The home of Sterling and Mary Beath was rescued from years of neglect and decay. Sterling’
s family connections to the Evansville go back four generations and he had made many trips
to Evansville. Although he and Mary lived in California, and later in the state of Washington,
they often visited Evansville reminiscing about the homes associated with Sterling’s family.
Mary was especially drawn to the house at 107 West Liberty after listening to Sterling’s aunt,
Bina Beath Buckingham’s stories about the Evansville relatives and friends. The house was
built by Sterling’s grandfather, Ernest J. Ballard and Sterling’s mother, Eilleen, was born and
raised in the home.
When Sterling and Mary visited Evansville in the spring of 1994, they drove by the old Ballard
house. The house was in desperate need of some tender loving care. The porches were
decaying and the house looked as though it had been neglected for some time. The Beath’s
discovered that the house was a rental property, with an absentee owner. Mary wrote
immediately to the owner to see ask him to consider selling the house.
The Beath’s already owned a home in Port Angeles, Washington and the purchase of the
Evansville house was contingent on the sale of the Beath’s Washington home. Their home in
Washington sold immediately and the owner of the house in Evansville was agreeable to sell.
The Port Angeles sale and Evansville purchase went so quickly and smoothly that Mary and
Sterling believe that their move to Evansville was “meant to be.”
Sterling and Mary completed the purchase of the house at 107 West Liberty in October 1994.
It was the start of a major restoration project and an in-depth study of the Ballard family
history. The new owners were on a rescue mission to save Grandpa and Grandma Ballard’s
house and to make connections to family and community.
In their search for the house history, Mary and Sterling discovered that their new home was
built for Ernest James Ballard and his bride Alice “Allie” Eldredge in 1891. The Ernest Ballard
property was the east part of nearly three city lots owned by Ernest’s father, James Ballard.
The land for the new house was a wedding gift from the James Ballard’s to their son and his
An article in the March 3, 1891 issue of the Evansville Review, announced, “Mr. E. J. Ballard,
jeweler, is preparing to build a residence in the early spring, on a lot taken from the east part
of his father’s place facing Liberty Street.”
William Libby, a popular Evansville builder was hired for the construction. The excavation for
the basement began in March 1891. Charlie Winship, a local livery stable owner, also had
digging equipment to excavate ground for basements and foundations. Winship dug the
basement for the new house with the help of James Ballard.
The stone for the foundation was purchased at the Eden quarries near Fond du Lac and it
was used to create a fortress-like basement walls. The lumber for the house was purchased
at the Evansville Lumber Co., located at the southeast corner of Maple and Church streets.
The house was described in the September 22, 1891 issue of the Evansville Review. “Mr.
Ernest Ballard, our prosperous jeweler has certainly built for himself a very neat and
exceeding tasty residence, on a lot which formed a part of the old Ballard homestead, second
from the corner on the south side of Liberty Street. We cannot advise of the size or the cost,
but the size is ample for his family—only a wife. The arrangements for rooms, and
convenience of access from cellar to chamber could hardly be improved upon. The pantry is
a model of conveniences. The whole woodwork is oil finished in antique oak, every room
being finished alike, save some choice pieces of oak which were assigned to the parlor. We
think Wm. Libby planned and did most of the carpenter work; the hard finish was done by Mr.
Halstead, assisted by Mr. Ballard himself. We think Mr. Ballard has a convenient and as
finely finished house as there is in town and is a credit to the builder (owner) as well as to the
William Halstead mentioned in the article was a painter and photographer who stained and
oiled the woodwork in the house. The exterior was not painted until the fall of 1892. An
Evansville newspaper, The Tribune, reported in the September 27, 1892 edition, “Mr. E. J.
Ballard is having Mr. Albert Gibbs paint his new residence up in handsome colors to
correspond in beauty with the best in town.”
By November 1891, Ernest and Allie were residents in their new home and the following
February 1892, their first son, Byrl Ernest, was born. Two years later, a daughter, Eilleen,
(Sterling Beath’s mother) was born.
After the birth of their second child, the Ballard’s put a two story addition on the house to
accommodate their growing family. The addition included a new kitchen and woodshed on the
first floor and two bedrooms on the second floor. A near disaster occurred during the
construction. Elmer “Pete” Libby fell from a staging and although he was badly bruised, there
were no broken bones.
The Ballard’s third son, Laurence, was born on September 10, 1901. Within a month after the
baby was born, Allie suffered a severe attack of pneumonia and for a few days, she seemed
near death. Fortunately, she recovered.
Ernest kept busy at his jewelry business at 16 East Main Street. He started in the jewelry
business in Evansville in 1887 and purchased his own building at 16 East Main Street in
A February 21, 1903 biographical section on local businessmen in the Evansville Review said,
“Mr. Ballard has always maintained a high reputation for the general excellence of goods
carried, embracing about every thing that one expects to find in a modern and up to date
jewelry house. In addition to this line, a stock of music and musical instruments are carried,
and the store fixtures and general appointments are very fine and up to date. A full line of
optical goods are carried, patrons can have their eyes tested free of charge and can be
assured of being properly fitted with glasses.”
Ernest Ballard continued his education to improve his jeweler and optical skills. He took
courses and graduated from one of the best optical colleges in America, the Philadelphia
Optical College. Ballard also took additional training in watch repair and was a certified
repairman for the South Bend Watch Company. He supplemented his jewelry and optical
business by selling musical instruments, sheet music, pianos and Victrolas.
Ballard frequently made buying trips to Chicago and weekly trips to the village of Oregon,
where he repaired watches and operated an optical business. Ernest was so devoted to his
family that his wife and the three small children often accompanied him on these business
An active member of local business organizations, Ernest promoted Evansville as a member of
the Men’s Club. The Men’s Club supported building a public library and improving the park.
In December 1902, after the city received bequests from Almeron Eager’s estate, Ballard gave
a speech to the club about the Eager funds that were intended to extend water service to the
city park. The club also supported a new hotel and a canning factory, as local improvements
to improve Evansville’s economy.
Ballard also served as president of the Southern Wisconsin Jeweler's Club, a professional
organization of jewelry store owners. The held business meetings and social activities for
As his business prospered, E. J. Ballard continued to improve his homestead. At the turn of
the century, the modern Evansville homeowner replaced the wood plank walks of the past with
cement sidewalks. In May 1904, Ernest and his father, James, hired local cement expert
Albert Fessenden and his crew to put down new cement walks in front of their Liberty Street
The Ballard’s were active in the First Baptist Church. In 1911, Ernest Ballard served as
president of Evansville’s Choral Union, an organization of local citizens who performed
concerts, with the Evansville Seminary music teacher, Anna L. Boyce, serving as the
Ernest Ballard was elected to the Evansville City Council. He also served in several appointed
positions, as a member of the Eager Free Public Library Board and the Maple Hill Cemetery
While maintaining an active social and business life, Ernest and Allie were also devoted to
Ernest’s aging parents, James and Theda Ballard. The senior Ballard’s celebrated several
anniversaries in their son’s home. The last was their 67th anniversary, celebrated in
December 1913. Within months, James was taken into Ernest & Allie’s home and died there in
July 1914. Theda died the following April. Both funerals were held in the Ernest Ballard home.
Within a few years, Ernest’s health also began to fail and was confined to his home. The
jewelry store was turned over to his young assistant, Joe Straka.
Ernest James Ballard died June 2, 1920. His obituary described him as one of Evansville’s
exemplary citizens. “For many years Mr. Ballard has been one of the leading business and
social influences of the community and his death leaves a lasting grief upon his many friends
After her husband’s death, Allie Ballard no longer wanted to live in the house and rented
rooms from Mr. and Mrs. Fred Fellows.
Allie first rented the house in 1920 to A. F. Smith, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad
depot agent. In 1923, Robert Collins, a local drug store owner rented the home for his family.
In 1926, the house was rented to John G. Weber, the manager of the local telephone
company. He came to Evansville in February 1926 and rented the house until the mid-1940s.
Weber was involved in the Commercial Club and the Evansville Lions Club. “Mr. Weber has
always been interested in the welfare of the city and has taken an active part in promoting all
municipal enterprises,” the Review said in a June 20, 1929 article about Mr. Weber.
In 1930, Allie Ballard went to California and lived near her sons, Byrl and Lawrence.
Lawrence worked as a horse trainer for the Disney studios. Byrl was a famous pipe organ
player in Hollywood.
Byrl graduated from Evansville High School in 1910. Byrl served in World War I. He was a
talented organist and when he returned to the United States after his service in France, Byrl
worked as a church organist in Chicago and later moving to Cincinnati. In the 1920s, Byrl
moved to Hollywood and local people often listened to his organ recitals on the radio. He also
served as a church organist for a large Episcopal congregation in Hollywood and for a Jewish
synagogue. Byrl died in 1971 and is buried with his parents in Maple Hill Cemetery.
Allie died in April 1938, in California. Her daughter, Eilleen and her husband Sterling S. Beath
were home from their missionary work in Shanghai, China and were able to attend the funeral
in California. Allie Ballard’s ashes were returned to Evansville and buried in the family plot at
Maple Hill Cemetery. .
As part of Allie’s estate, the Ballard house went to her three children and they continued to
rent the house to John G. Weber until he retired from the telephone company and moved in
In June 1945, the house was sold to Fred Janes and his wife, Mabel. The following November,
Janes also purchased the store at 16 East Main from the Ballard children.
Janes, a lawyer and real estate agent, wanted the store for his business, but had no interest
in keeping the house. A series of rapid sales of the house followed the longtime ownership of
the Ballard family. Janes sold the old Ballard home to Alphonse “Foncie” Collins in July 1945.
In December of that same year, Collins sold the property to Charles & Della Hoops.
Two years later, in September 1947, Edwin F. and Coral Powers purchased the house. The
Powers’ lived in the house and rented rooms in the upstairs. Art Sands and Joan Eherdt each
rented a room in the house. After they were married in September 1947, the couple
continued to rent from the Powers. Joan’s former roommate, Gwen Gransee, also rented a
room on the second floor.
Powers’ sold the house to Bill & Rebecca “Becky” Blair in September 1949. Bill was a
salesman and his hobby was flying. He was a World War II pilot and was one of the first to get
a helicopter license. Bill owned his own plane and did crop dusting for local farmers.
He was best known for his stunt flying. Bill Blair seemed to have no fear when it came to
demonstrating his flying ability. He frequently flew over Evansville, going into nose dives and
flying upside down over Lake Leota. His flying routines were a favorite entertainment for 4th
of July celebrations and other events at the City Park.
Becky Blair was a typist in the office of the Pruden Products in the 1950s. She was also an
officer in the Eastern Star. Their daughter, Barbara, attended the Evansville schools and was
a charter member of the Order of Rainbow Girls, a Masonic organization for young women.
When Bill Blair was offered an opportunity to work as a civilian for the U. S. Air Force training
helicopter pilots, he accepted. The family moved to the South and the Blair’s sold the house
in September 1959 to Harry Keegan and his wife, Julia.
The Keegan’s owned the house for seven years. For a number of years the house was
rented to Wally and Dorothy Schoepp. Wally was a cheesemaker at a small cheese factory
on Maple Street.
The Schoepps moved to Monroe and Keegan sold the house to Harold and Mary Norslien in
December 1966. Harold Norslien was a salesman for Pruden Products and part owner of a
lumberyard in Black Earth.
The Norslien’s owned the home for the next 26 years. They lived in the house until 1978,
when they moved to Black Earth. They rented the house to Miriam Hall and she lived in the
house until the Beath’s purchased the property. Few repairs or upkeep were done to this
aging home from the 1970s to the early 90s.
Mary contacted the Norslien’s and offered to purchase the house and the transaction was
completed in October 1994. Once the sale was complete the Mary and Sterling Beath spent
the next two years making dramatic changes to the home and learning about Sterling’s
ancestors, the Ballard and Beath families.
The family history recorded that Sterling’s mother, Eilleen Ballard Beath grew up in the
house. She graduated from the Evansville High School in 1913. She also attended the
Evansville Seminary and was a 1915 graduate of the Junior College department. In 1917 she
went to the National Baptist convention in Cleveland, Ohio and was accepted as a missionary
for South China. Later that year, she married Sterling Stanley Beath.
Sterling S. Beath was a Baptist missionary. He had spent most of his youth in Evansville, and
later attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Sterling S. Beath received his Master’s
degree in Arts at the University of Chicago. His first assignment was to Japan in 1913. On his
first furlough in 1915, Sterling Beath gave an “illustrated lecture” on Japan at the Union
On his second furlough, Eilleen and Sterling Stanley Beath were married in her parent’s home
on August 11, 1917. They left that same evening for San Francisco and on August 27th,
boarded a ship for China to serve as missionaries for the Baptist Church. After their
marriage, Sterling S. & Eilleen came home on furlough every two years. The Beath’s spent
most of their furloughs in California and occasionally visited Evansville.
Their first son was named for his grandfather. Ernest Ballard Beath was born on February
21st, 1920 in China. The second son, and current owner of the house, Sterling, and his
brother, accompanied their parents on their missionary trips. Most of his missionary work was
in Shanghai, China where Eilleen’s husband, Sterling taught in the School of Commerce,
University of Shanghai, in the center of the city.
Sterling, Eileen and Ernest Beath
The education of their own children was very important to Sterling and Eilleen. They wanted
their sons to have a good education. The boys attended the American School in Shanghai
and their son, Sterling, also attended school in the United States. He was graduated from
John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
In August 1937, Japan invaded China and the Beath’s were in Shanghai under bombardment.
The city was surrounded by Chinese soldiers, trying to protect the city from the Japanese
attack. More than a million refugees were reported to be in the streets. Beath gathered
teachers and students into automobiles and led a convoy from the University in the center of
Shanghai, to what he thought would be a safe area of the city, known as the International
However, this area was also heavily bombed during the Japanese attack and several hundred
people were killed. The Beath’s decided that Eilleen and their son Sterling, known to the
family as “Red,” should leave China. They boarded a ship, the President Hoover, and went to
Manila. A letter describing the harrowing circumstances of their escape was published in the
October 7, 1937, Evansville Review.
With missionary zeal, Sterling remained in Shanghai. In September 1942, Sterling Stanley
Beath was reported to be a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He was held in a Japanese
concentration camp in Shanghai. The war ended and he survived the incarceration. Sterling
Stanley Beath returned to his missionary work.
During World War II, Sterling and Eilleen’s son, Sterling “Red” Beath, served in the Navy and
was trained in search and surveillance. In the latter part of the war he was stationed in the
Philippines and when the war ended, he visited with his parents who were once again together
in Shanghai, continuing their missionary work. Sterling returned to the United States to
complete his education. He attended Cal State in Los Angeles and graduated with a Bachelor’
s Degree. For 30 years, he worked, without a day off, for General Motors Insurance
Corporation in California and Nevada.
Mary Beath grew up on a farm near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Her mother was a talented
piano teacher and was Mary’s piano teacher. Mary loved music and after high school, she
attended General Beadle State Teachers College in Madison, South Dakota. Mary taught
music in elementary schools in South Dakota and then moved to California, where she
completed her degree in music and elementary education at the University of California at
Santa Barbara. She continued her pursuit of life long learning with graduate courses in
psychology at UCLA.
After Mary and Sterling retired to Port Angeles, Washington, Mary continued to use her
musical talents as a full time church organist and part time organist for a local mortuary. In
1976, they visited Evansville to bring his father’s ashes to Maple Hill Cemetery for burial.
They toured the city and the trip brought back many memories of Sterling’s childhood visits to
grandparents and other relatives.
For nearly 20 years, Mary and Sterling continued to make visits to Evansville. Once they
made the decision to move, Grandfather Ballard’s house was their choice for a new home.
After the 1994 sale was complete, the Beath’s immediately began the restoration of the
The configuration of the house had not changed since the days that Ernest and Allie Ballard
lived in the home. Although there had been many owners and renters, the house was never
been cut up into apartments.
In 1995 they restored the exterior. During the repair of the front and side porches, they
discovered Sterling’s great grandfather, James Ballard’s, name in the cement on one of the
porches. Randy Thornton of “Unlimited Services” did the construction work on the porches
and built a deck was built on the south side of the house.
Other exterior work included a restored chimney, new fencing and a cement driveway. Cheryl
Fuchs built a long fence. Baumberger and Gibbs did the cement work.
The original color scheme of the exterior was exposed using scrapings from the exterior
wood. The house was repainted in the original soft gray green on the main portion of the
house, and dark green and white trim. Exterior painting was done by Cheryl Fuchs and
Thornton also put aluminum siding on the 1894 addition to the back portion of the house and
the small “carriage house” garage. The color scheme was of the siding was carefully matched
to the rest of the house.
The hardwood oak floors throughout the house were also refinished by Dave Anderson of
Janesville. Many of the original features of the home remain, including a lovely three-wood
parquet floor in the living room and the original fireplace and fittings. The oak stairs and
banister leading from the dining room to the second floor were carefully restored to their
original beauty. There is a pocket door between the foyer and the living room.
Oak woodwork, doors and windows throughout the interior were restored. They also found
many of the original door knobs and fittings on ledges in the cellar. Replacement door
hardware was purchased in antique stores. There are beveled glass windows in the foyer, an
original stained glass window in the living room and a large glass window in the kitchen.
All new electrical, plumbing and heating equipment was installed during the renovation.
Plumbing updates were done by Steve Schneider. George Howell was responsible for the
heating and Todd Kaehler for the electrical upgrades. The Beath’s restored the heating
system grates. Herb Christensen made a wood air-return grate in the stairway.
A new kitchen, with white cabinets and countertops and new flooring, was another part of the
renovation project. A beautiful oak wood cabinet was moved from the northeast corner of the
room to the west wall of the kitchen. Mary removed 9 coats of paint before the original oak
The master bedroom and three other bedrooms are located on the second story. A skylight
was placed in the roof of the master bedroom to increase the natural light.
The bathroom on the second story was sinking into the washroom below when the Beath’s
purchased the house. The original claw-foot tub was the only bathroom fixture that was not
replaced during the renovation. Another bathroom with a shower was added on the first floor.
Many of the plaster walls in the home were saved by Doug Peterson. The decorations in the
house include a lincrusta wall covering on the east wall of the foyer. This is original to the
house and is a mixture of plaster and linseed oil in a raised design.
Mary decorated the house with many Chinese art pieces that were brought or sent to the
United States by Sterling’s parents. They include pottery, paintings, and needlework. The
Chinese curio cabinet in the foyer is put together like a jig-saw puzzle, with no nails. The
house also features original art work including quilts and paintings by Mary and other family
members. Travel souvenirs and shell collections are also used as decorations.
There are many family photographs of the parents and grandparents, and other relatives
near and dear to Mary and Sterling. An old pocket watch, made by Ernest Ballard, mantle
clocks, spoon collections and many other antiques are featured.
Just a few years ago, Mary also began collecting dolls. Her first doll was rescued from a
garage sale. Mary carefully restored the doll and made clothes for it. The doll was a present
for her granddaughter. Mary had acquired a new hobby. Today the collection includes old
buggies and dolls from Mary’s childhood. She has made, restored, or purchased more than
650 dolls and their clothing. They are all dearly loved.
The restoration of the home at 107 West Liberty created a desire to know more about the
house and their family. Mary has a large notebook of family history and pictures, as well as a
series of pictures about the restoration of this lovely home.
Mary and Sterling have generously opened their home for the house tour on June 9 from 1-5
p.m. to aid the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
107 West Liberty Street
Researched and Written
Ruth Ann Montgomery