Old homes, church featured on historic walking tour

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Monday, August 4, 2008
— It's only appropriate that proceeds from tours of homes and a church built in the 19th century benefit the Rock County Historical Society, which has a mission of preserving, advancing and sharing knowledge of this county's past.

The society's historic house and garden tour is set for Sunday, Aug. 24, in the Courthouse Hill Historic District of Janesville.

Included are Trinity Episcopal Church, which is celebrating its 160th anniversary, and five houses dating from 1859 to 1895. All are within four blocks of each other, so visitors can park their cars and take a leisurely stroll to the sites.

"You should be able to get around easily. The homes are located on the flat part of the hill," said Deb Wood-Ellingson, whose house is featured on the tour.

Additional information, including a complimentary Janesville Historic Commission publication, will be available at a table in Upper Courthouse Hill Park. Carriage rides at $2 each, ice cream and other refreshments also will be offered.

"We want to create the ambience of a Sunday afternoon of this historic area," Wood-Ellingson said.

Organizers also wanted to create a neighborhood feel for the tour. Homeowners, some dressed in period costumes, will guide tour participants through their homes.

"It's a different format than the (previous) walk in, through and out. We'll have 10 to 12 in a group at a time,” Wood-Ellingson said, and that will allow homeowners to teach people about their home's architecture and decorative arts, such as furniture.

If there is a wait, water will be available, and people will be able walk through the gardens or on to the next house on the tour, Wood-Ellingson said. Homeowners, who worked as a committee and are committed to historic preservation, hope people will leave the tour with a new appreciation of the area's history and how people lived more than a century ago, she said.

The tour features:

-- Daniel and Karen Atwood home, 215 S. Division St.

This Queen Anne-style house, dating to 1895, shows the influence of furniture designer Charles Locke Eastlake, especially in the front circular porch supported by bulbous turned posts, a second-floor balcony and sunburst motifs in the overhanging third-floor gables. The house plan is likely one of many published by architect George F. Barber.

Interior features of the home include a double-hung pressed glass window in the foyer, pocket doors in original finish, multiple bay windows, matching stained glass panels in the first- and second-story bay windows, an original ceramic tile fireplace, a restored and an original oak-paneled front staircase. First floor remodeling includes original materials and period ambiance.

-- Fred and Carol Harmon home, 721 E. Milwaukee St.

Kiron W. Bemis, a Janesville farm machinery businessman, built this Italianate house around 1885. The existing wraparound front porch was added around 1900.

The home features original woodwork throughout, most of which still has the original finish. The most elaborate woods and design details are in the front of the house, and it's more plain toward the back rooms. In the family room, a carving of "Our Home” above the set of pocket doors went unnoticed for a while. Most rooms have been decorated with Bradbury and Bradbury wallpapers, including the ceilings.

The house has an addition started that adds a three-season back porch and a future billiards room on the second level using many salvaged windows, stained glass windows, lumber, siding, hardware and other period pieces. The patio uses Janesville street brick salvaged from a dump pile.

-- Rick and Marthea Riley home, 605 St. Lawrence Ave.

Robert M. Bostwick and his wife Helen from 1859-1862 built this large cream-colored brick, Civil War Italianate-style house with its many rooms of high ceilings, Eastlake woodwork, three working fireplaces and hardwood floors.

The house, which sits on a double corner lot with a two-story carriage house behind it, is built with a hip roof and limestone foundation. Its windows are decorated with brick stilted arch hoodmolds and center keystones. The front porch has been altered at least three times, and its exterior and interior underwent major additions in 1892 and 1911.

The Rileys remodeled the kitchen in 2005, taking everything out, including seven layers of flooring. Their biggest project, however, has been in the garden that includes a walkway, patios, three Koi-filled ponds, two waterfalls and fountain rock.

-- David and Judith Romstad home, 719 St. Lawrence Ave.

This 2½-story frame Victorian home with Queen Anne and Neo-classic features was built in 1888. It features a multi-planed roof, tall brick chimneys, two working fireplaces, horizontal siding and an encircling porch. The porch, with simple balusters and Corinthian columns, is typically Neo-classic. The southeast corner of the home features a turret room used for the storage of books and trunks.

This Victorian was moved in two parts from South Main Street, site of the Carnegie Library, up Courthouse Hill to its current site. Joseph Bostwick, a partner in the family clothing business, vice president of the Rock County Telephone Co. and a director of the Old Line Life Insurance Co., was the owner at the time of the move.

-- Duke Ellingson and Deb Wood-Ellingson home, 17 S. Atwood Ave.

This Queen Anne-style home was built in 1888 by contractor/builder Luther C. Clark and is one of many homes, churches and commercial buildings he built in Janesville.

Its front-facing gable, asymmetrical appearance with turret, arched porch features, patterned shingles, stained glass transom windows, divided window lights, bay windows, third-floor open porch and decorative chimneys reflect the home's Victorian style.

Highlighting the homes many features are six working fireplaces and a grand, open center staircase that ascends the home's three floors and is crowned by an 8-by-8-foot skylight.

Guests also will get to see a billiard room and period furniture along with light fixtures that are either from the original home or period replicas, including the newel post light in the reception hall.

A Victorian swan base fountain can be seen in the Victorian gardens along with a unique crested gazebo on the brick patio.

Trinity Episcopal Church, 409 E. Court St.

This church, which features stained glass windows and a prayer garden, was built in 1931 and remains the only church in the Courthouse Hill Historic District. It was renovated from 1978-79, and Ortmayer Hall was built in 1964.

The church had the first pipe organ in Janesville, which cost $1,000, the first marble alter in Wisconsin and the first "vested choir in the West."

More history of the church and details of its stained-glass windows will be explained during the tour.


Who: The Rock County Historical Society.

What: 28th Historic House and Garden Tour.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24.

Where: Five homes and one church in the Courthouse Hill Historic Preservation District of Janesville.

Tickets: $15 in advance at the Helen Jeffris Wood Museum Center, 426 N. Jackson St., Janesville, or day of the event at House Tour Central in Upper Courthouse Hill Park.

Last updated: 10:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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