Time Gone By

A historic home honors the legacy its former owners left behind.

BY JEN KENT  |  PHOTOS BY DOUG EDMUNDS

The entire home was reroofed with concrete tile when its owners purchased the property more than 30 years ago.
A stonemason, they add, spent three years restoring the home’s exterior. 

“Some windows didn’t have glass. (The original owners) just
put bales of hay there, and there were animals living
in the
house,” say the current owners of the 1850s-era.

File boxes sourced from the Plankinton Building in downtown
Milwaukee store spices and other odds and ends, while a
vintage 1920s Stewart gas stove and custom-made copper
sink further enhance the character of the home. Beams
made from trees harvested on the property line
the ceiling. 

Once thought to house herbs and smoked meats, the bedroom — much like the rest of the home — required a complete
transformation. “The walls were just boulders, and we had to build them out and put insulation behind the ceiling. It was
so cold; it was below freezing. You could see your breath,” says the couple of the room’s
former state.

 

The homeowners nicknamed this space the “holey room.” “There were so many holes in the floor from the animals that
lived under (it),” they say. Reclaimed bricks sourced from The Brickyard Inc. — many of which once covered the streets
of downtown Milwaukee — now serve
as the room’s floor.

Outside patio  

For many new homeowners, the renovation process provides the opportunity to transform an existing structure into a space that is entirely their own. But for one couple, restoring and remodeling their historic stone home, which was built in 1855, meant honoring its former owners and preserving its storied past.

The pair purchased the property from its third-generation owners in 1982, but spent almost one full year improving its livability before moving in. “As we understand, there were 100 people or so, approximately, who came to look at the house (when it was for sale),” says the couple. “It was just so much work, and nobody was as naïve as we.

“… It was just filthy,” they continue, “… but we were young and thought, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’” Initial projects included removing plaster from nearly every wall, installing a heating system, and reroofing the entire home. “We’d come here every spare minute, and then go back down to Milwaukee to work,” the couple adds.

More than three decades later, the pair says there are still unfinished projects to complete, but the history and stories they’ve unearthed along the way continue to inspire them. An old trunk discovered early on in the bedroom, for example, housed a slew of documents detailing transactions between the original homeowner, who immigrated to the area from Prussia in the 1830s, and local settlers. “All of the people who settled in this area were indentured servants, and he paid their passage,” they explain. “There was a trunk in the bedroom that had all the bookkeeping and the records from the 1830s, when (the servants) came over. … They were in prison (overseas) because of their religion, and this man made it possible for them to come (to the U.S.).” The trunk now sits at the end of the bed, and additional homages to the home’s original owners, including a sign out front that still bears their name, are peppered throughout its interior and exterior spaces. 

“We so honor the people who built this house,” the pair concludes, adding that the original owner and his wife had 12 children. “When their descendants come and visit us and tell us stories of their grandparents and uncles and aunts living here, that’s just really neat. … We feel like we are caretakers of this property because it will outlast us.” 

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