Mural depicts Janesville of old

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March 15, 2010
— Margaret Delaney had one caveat as she redid the color scheme in her home: The pink wallpaper she loved and had bought years ago was going in the dining room.

But Marthea Ackerman-Riley, whom Delaney was interviewing for the job, wasn't feeling it.

Ackerman-Riley got the job, and the two were left to decide on a treatment for the dining room's soaring walls.

What they came up with is perfect for the 1883 home and for Delaney, who loves her city's history: a sometimes whimsical but mostly historically accurate mural of Janesville, circa 1890-1920.

Ron and Margaret Delaney have lived on North Jackson Street across from the Tallman House for 30 years in a home built for Leod Becker and Jane Woodruff Becker. Jane's father, H.S. Woodruff, was a horse harness buckle maker and built the former Accudyne building on North Franklin Street.

The house has wonderful original features: wooden floors, built-in cabinets, crown molding, paneled walls, fixtures and hardware.

As Ackerman-Riley worked on the rest of the house, she noticed the piles of historic information in Delaney's dining room. Delaney always was talking to people about this historic thing or that historic thing, Ackerman-Riley recalled. Meanwhile, Delaney spotted a mural in a home magazine.

The idea was born.

"I appreciate my city's history," Delaney said. "I really enjoy looking back and seeing what was here."

Hours of research followed.

The women used old maps to navigate streets that have in many cases changed names. They searched the historical society's archives and took field trips.

"We found a lot of things that we remember as kids that aren't there anymore," Ackerman-Riley said. "It's kind of fun to be able to see them in the city again."

Some photos were hard to find, like a rendition of the gas ball across the street from the former Schuler furniture store on North Main Street. Delaney remembered seeing it when she was young and walked to Traxler Park—then Goose Island—to skate. Delaney finally got a photo from the owner of City Ice.

The mural is painted on all the walls and is positioned true-to-life. It connects between doorways and windows and transitions from one wall to the next. The limbs of a century-old oak on the house's south side frame the dining room's southern doorway.

Ackerman-Riley painted hundreds of miniature people and buildings through a magnifying glass.

When people sit down to dinner, their attention invariably wanders to the intricate scenes.

The Tallman House is the focal point and is on the east wall. The women took some artistic license, and Ackerman-Riley painted silhouettes of William Tallman, Abraham Lincoln and a family cat in the window. All were at one time in the house although not in the time period chosen by the women.

Most of what is pictured is historically accurate. Milton Avenue is still country, and the downtown skyline is correct. Viewers see the old courthouse and the Stone House, which will eventually be moved to the Tallman property. The cemetery is still in Jefferson Park. The Burr Robbins Circus that wintered in Janesville is in the distance. Excavating is going on at Atlas Pit and a hay wagon moves toward the Corn Exchange.

On the south and west walls, Samson Tractors—the forerunner of General Motors—is painted. The homes of Carrie Jacobs Bond and Francis Willard are represented, as is the Sinnissippi Golf Course, which will become the Janesville Country Club. The nuns are building Mercy Hospital.

Delaney fudged a bit by including Riverside Park and its train on the north wall. That wouldn't come until after the late 1920s. But the park holds too many good memories to be left out, she said.

The mural includes bits of whimsy, such as a cloud that looks like an angel, a hot-air balloon, or a pen with its open gate and a woman with a broom chasing a fleeing pig.

"Those are the things that Ron and Margaret and I have fun with," Ackerman-Riley said. "I'll paint them in and won't tell them about it and see if they have discovered them."

The Delaney grandchildren live in the mural. Kylie is an artist painting on the river bank; Taran is hauling a deer from the woods; Austin is golfing a hole-in-one; and Dillon and his grandfather are fishing, both with fish on their lines.

Ackerman-Riley, a retired electrician from General Motors, has been working on the mural several days each week since August. Pieces of yellow paper mark the spots where future buildings or people will go. She figures she'll finish in several weeks.

The women said they have learned a lot about their city.

"Any time I go out, I look at it differently now," Ackerman-Riley said.

As for the pink wallpaper, it's been kicked upstairs.

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