288 East Main Street
By Ruth Ann Montgomery August 2001
The house at 2888 East Main Street is more than 140 years old. It has served as a
residence and for a year or so as a restaurant and has been the site of family gatherings
for weddings, births, deaths and funerals. When the Koenigs purchased the house in
1991, they obtained a copy of the abstract that documents the sales, mortgages, and
transfers of property through 1953.
The first record is from 1845, when Boyd Phelps purchased the southeast quarter of the
northeast quarter of section 27 from the United States Government. Boyd Phelps was one
of the original settlers of Union Township and was recorded in the 1840 federal census of
Rock County. A farmer and part-time Methodist minister, Phelps reportedly built a log
cabin near what is today the Maple Hill Cemetery and it is unlikely that he built the house.
In 1853, Phelps started to divide and sell the land and found a willing buyer in Thomas
Robinson who also subdivided the property for development. Robinson sold land to Aliva
Porter in 1857 and to her neighbor, Theodore Lee.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of construction of the house. The Evansville
newspaper, The Citizen, later named The Review, did not start recording the activities of
the area residents until 1866. The earliest documention of a house on the property is a
map of Evansville, drawn in 1858 that shows a house owned by the Porters on the north
side of East Main Street.
Although she was a married woman, with children, the house was in Aliva Porter’s name,
from 1857 when she purchased the land until her death in September 1897. The reason
for this is unclear. Although most properties purchased in the settlement period and
recorded at the Rock County Register of Deeds office were owned by men, or jointly by
married couples, there were cases of married women owning the land. For some couples
this was to secure the home in case the husband was engaged in a risky occupation and
bankruptcy could threaten the home property as well as the business. In other cases, the
woman was financially self-sufficient, independent of her husband.
Aliva Briggs and Lester Porter were married in Strykerville, New York in October 28, 1848.
Although there were other Porter families living in the area in the 1840s, there is no
indication Lester was related to them.
Lester and Aliva moved west, living for a short time in the Rockford area. Their children,
one son and two daughters, included Fredrick H., born in 1852; Clarinda Antoinette
(Nettie), born in 1854; and Fanny, born in 1861. In later census records, both daughters
are listed as having been born in Wisconsin.
During the Civil War, Lester enlisted in Company M, 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry. The Second
Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment was organized at Camp Washburn, Milwaukee, WI and left
the state on March 24, 1862 to protect the Western front. The following year, the
regiment took part in the battle of Vicksburg.
Following the battle for Vicksburg, the Regiment was assigned to General Sherman’s
forces and participated in the Jackson Campaign from July 5-25, 1863. The 2nd
Wisconsin Cavalry then returned to the vicinity of Vicksburg for patrol and police duty until
November 1864. During the next several months, the regiment was sent to various points
from Vicksburg to Memphis.
Lester Porter died on January 31, 1865, while his regiment was in Memphis, Tennessee.
Aliva was left to raise the children on her own. The Porter’s oldest child, Fredrick, was
just 13 years old when his father was died. Nettie was 11 and Fanny, age 4.
Aliva apparently found the brick home on East Main Street a comfortable place for her
children and herself. The children were raised there. Fred appears to have left home in
the 1870s, and Fanny, when she married in 1880. Nettie remained in the home with Aliva
for more than 30 years.
Although we know little about the actual building date of the house, a newspaper article by
Joseph H. West in the Evansville Review, gives credit to his father, Jacob West, for
furnishing the brick for the construction of the Porter house.
Before settling in Evansville, Jacob West operated kilns in Bloomington and Rock Grove,
Illinois. According to Joseph, his father’s first Evansville kiln was set up just west of Allen’s
Creek on the south side of East Main Street. The layer of clay was very thin and was
quickly depleted, forcing Jacob West to move his kiln to the north side of East Main on the
site of the Nelson Young Lumberyard.
Again, the layer of clay was worn out and the kiln was moved to the north end of First
Street. There, Joseph West said his father “found the best deposit of clay ever found
here. From this kiln was built the Seminary and several other houses.” When this layer of
clay was gone, the kiln was moved to the Fish farm (today all that remains of the farm is a
brick house and barn on the east side of Hwy. 14 (Union Street) near Evansville’s north
Some of the homes built with brick from West’s kiln included the Aliva Porter home at 288
East Main, the Masonic Temple, the Century 21 building at the southeast corner of Main
and Madison Streets, a brick house at 250 West Main Street, and the brick house at 42
Montgomery Court, and the Fish home on Union Street.
The brick sold for $5 per thousand for “average” brick and $7 per thousand for the best
brick. Joseph West claimed the best brick was burned in the arches of the kiln. Brick from
the West kilns was also used for chimneys and foundations.
How Aliva supporter herself and her three children is a mystery. Since the house was in
her name, she may have had her own money. She did receive a Civil War widower’s
pension for many years after her husband’s death, which would have helped her maintain
a home and provide for her children. Her children may have also helped with household
expenses after they reached adulthood.
Her son Fredrick worked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad as a brakeman on a
freight train. He married Antoinette Black, a niece of local lumberyard owner, Kinsey F.
Randolph. Following their wedding, the couple moved to Minneapolis. Fred Porter
occasionally visited his mother and sisters in Evansville.
Aliva’s two daughters were listed as living with their mother in the 1880 federal census of
Evansville. The youngest daughter, Fanny listed her occupation as teacher.
Shortly after the census was taken, Fanny married Fred Wilbur Tolles on June 10, 1880.
Tolles operated an insurance agency in Evansville. In 1891, Tolles sold his insurance
agency to George Magee and the couple moved to Menasha, later settling in Milwaukee.
Fanny and Fred maintained close ties with Evansville, visiting friends and family
In 1889, after many years of widowhood, Aliva married the uncle of her daughter-in-law,
and recent widower, Kinsey F. Randolph. Kinsey was retired from the operation of a
lumberyard on East Main Street that he had been owned since the 1860s. The
lumberyard business was very successful during a building and industrial boom in the
1870s and 1880s. There were frequently newspapers reports of his sales of materials to
the Lehman furniture factory and the Baker Manufacturing Company.
For Randolph, it may have been a marriage of convenience. Kinsey Randolph and his
first wife, Matilda, had also been East Main Street residents. Matilda died in February
1889 and just 10 months later, in December, Randolph married Aliva. He was an elderly,
childless man who was used to the comforts of a home and wife. His marriage to Aliva
lasted less than two years, as he died in October 1891.
Just a few months before her stepfather’s death, Antoinette “Nettie” Porter, who had
worked as a dressmaker, was courted by a prominent Evansville businessman and
widower. Her mother’s home was the scene of Antoinette’s marriage to Ashabel Charles
Thorpe in April 1891.
The wedding was described as a “substantial affair, such as the bride and her mother
could well prepare.” There were only about 40 guests at the wedding, since a bout of
influenza had kept a number of invited guests from attending.
When her second husband died shortly after her last child left home, Aliva began to travel
to visit family and friends in the east. Her last trip was made in 1897. On a trip to visit
relatives, she became ill at the home of her brother in Michigan. Her daughters, Fanny
and Antoinette were called to his home and were at their mother’s bedside when she
died. The body was returned to Evansville and she was buried in Maple Hill cemetery
beside the remains of her first husband Lester Porter, and her second husband, Kinsey
Fanny was made executor of Aliva’s will that gave the house at 288 East Main Street to
Aliva’s only son, Fred Porter. Both Fanny and Antoinette signed away their rights to the
house through a quit claim deed finalized on June 7, 1898.
Fred Porter kept the house for four years, selling on April 21, 1902 to Margaret F. Owen.
Margaret Owen and her husband, Joshua M. Owen owned and operated the Commercial
Hotel (today’s Coach House). The Owens’ lived at the Hotel and the house at 288 East
Main served as a rental house and income property for the Owens.
Fred Porter held a mortgage on the property for $500 that was paid the following year
when Mrs. Owen sold the house to Olive A. Chapin in March 1903. Olive Anna Pease
Chapin, a widow, purchased the house and it once again became a family-owned home.
The Chapins’ were a three-generation family living under one roof. Olive’s son, Oliver D.
P. Chapin, with his wife, Catherine, and children, Harriet (Hattie), Olive K, Walter, William
and Oliver S. had moved from Fort Atkinson to Evansville. Oliver D. P. worked at the
Baker Manufacturing Company. In the early 1900s the Baker Manufacturing Co. was a
rapidly growing windmill and engine manufacturer, with international sales.
In addition to his work at Baker Manufacturing, Chapin also served as an agent for the
Coe, Converse & Edwards nursery of Fort Atkinson. He promised his customers “choice
trees and plants”. He also advertised a saw and lawn mower sharpening service at his
home on East Main Street. Oliver continued this service into the 1930s, even after he
retired from Baker’s.
On December 5, 1905 at midnight, the three-generation family ties were broken when
Olive Anna Pease Chapin died in the home on East Main Street. Her obituary noted that
she was a faithful member of the Methodist church and her son, Oliver, was a trustee.
“Her daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and all who knew her, rise up and call her blessed.
She will be greatly missed.”
Oliver inherited the house from his mother and over the next few years in 1907 and again
in 1909 mortgaged the property. The first mortgage was to Guy C. Barnard for $750 and
when that was paid, he borrowed another $1,000 from Harry A. Blakeley. The mortgage
held by Blakeley was not released until April 1923. Whether these loans were for property
improvements, or to pay some other debt is not known.
Oliver was well respected by his neighbors on the east side of Evansville and several
times they elected him to the Evansville City Council. He served on the Street and Public
Works committee during the difficult period from 1909 to 1912 when the City was
purchasing land for a sewage disposal plant and installing the first sewer lines. Many felt
that taxes would be so high that people would start moving away from Evansville and leave
the remaining citizens burdened with the cost of the new sewer system. However the 174
to 104 votes in favor of the system by the citizens of Evansville in July 1910 assured Oliver
Chapin and the other councilmen that they had the support of a majority of the citizens to
proceed with the improvements.
One of the Chapins’ daughter, Hattie, led an adventurous pioneer life. In 1913, she
married Evansville native Lyell Richardson and joined her young husband on his
homestead near St. Rose du Lac in Canada. Hattie froze her feet the first winter she was
in Canada and found it so painful to stand that she crawled across the floor or was carried
about the house so that she could get her work done. She made flax seed poultices for
her feet and refused to go to the hospital because she feared that the doctors would
amputate her toes. Hattie wrote her memoirs of the Canadian days in the book “My Years
in Canada”. She and Lyell returned to Evansville in 1930 and Lyell became a partner in
the Grange Store.
Catherine and Oliver lived for nearly forty years in the house on East Main Street. They
celebrated their golden anniversary in their home in 1937. Catherine died the following
year and Oliver survived her by just one more year.
When Oliver D. P. Chapin died at his home at 288 East Main in August 1939, he was
revered as one of Evansville’s “most prominent citizens active in both civic and fraternal
affairs”. His pallbearers included three former Evansville mayors.
Once again the children of the homeowners were left to decide what would happen with
the house at 288 East Main. Nearly two years after their father’s death, the Chapin
children and their spouses sold the property to Annette M. Pullen in September 1941, and
Mrs. Pullen turned the home into a restaurant called “The Homestead”.
Before starting the project, Annette and her husband, J. Spencer Pullen, mortgaged the
property to James Gillies, a local real estate agent, for $1,400. As soon as the financial
matters were settled, the Pullens redecorated the interior to serve as several dining
rooms. Annette Pullen hired Mrs. Irving Giese as her assistant and began serving Sunday
dinners and taking reservations for private parties in “the Williamsburg room”.
The decorations of the new restaurant were described in an Evansville Review article as a
“pleasing old fashioned homelike atmosphere produced by the ivy wall paper, dark green
floors, and ivory woodwork. The beauty of the home is further enhanced by the graceful
lines of the ancient window and door frames, the colonial cupboards, the rag rugs, the
dainty ruffled window curtains and the old fashioned round tables set with red checkered
table linen and red and white dinnerware.”
The enterprise was soon put to rest, no doubt food and gas rationing during World War II
cut into restaurant business and in November 1943, the home was sold to Thomas and
Isabel Hannon who once again turned the house at 288 East Main into a home. Thomas
Hannon was retired and apparently loved reading, as the home was filled with books.
There were few activities reported in the local newspaper for the Hannons, with the
exception of the wedding of their daughter. Mary Jane Hannon was married to Burton
Reese in her parent’s house in July 1948. Their attendants were Mr. and Mrs. John
Thurman, the sister and brother-in-law of the groom. A reception for 50 guests was held
in the home following the wedding ceremony.
Thomas Hannon became ill in 1951 and died at his home in March 1951. Isabel Hannon
decided to sell the house and held an auction of household goods on September 8, 1951.
Myron and Sara M. Williams purchased the house from Isabel Hannon in September
1951. Myron Williams worked as a pattern maker for the Baker Manufacturing Company.
The Williams’ owned the house less than a year, selling to Harold J. and M. Irene Bunde in
May 1952. Harold Bunde was a veterinarian with the Evansville Veterinary Clinic. Harold
Bunde was killed in a car accident in April 1954 and his widow, Irene, continued to own the
house until 1991 when it was purchased by Diane and Jon Koenig.
The Koenig’s had been looking for a house to restore and the house at 288 East Main felt
like home. The high ceilings, original pine doors and window trim were especially
appealing. To the new owner’s delight, they found that the house had most of the old
hardware and trim.
Jon and Diane remodeled the kitchen and a bathroom. They also had a new furnace and
central air conditioning installed in the home. One upstairs bedroom required some
structural work and the roof on the house was replaced. They enjoy a mix of modern and
antique furniture, and many wildlife prints.
The exterior has been repainted and cedar siding has replaced tiles on the north side of
the house. The Koenig’s have also installed a deck, patio and driveway. New
landscaping has enhanced the appearance of the house at 288 East Main.
On Sunday, September 30, 2001, the Koenig’s opened their house for one of Evansville’s
famous house tours, to benefit the Evansville Grove Society.
April 21, 1891, Evansville Review,
July 22, 1948, Evansville Review,
p. 1, col. 3, Evansville, Wisconsin
September 25, 1913, Evansville Review, p. 4,
col. 3, Evansville, Wisconsin