John R. MacKenzie
Josh Stratton is supervising a crew that is giving a fresh look to the circa 1855 house that puts Janesville on so many maps.
“It’s more fun to work in. It’s a part of history,” Stratton said Wednesday as he gave The Gazette a tour of the work, which will give a fresh look to the mansion-museum called the Lincoln-Tallman Restorations
Stratton, of the Janesville-based American Paint & Paper, figures his crew has patched and taped miles of wall cracks.
The work includes repairs to plaster and decorative moldings—and a lot of paint.
The last time the first- and second-floor rooms were painted was the mid-1990s, said Tim Maahs, executive director of the Rock County Historical Society.
Maahs wrote the grant that is paying for the work: $68,000 from the George Kemp Tallman Charitable Trust.
It’s important work to keep the house where Abraham Lincoln slept in good shape, in part because it is Janesville’s heritage and in part because it will attract tourist revenue.
“This type of project feeds right into that because this is not like anything you typically see, to this perfect level of restoration, so it absolutely is a major draw for a lot of people who are into touring historic homes or just have a ‘Downton Abbey’ fantasy of all that stuff,” Maahs said.
The main attraction, of course, is the room and bed where Abraham Lincoln is believed to have slept when he visited Janesville to give a speech in 1859
Maahs has visions of ways to make the house a bigger part of community events while increasing revenue. But first, the place needs to look ship-shape.
The walls in the rooms and halls had been white since the 1994 paint job. The ceilings and moldings will remain the chalky color, but the flat expanses of the walls will be a darker hue, what Maahs called aged white.
The color scheme, believed to be authentic, follows research by the late Maurice Montgomery, who was the historical society’s historian for many years, Maahs said.
The color contrast is subtle, but people who have seen the old and renewed walls have remarked about the difference. Maahs said it makes the architecture “sing.”
Stratton’s crew is attending to details such as the original wooden front doors, which had split so much that they let in daylight. Screws and epoxy pulled the doors back into shape.
The drawing room, ladies’ parlor and library were completed last year. Current work includes other rooms, including the master bedroom.
Heating vents—cast iron coated with white porcelain—had been painted white. Stratton’s crew stripped the paint so the porcelain—painted decoratively in some rooms—glows as it did when the Tallmans moved in. Remarkably, the cast-iron vent mechanisms still work.
The grand staircase, the steps of which had been painted white, will be repainted to give a wood-like appearance.
The furnishings and artwork—original pieces the Tallmans used—were moved across the hall until each room was completed.
Upstairs, paint is peeling from spots on the ceiling—the result of water damage when the copper roof was replaced.
The third floor, which was damaged when the roof leaked, has not been on the tour for some time and will not get attention from this grant. Maahs hopes to find the money to restore the floor sometime in the future.
Maahs keeps a list of projects that will need to be done sooner or later, including tuck-pointing the 165-year-old exterior brick, a massive task.
The city owns the Tallman House, as it is commonly called. The historical society runs it as a museum, full of the actual furniture the Tallman family used.
The city provides $45,000 a year and has in the past chipped in more, including $1.2 million in the 2010s to replace the roof and the heating system, among other improvements, Maahs said.
Now, Maahs said he would prefer to keep repair work funded by grants.
“We want to stay completely away from asking anything of the taxpayers except that they come for a visit,” he said.
The work began in March 2020, when the drawing room, ladies’ parlor and library were refreshed. Work on seven additional areas in the house began in February and will be completed soon.
The historical society plans a fundraising campaign for the remaining work at its annual Summer Solstice celebration, set for June 23. It will include hors d’oeuvres, drinks and music in a tent on the grounds and the opportunity to see the completed interior work.
The house is not open for tours until May. Plans are to continue tours through Christmas instead of the past practice of closing from September through November.
Former staff and students and residents spoke out about alleged intimidation tactics used by Superintendent Jim Brewer and other administrators at Wednesday’s Clinton school board meeting.
The attendance was so high that a large share of the audience had to sit in the commons area at Clinton High School while the board met in the library. The meeting was broadcast on a large screen set up in the commons area so attendees could watch the meeting and adhere to social distancing requirements.
Many of those supporting teachers wore black T-shirts, which one woman said was to mourn the loss of students and staff. One woman said the group is demanding an impartial third-party investigation of the administration’s treatment of staff. As people spoke out against administration during the public comment portion of the meeting, those in the commons erupted in applause for many of their statements.
Julie Barker, a former administrative assistant in counseling and athletics, brought a spreadsheet with her of 163 staff members who left in the past five years, including 92 support staff, 60 teachers and 11 administrators. Barker said 13 employees left the school district last summer and only five received exit interviews.
“It’s time the board starts asking questions, listening, conducting exit interviews and addressing why dedicated staff members are leaving at an alarming rate,” she said. “Why do we have a superintendent that is allowed to bully, intimidate, manipulate and a school board that allows this type of behavior in a superintendent?”
Former student Brianna Gretschmann said students should be comfortable in school, but when she was a student she had a new school counselor each year. She was able to build rapport and trust with band teacher Ben Brueggen, who is currently on an approved leave of absence.
Gretschmann said the district lacks mental health services and is lacking the stability a young mind needs to flourish. She said she gathered 180 signatures on an online petition to remove Brewer and 300 followers on the “Clinton Community Supports Clinton Teachers” page on Facebook where she said she has received numerous comments on Brewer’s leadership.
“The mistreatment is real. Jim Brewer is not a fit leader,” Gretschmann said.
Former Clinton music teacher Donna Hahn said she doesn’t think the current administration understands the importance of music education or other electives. She questioned why the administration would remove a teacher and dismantle a team working well together.
“Mr. Brueggen should be reinstated and allowed to teach the kids,” Hahn said.
English teacher Theresa Wellnitz said she raised questions about staff turnover, Brewer’s view of online teaching and other issues. She said Brewer then began to raise his voice and was belittling. He allegedly told her she wasn’t a good leader and needed to think about her place in Clinton.
“He said my department doesn’t work well together and swore at us,” she said.
Resident Tonya Miller said she had a folder of more than 40 statements from those who urged her to speak out.
She said Brewer told many staff members they are replaceable and that Brewer and two other administrators mistreated employees.
“Exit interviews need to be given, reviewed and taken seriously,” Miller said.
Cathy Cernek, a former teacher and coach who left the district in 2017, said she felt relief after leaving a toxic environment.
Scott Cernek, former teacher and coach and Cathy Cernek’s husband, said Brewer always treated him with respect but that somehow, administration became too powerful.
“There has to be a link between the board and the teachers,” he said.
Board Vice President Gary Gilbank said the board values the feedback and takes concerns seriously. He also said the board is confident in Brewer’s leadership and that the district is moving forward with goals and vision. He said board members realize they aren’t perfect but that they are committed to moving forward with a solutions-based approach.
After spending last summer staring at computer screens and talking to peers over video meetings, Janesville and Milton students will get a more traditional summer school experience this year.
Both school districts will offer live, in-person educational programming beginning in June.
Swim lessons are returning in Janesville with smaller classes to allow for social distancing. Lessons will last 30 minutes instead of the usual 45 minutes to accommodate more classes.
A summer musical and programming at the Janesville Schools Outdoor Lab also will return, along with transition classes for kids entering a new school and traditional themed summer school.
Just 10 minutes after registration opened for the Janesville School District’s summer school Monday, nearly 1,000 students had signed up for classes.
Summer school coordinator Paul Stengel said a return to fun classes will be a welcome change from the intensity of regular K-12 curriculum and virtual learning for some students.
“I think having the kids in the buildings and in a social setting” will be nice, Stengel said. “Summer school isn’t as academically intense as during the regular school year. And I’m hoping that it also is an opportunity for those families that have been at ARISE in our virtual programming all year, that it kind of provides like a little transition if they’re going to be heading back into the classroom in the fall.
“Maybe it gives the families a chance to see kind of a comfort level, I guess, to see what was happening in the schools in the summer and getting the kids reacclimated to being around classmates and giving them that social and emotional development, as well,” he said.
Summer school for elementary and middle school students will begin June 7 and run through July 2. High school students working to recover class credits will do so through ARISE, the district’s virtual school.
Stengel said the district is preparing for more students than normal for academic classes, but he wasn’t sure of an exact number. Those classes will run through July 15.
Milton School District students also will return to classrooms this summer for a wide range of courses from math to music to art.
“Essentially, these are classes that are designed for students to get into school, have some fun, stay connected and learn along the way. So we’re happy to say we have so many classes being offered,” said Harmony Elementary Principal Sarah Stuckey, who coordinates Milton’s summer school program.
After a scaled-back virtual program last summer, students appear to be excited for a more traditional experience. Many classes are at capacity as hundreds of students have registered, but some spots remain open.
Stuckey recommended that parents reach out to the summer school office to inquire about class openings. She said the strong interest is a good sign.
About 40 classes will run from June 7 through July 2 with the exception of the high school credit recovery program, which will last for an additional two weeks.
The district will also offer a “jump start” program in August to get kindergartners through eighth-graders ready for the next school year. Registration information for those classes will be sent to families later this summer.
“It’s really going to be kind of laser focused on a couple of key standards at each of those grade levels,” Stuckey said. “We’ll pick a couple of standards, and then we will be recommending students that could really benefit from working on those skills. And those will typically be academic prerequisite skills that will help them kind of get a boost going into the next school year.”
Stuckey said she is most impressed by the number of teachers who said they wanted to teach this summer after a stressful pandemic year.
In-person summer school wouldn’t be possible without them, she said.
“Coming off of a year-plus of teaching and learning in a pandemic, the fact that we have so many staff that are still willing to come and teach summer school is just phenomenal,” Stuckey said. “We’re really excited we can offer this, and a lot of that is thanks to them.”