious collectors,” Frank, shown left in elder years, amassed an assemblage of archeological items as well as early farm tools, ceramics, fire arms, kitchen utensils and foreign currency.  

Among the rarest of these was a mortar and pestle used by the Menominee Indians to crush corn, similar to the items pictured below.  The mortar stood about two and a half feet tall and the pestle was six feet long.  Not content with buying them, Duchateau often found rare artifacts on his own.  While exploring at Point Au Sable near Green Bay, he came upon a brass sundial made in Paris centuries earlier.  It carried the longitude and latitude of many of the cities of an earlier age and was considered highly rare.
In 1915, Duchateau help found the Neville Museum of Natural History of Brown County, located in Green Bay.  Over his lifetime he donated some 12,000 items to the museum, a gift termed by the Green Bay Press-Gazette newspaper as “a historic legacy.”  He also donated the first display cases and served as the first vice president of the museum board, a post he held until 1929.  

Although the coming of National Prohibition, shut down his wholesale liquor business, Duchateau was able to throw his abundant energies into his real estate interests, including erecting buildings on six blocks in downtown Green Bay.  He lived to be 87 years old, dying in 1954. He had seen the 1934 Repeal of Prohibition; the 1940 death of his third wife, Mary Laughlin; the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War.  Most of all, Duchateau witnessed the growth of a remarkable local museum, the Neville, one that continually garners positive online responses like this:  “Their permanent exhibit about the history of the area is truly remarkable and can be enjoyed by folks of all ages.”  Quite clearly the legacy of Frank Duchateau, Green Bay’s  whiskey man and amateur archeologist, lives on.


  1. Thank you for this article. Frank DuChateau was a first cousin, 3 times removed of my husband.

    1. Dear Sandi: As a former Wisconsinite myself (Milwaukee) I appreciated your husband's relative a great deal. That spurred me to do a piece on him. Have not been to the museum he endowed but may sometime in a visit to the state. All the best. Jack

  2. Hey I have Flask that says R.T.Drake liguor dealer Tupelo Miss. on it the bottom has A.G. CO. is there anything you can tell be about this bottle

  3. Dcpawpaw: Flask seems interesting. Have no clue. Take it to a bottle show in Miss. and people there will be able to help you.