Walter Shannon suggested 14 years ago that the building at 104 W. Main St. would make a great law office.
Shannon and Nancy Greve-Shannon had just started dating at the time, Greve-Shannon said.
It became an ongoing joke in their relationship; “One day when we own the hall,” they would say.
The couple have since married and turned their ongoing joke into reality.
Shannon and Greve-Shannon will open the rejuvenated John M. Evans Hall at the end of April, as long as everything goes as planned, Shannon said.
The hall will reopen as a shared space between the Shannon Law Office, community rental space named Emma’s Table and meeting space for the Evansville Community Theatre group, Shannon said.
The Shannon family is the third owner of the home since it was built in 1884 by John M. Evans, the first doctor in Evansville and the man who Evansville was named after.
A history lesson
When John. M. Evans arrived at what is now known as Evansville in 1846, the settlement was known as The Grove for its grove of Burr Oak trees, said Ruth Ann Montgomery, Evansville historian.
Soon after settling, an epidemic of ague—a disease similar to malaria—devastated the area, Montgomery said. Evans cured as many of those afflicted as he could, gaining the respect of many in the area.
His notoriety led first to the post office being named Evansville, Montgomery said. That carried on to be the village’s name once it was incorporated in 1855.
Montgomery believes Evans was a nice guy in his time.
While working in the 13th Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, Montgomery said, Evans helped slaves get out of the war and get paid jobs in Evansville.
Evans lived in the home until he died in 1903, leaving the house to his son John Evans Jr., Montgomery said. Evans Jr. sold the house to the Masonic Lodge 19 years later.
The hall changed hands to Shannon and Greve-Shannon in 2016.
Digging up history
In a space soon to be a conference room laid a leather-ish bag that appeared to be chewed past the point of use.
Shannon believes it was one of Evans’ medical bags.
When the Masons moved in they kept a lot of Evans’ family artifacts in the attic, Shannon said. They also left behind many of their artifacts.
The room looked like a poorly kept antique collection that included the Masons’ pool table, a projector machine, the medical bag and a box of papers.
Much of Evans’ leftover paperwork and medical equipment was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Shannon said.
The house acts like its own time capsule. A wall has some of the original wallpaper from the Evans family, and the house stands on its original foundation.
Stories have poured in from community members about visits with Santa in the Masonic Lodge and the space serving as last-minute classrooms when the school was not available, Greve-Shannon said.
Shannon and Greve-Shannon have worked with experts to preserve as much of the structure as possible, Shannon said.
But some things had to be changed, such as adding the building’s first central heating and air conditioning units, Shannon said.
Owners and workers had to displace a menagerie of woodland creatures that had gathered in the attic over the years, Shannon said.
Scott Brummond has helped the restoration with countless hours of work, most notably his efforts to preserve the numerous large panel windows on all levels of the house.
Windows in the former Mason altar room had been closed for decades, Shannon said.
Shannon-Greve will run Emma’s Table, a community rental space available for events, she said. The name is a nod to Evans’ wife, Emma, who also was well-known in the community.
The hall has already served the community since the Shannon family took over, Shannon said.
The family created a haunted house in the hall to raise money for the owners of the Night Owl Tavern after a fire scorched the restaurant beyond repair.
A young couple held a wedding ceremony in the hall in November, Greve-Shannon said.
The building was made entirely of locally sourced bricks, with the exception of the addition from the Masons, Montgomery said.
Shannon and the rest of the team believe each brick represents an act that has occurred in the heart of the hall.
“Each such act then moving on to touch so many local lives in a positive way,” Shannon said in an email to The Gazette. “This, in our view, is the truest measure of the old hall.”