138 West Main
Researched and Written by Ruth Ann Montgomery
The home of Xandra Kashkashian is a stately brick Victorian Vernacular house on the northeast
corner of Main and Second streets. The land was vacant for nearly thirty years after Evansville
In 1868, Levi Leonard, a farmer living a mile east of Evansville purchased land from Henry G.
Spencer for $500 and built the house. At the time, streets north of Main Street, Garfield and
Grove Streets, did not exist. Leonard’s land extended north from West Main to the edges of the
old mill pond, known as Lake Leota.
Levi Leonard was born on December 30, 1815 in Binghamton, Broome County, New York. By
his mid-twenties, he had worked in several occupations, including teaching, farming and rafting
logs down the Sesquehanna river.
In the early months of 1840, Leonard and a friend decided to head west to the newly opened
Wisconsin territory but they were undecided as to their final destination. They started their
journey in April and traveled from New York to York, Pennsylvania by railroad. The next part of
their journey was by stage coach, and by boat to Chicago.
"Nothing would have induced us to stay in Chicago," Leonard once said in an interview. "We
would not have taken as a gift the whole concern." They traveled west to Rockford and north to
Janesville where they found two frame houses, a stagecoach house and a few log houses.
The two men stayed in Janesville about two weeks. Then they traveled west a few miles to the
area known as The Grove, the present site of Evansville. Leonard found work as a farmhand for
another early settler, Hiram Griffith. He worked for Griffith for two summers, earning $14 every
In 1842, Leonard was hired as the first school teacher in the Grove. Before he could begin
teach, he had to pass an examination for teachers. He went to Monroe and was examined by
three school commissioners who tested his competency in arithmetic and grammar. When the
commissioners were satisfied with his answers, Levi was awarded a teaching certificate.
Leonard’s wages for the school year included boarding with the families of students and $14 a
His interest in education continued throughout his life time. He accumulated an extensive library
in scientific and philosophical works and encouraged many young people to pursue their
education beyond the one-room school.
Leonard remained single for many years and purchased land for a farm on the road to
Janesville. In 1852, he married Charlotte Taggart and after nearly four years of marriage, they
had a young son, Fred. The baby was six months old when it died in January 1856. Levi’s wife,
Charlotte, died just five months later in May 1856.
In 1858, Leonard married a widow and nearby neighbor, Sarah Marie Prentice Jones. Sarah’s
first husband died leaving her with two young children, Burr and Marion. Although Levi and
Sarah had no children of their own, Leonard was a beloved step-father and step-grandfather.
Burr was twelve years old when his mother and Leonard married. In his book Reminiscences of
Nine Decades, Burr Jones affectionately described Levi Leonard: "In his personal appearance
he would have attracted attention in any company, as he was six feet four inches tall, with a well
proportioned frame, having flesh enough but none too much. He was temperate in all his
habits, using neither liquor nor tobacco, and I never heard him utter a profane word. He was
resolute, fearless, industrious, and physically the strongest man I have ever known. He had
only a common school education, but was an omnivorous reader, and found time for his
reading, notwithstanding the hard labor of the farm life."
In his political beliefs was a strong anti-slavery advocate. Although he later became one of a
few Democrats in Evansville, he shared the political views of a budding Republican party. In
1854, Levi Leonard went to Madison with a group of men from Union township, to assist in the
formation of the Republican Party. The young Republicans opposed slavery and the fugitive
slave laws enacted in Wisconsin.
Leonard supported many of Evansville’s civic improvements during his lifetime. He was a
financial backer of the Evansville Seminary. He recorded in his diaries in September 1857, that
he had attended a Seminary meeting at the Methodist Church. The construction of the
Seminary building had started in 1855, and was not finished after two years. Levi and others
attending the meeting were asked to give donations so that classes could be held in the new
The funds were raised and the first building of the Seminary was completed. The local farmers,
including Leonard, attended agricultural meetings at the Seminary to learn how to diversify their
grain crops and increase their livestock holdings.
Since there was no high school in Evansville, the local Seminary served as a preparatory school
for those who wanted to further their education. Sarah’s son, Burr Jones, graduated from the
Seminary, and went to the University of Wisconsin where he studied to become a lawyer. He
was very successful and later taught at the University and was a Wisconsin Supreme Court
In 1866, Leonard decided to give up farming and sold his farm to Vie and Henry Campbell.
Leonard moved to Evansville and invested in several Evansville properties Levi, Sarah, and
Marion lived in two houses before buying the land on West Main.
In January 1868, Levi Leonard finalized the real estate deal with Henry Spencer and purchased
land directly west of Henry Spencer’s house on West Main Street. In April, the Evansville
newspaper, Evansville Citizen reported that Leonard had hired men to build the foundation and
start the wood frame for the brick house. When it was finished the Levi Leonard and his wife,
Sarah Prentice Jones Leonard lived in the house until their deaths in 1908 and 1909.
Leonard also invested in local businesses. One of his first investments after moving to
Evansville was a cheese factory association managed by his neighbor, C. H. Wilder. In the
1860s, Union township farmers were increasing their holdings in dairy cows and the milk was
sold to local cheese factories. Leonard and other Evansville stockholders, including Lewis
Spencer and Isaac Bennett boxed and weighed cheese in the factory. By October 1866, the
cheese makers had produced and shipped more than 100,000 pounds of cheese from the
As an early settler, Leonard was a respected local historian. In 1870, Levi Leonard, Daniel
Johnson and Jacob West were asked to write a history of Evansville for publication in a Dane
County History in 1870. The three men praised the virtues of the little village: "No license has
ever been granted for a saloon. The morals of the place can be judged by the large number of
ministers and only one lawyer."
He also invested a small amount of money in the new foundry for the manufacture of engines,
that later became known as Baker Manufacturing Company. Leonard’s diaries record a $5
investment “paid toward the foundry,” on March 25, 1873. Over the next few years, Leonard
invested in other property in the village of Evansville. His diaries frequently recorded mortgage
Levi and Sarah Leonard were strong supporters of life-long education and were charter
members of the Literary Society formed in the early 1870s. Other charter members were Lewis
and Eva Spencer, I. A. and C. Sawin, George & E. Spencer, James and Sarah Rowley, Thomas
Morgan, Hiram Spencer, Charles Spencer, Harvey and Dorinda Prentice, Peter F. Spencer,
Mary Winston, Emaline Bevier, Elijah Bullock, Dr. E. W. Beebe, and his wife Mrs. Frances Beebe.
In April 1879, Marion “Minnie” Jones Humphrey Pettigrew, died and her death notice appeared
in the Evansville Review. “We are pained to learn of the death of Mrs. Minnie Pettigrew, wife of
Justin A. Pettigrew of Vermillion, Dakota. Mrs. Pettigrew was the daughter of Mrs. Leonard of
this place, and sister to Col. Burr Jones of Madison. At this writing we have learned no
particulars, but understand the remains are expected here Tuesday the 29th, for interment.”
The body was returned to Evansville and the funeral was held at the Leonard home. Sarah and
Levi became legal guardians for Marion’s son, Lyle Humphrey.
Evansville was very rural in appearance for many years. Barns, farm animals, and cropland
were still part of the landscape into the 1880s. When the federal census of 1880 was recorded,
Levi Leonard reported that in the barn at his home on West Main Street, he kept a horse, a
wagon and a cow for milk. His land included seven acres.
The decade of the 1880s was a period of growth for Evansville and Leonard decided to develop
the vacant land north of his house. In 1884, Leonard and his neighbor to the west, Lansing
Mygatt, subdivided the land north of their properties. Building lots in the Leonard and Mygatt
addition sold quickly.
The seven acres of land purchased by Leonard in 1868 for $500 was a good investment. After
it was subdivided into twelve lots, each lot sold for $150 to $200 each. In his diary October 6,
1883, Leonard recorded that he “sold a lot joining park for $150 to Mr. Dennie. He paid in
The developers, Leonard and Mygatt opened a road between their properties. The road
started at West Main and went north to the park. It cost the men $50 each to open the new
road. The street was called Park Street for many years and is today known as North Second
They also sold land to the Village of Evansville for a park. Levi's received $650, as his portion
of the sale. The park was located at the north edge of the Leonard and Mygatt Addition and
extended to the Lake Leota. Leonard wrote in his diaries that he paid a local attorney $1 to
make a deed to record the sale of land to the Village of Evansville.
By hard work and good investments, Leonard’s fortune had changed and by the late 1880s,
Leonard was able to enjoy the benefits. He began to improve his home with little convenience.
In 1885, F. A. Baker and Company installed a hot air heating furnace.
The new apparatus was not very dependable. The following year, on January 11, 1886,
Leonard recorded in his diary: "22 degrees below. Furnace went out. Cistern froze over." The
following winter, in early December 1886, Sarah and Levi became some of Evansville’s first
snowbirds left for Florida and remained their for the rest of the winter. “They anticipate a
pleasant winter and happy enjoyment,” the Review stated in their December 3, 1886 issue.
When they returned to Evansville, the joined a cooperative home to relieve the work load of
cooking and laundry. Levi and Sarah each invested $130 in the Cooperative Home and the
members purchased the house at the southwest corner of Main and First Streets (today’s Allen-
Meredith Funeral Home.)
Each member of the cooperative furnished garden produce, furniture, and other items as
needed. They also paid a fee for meals and laundry. Levi's diaries record that he took
potatoes and wood to the Home and also paid twenty dollars a month for board for him and
Sarah. In addition, he mowed the lawn and helped with the cooperative garden.
Leonard's diaries cover the span from 1857 to his death in 1908 and are a record of many
Evansville important events: "September 19, 1892. They commenced work on the town hall";
"May 22, 1894. "August 22, 1903. Dr. Evans died this morning 1/2 past 3".
When the 1900 census taker asked Leonard his occupation, he replied, "Capitalist" At 85 years
of age, Levi Leonard was one of the wealthiest men in Evansville.
Levi Leonard House ca. 1900
By 1902, Levi Leonard was one of the last remaining settlers and his health was failing. The
Evansville newspaper, the Enterprise, noted: “Mr. Levi Leonard is quite ill. Uncle Levi is getting
quite well along in years and cannot take too good care of himself if he wants to stay with us
many years longer; he was one of the first settlers in this place and about the last one of them
Levi lived six more years and his death in 1908, marked the end of sixty-nine years of residence
in Evansville. He died on December 27, 1908 just three days before his 93rd birthday. His wife,
Sarah Prentice Jones Leonard died just five months later on May 23, 1909.
In June 1909, the house was sold to Dr. George Spencer. He was the son of George Spencer,
Sr., one of the five Spencer brothers that settled in Evansville in the 1840s. His father was a
contemporary of Levi Leonard. George’s sister, Hattie, was the first Evansville woman to
become a professional photographer. George, Jr. was an amateur photographer.
Dr. Spencer was born in Evansville and attended the local schools. He received his medical
degree at Rush Medical College in Chicago and also attended classes in homeopathy at the
Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago. He graduated from Rush in the early 1880s and
began practicing with Dr. Charles M. Smith.
Spencer began practicing in Evansville in 1884 soon after his graduation from Rush Medical
College in Chicago. An advertisement in the Evansville Review from that year stated that he
was in practice with Dr. C. M. Smith over Dr. E. H. Winston's Drug store. He promised to answer
night calls from the office. However, there were already seven doctors in Evansville and the
competition made the young man restless and Spencer soon moved on to Dayton, Wisconsin.
He returned to Evansville in 1887, but stayed less than a year.
August 1, 1888, Spencer married Emma P. Hughes of Palmyra and they moved to the Nebraska
territory. Emma died in a tragic fire that destroyed their Nebraska home and George returned
to Evansville with his wife's body and decided to stay and practice medicine.
In 1897, George Spencer married Alice Fiedler and for a brief period of time he moved to
Madison. Returning once again to Evansville in 1898. He lived in several different houses
before the Leonard house was placed on the market.
Spencer’s decision to purchase the house was made quickly. He and his wife, Alice, had been
considering building a new house but decided instead to purchase and remodel the home of the
late Levi and Sarah Leonard.
Dr. George Spencer - At Evansville City Hall - Preparing for Parade
In August 1909, Spencer had a crew of men at work raising the east wing of the house,
changing partitions on the inside and making other changes that would modernize the house.
In January 1910, the Spencers moved into their new home.
He was appointed the City health officer in 1914 and brought to light many unsanitary
conditions in the city's food supply. He found the slaughter houses were not up to standard in
sanitation practices. The milk supply needed improvement because not all cattle were being
tested for tuberculosis. Spencer recommended sterilizing all milk before it was consumed.
When Spencer inspected the local grade school, he found it was crowded and sanitary
conditions were only fair. He also wanted the school to institute regular medical and dental
examinations of children. The school officials agreed and allowed local dentists to come to the
schools to check the teeth of children and make recommendations to parents about their care.
Spencer also helped to institute the Better Baby Contests at the local fairs. Dr. Spencer joined
with local nurses to give physical examinations to babies and recommend proper baby care to
their mothers. George's great concern for children carried over to his social activities as well.
He and Alice had no children but would frequently host Christmas parties for neighborhood
children in their home.
In the great influenza epidemic of 1918, Spencer and his niece, Marjory Spencer, cared for the
sick and dying. Apparently immune to the disease, they were able to remain healthy while
caring for members of their own family, as well as patients.
George and Alice Spencer sold the house at 138 West Main to H. Fred Brunsell in November
1919. Brunsell was the son of a Scandinavian immigrant and was born near Cooksville. In
1915, Fred purchased the Evansville Produce Co. and this was the beginning of the Brunsell
Co. on East Main Street.
Brunsell was called to serve in World War I and on his return he married Elizabeth Gault, a
young math teacher at the local high school. Elizabeth was from Portage and graduated from
the University of Wisconsin in 1917. Fred and Elizabeth were married on November 15, 1919
and lived their entire married life in the home at 138 West Main. All four of their children,
William, Robert, Elizabeth and Barbara were born in the house.
The Brunsell's added an enclosed porch in 1925.
Mr. Brunsell was a stockholder and director of the Farmers and State Bank in the 1930s. This
bank was renamed the Union Bank & Trust Company in the late thirties. He also was a share
holder in the Rock County Fair and served as its treasurer. He was first elected to that position
After a successful business career, Brunsell retired in 1955, but remained active in Masonic
activities. He died in 1964 and his wife, Elizabeth died ten years later.
For many years, the house was known as "The Brunsell House." It is a curiosity to new
residents of Evansville, that a house retains the name of former occupants, long after the new
owners have taken up residence.
In recent years, the house has been featured several times on historic home tours. In 1975, the
house was sold to a local school teacher and football coach, John O'Connell and was featured
on one of the local historic house walks in 1978.
138 West Main in 1978
The house was sold in 1980 to Jane and Craig Nordness. They also opened their home to
visitors at the historic house walk held in 1984. Jane and Craig both had Norwegian ancestors
and had arts and crafts work from Norway featured in their home. Jane, a talented singer,
performed for many social and civic events in Evansville and in Madison.
Jane and Craig remodeled the interior of the home. During renovation of the kitchen, the
Nordness' found the cupboards had the date 1866 printed on small brass plaques. The
cupboards were part of the original kitchen built for Levi and Sarah Leonard.
One of the most creative landscaping designs for an historic home was accomplished by Craig,
using hostas, spring bulbs, and other perennials in the flower beds around the home. Craig
also built a goldfish pond.
When the Nordness' moved to Madison in the early 1990s, the house was sold to Bruce and
Sandra Keller. All of the wool carpets were removed from the house and the Kellers had the
maple narrow-board floors refinished on both floors of the home.
A bathroom on the second floor was remodeled and the fixtures were replace. They also added
a Waterford gas stove on the 3-season porch. A reproduction tin ceiling was added in the
dining room, with a new ceiling fan and light. The house was decorated with many art works
and Nortaki china collected during visits to China.
The Keller family put the house at 138 West Main up for sale and it was featured in Country
The newest occupant of the Levi Leonard house at 138 West Main is Xandra Kashkashian.
138 West Main 2007