EDITOR'S NOTE - Delta County Genealogy Society is presenting a series of articles on the people who helped make Delta County what it is today. People from all walks of life and from all over Delta County will be chosen and honored for his/her contributions toward helping to shape life in Delta County. In the spotlight this month is the Flath family.
ESCANABA - Do you know what the Coliseum, Advance Electric and The Dells Supper Club all have in common? All were started or owned at sometime by members of the Flath family.
Genealogy Society photo
This popcorn wagon owned by Richard “Dutch”?Flath was a fixure on the corner of Ludington and 9th Street beginning in 1924 until he sold it to Disneyland many years later.
There were two branches of the Flath family in Delta County in the late 1800s. Both have roots that can be followed back to Germany, and it is believed that there is a relationship between the two but it has not been proven. The earliest members of the two families were William Flath and Julius Flath.
It started back in 1880 when William and Fredereika (Behling) Flath came to Escanaba from Watertown, Wis., along with two of their children. They married in December of 1875 and started their family. They would have 10 children, Emil, Richard, William Jr., Edward, Louis, Anthony, Elizabeth, Julius, Anna, and Amanda.
William ran an ice business until his death in 1900, then Fredereika took over running the business until her death in February, 1930.
In 1889 a large building was built and, in 1891, it was sold to P.M. Peterson. He named the building the Peterson Opera House. This was one of the main entertainment centers in Escanaba at the time. You must remember this was before movies and radio. There is no proof that operas were ever put on there, but that was what this kind of building was called in those day. Some time between 1912-1916, the building was renamed "The Coliseum." A young Richard "Dutch" Flath sold candy and peanuts during intermission, beginning his long interest in the building.
Some time in the mid 1900s, Dutch purchased the building and turned it into a roller rink and dance hall. A Wurlitzer Band organ was used to provide the music for the skaters and to cover the noise of the skates on the hardwood floor. The organ was later sold to Disneyland in California. All types of entertainment was performed at the Coliseum. Memories of trained bears on skates, "The Great Houdini" an escape artist, and "The Harlem Globe Trotters" basketball team is said to have played there in the 1930s. Many local events, such as banquets, beauty pageants and club dances, were given there.
Dutch operated the skating rink until 1959 then sold it to Home Supply Company for a warehouse. In 1924 he purchased a lot on the corner of Ludington and 9th Street to add to his popcorn wagon location. He was well know for selling popcorn from this wagon in Escanaba for many years. The wagon was later sold also to Disneyland. Dutch was also generous with his time, using it in association with the Webster School Roller Staking program from 1960 to 1969 when he passed away.
William's son, Julius, married Celia Simmons and this family would include six children, Earl, Ralph, Bill Jr., Walter, John and May.
Julius would become a dairy farmer in the Ford River area until his retirement. His son Earl was a well- know baseball player in the Upper Peninsula.
Bill Jr. worked in construction and was the owner of Olson & Flath Construction for many years.
His son John, would work for the City of Escanaba as a civil engineer, starting as a junior engineer in 1927 and then filling in as senior engineer from 1962-1966.
The other branch of the family starts with Julius A. Flath and Emma F. Bittner. These two married in Escanaba on Aug. 3, 1884. Julius and Emma would have five children, Julius Jr., Herbert E., Arthur, Alzina, and Irma.
Julius also ran an ice business for many years until his death from tuberculosis in 1906. This was before refrigerators so blocks of ice were cut from the lakes and stored in barns filled with saw dust. This ice was used in the old "ice boxes" before refrigerators.
Emma was known as one of the first nurses in the area, traveling from house to house by bicycle. In 1919 Emma surprised friends and family when she and James Drush traveled to Minneapolis and married there. Emma died on April 16, 1948.
Julius Jr. married Emma L. Schaal in 1917. Julius was considered a pioneer in electrical contracting and radio broadcasting and was partners with his brother Herbert. Together they ran Economy Light Company and held a license for WRAK radio. Julius and Emma were the founders of the Dells Supper Club and ran it until his retirement. Julius and Emma had a daughter, Marjorie, and two sons, Gordon and Lloyd. The boys would take over the management of the Dells together until they retired in 1983.
Herbert Flath married Bernice Swanson and together they had four children. Along with his business interest, Herbert was active in local politics and was a leader in the "Save Our Electrical System" campaign which gave the public a vote concerning providers for electrical service in Escanaba. One of his grandsons, Steven, continues the tradition of a family business by owning the Flath Dental Clinic on Lincoln Road.
The third son, Arthur, would marry another Emma Bittner. Arthur was in the trucking business for many years and owned and operated the Delta Transfer Co. until his death in 1939. His son Arthur would later own and operate Advance Electric.
Flath descendants from both branches of the family, continue to live and work in Delta County. Each adding a new shape to the community and making both William and Julius Sr. proud.