44 West Main
A Photographic House
Researched and Written by Ruth Ann Montgomery

Mrs. Campbell's brother, William Libby, was chosen as the master carpenter.  There were three generations of the
Libby family who were prominent builders in Evansville during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  William Libby and his
father were carpenters on the Spencer House and William's sons continued the family construction business.   Libby's
houses are well built and have had little alteration to the original design.  

The Evansville Review reported that Mr. Campbell had chosen a style of architecture different from any other in town.  
His new house was an innovation that brought irreverent comments from some.  Was he going to hang a bell in the
tower and call his dwelling a "Campbellite" church?  There actually was a religious group by that name in the 1880s.

Campbell proceeded despite the ridicule.  He hired T. F. Shurrum to do the plastering.  Shurrum used a technique
called "three coat work".  A Mr. Winston and George Hayward assisted Libby with the interior finishing carpentry.

Anxious to take occupancy, the Campbell’s moved into the house in October 1881, even before the painting was
completed.   Isaac Hoxie, the Review editor, kept careful watch on the progress of the house and reported that a Mr.
Hanover and S. Baker were still painting in November 1881.  In May of the following year, shutters were put on the
inside of the cylindrical bay windows.  

Campbell was very interested in local history.  Both his wife's family and Campbell were pioneer residents of the
Evansville area.  The Campbell family moved to Porter Township in 1844 when Byron was 6 years old.  By marriage,
the Campbell’s were related to another pioneer family.  Two of Byron's sisters married Spencer brothers.  In 1854,
Byron's father purchased the saw and grist mill and Byron recalled using an old upright saw to make the timbers for
the Free Will Baptist Church built that same year.  

Byron married Frances Libby in 1860.  Frances was a school teacher and was only 15 when she began teaching in
the English Settlement near Albany.  She also taught in the Tullar School, southwest of Evansville.  To supplement her
income from teaching she worked as a seamstress.  After her marriage Frances devoted herself to her husband and
two sons, William and Bert.

For more than 30 years, Campbell operated a successful livestock business and meat market.  He had several
partners, including his sons.  An interest in community activities led Byron to organize the annual Charity Ball held in
the Magee Theater.  Campbell was also an active member of the Masonic Lodge.  

After Frances Campbell’s death in 1914, Byron began writing articles on local history for the Review.  These articles
were eventually compiled into a book called "Pioneer Days".  Copies of this book can be checked out at the local

Campbell was also active in city government, serving on the first City Council in 1895 and two terms as Mayor starting
in 1915.  His son William also served as Mayor of Evansville.  Before his death in 1919 Campbell fought to restore the
dam and recreate Lake Leota in the City Park.  His dream was not realized until several years after his death.

Elmer E. Combs, a local photographer and his wife were the next occupants of the house.  Although he had a studio
on the first floor of 18 North Madison Street, Combs took many photos of his family in the house.  A brilliant student,
Combs served as president and valedictorian of the 1882 Madison Central High School graduating class.  He was the
only boy graduating that year.  From 1884-1889 he learned the photography trade from A. E. Taylor at a studio in
Clinton, Wisconsin.  

In 1885, Elmer married Maude Parks.  Mrs. Combs was an accomplished musician, trained at Oshkosh State Teachers
College and the Ada Bird Conservatory of Music in Madison.    

The Combs' moved to Evansville in 1889 and Elmer opened his photography studio in the building that now houses
Creative Touch on South Madison Street.  In 1893 he built the studio on North Madison Street.  

From 1889 to 1936 when he closed his studio, Combs took more than 86,000 photographs and finished more than a
million pictures for his customers.  An experimental photographer, Combs explored x-ray photography as well as trick
photography using mirrors.  

From 1889 to 1936 when he closed his studio, Combs took more than 86,000 photographs and finished more than a
million pictures for his customers.  An experimental photographer, Combs tried x-ray photography as well as trick
photography using mirrors.  He was an active member of the Photographers International Association of America.

Postcards, stamps, folders of scenes of Evansville, and promotional brochures were created by Combs.  It was said
that nearly everyone in the city had been shot by Combs, but never hurt.  Some of the most unique photographs were
pictures of Col. "Pop" Halls's circus pets.  

Although his true passion was photography, Combs was a fascinating man with many interests.  He was an inventor,
an innovator and an ambitious businessman.  In 1911 he was granted a patent for his harrow-disk sharpening
apparatus.  He advertised with flyers using his own photographs and descriptions of the machine.

Combs closed his studio on North Madison Street in 1936, but he considered himself too youthful and ambitious to
give up working.  He took many of the glass negatives from his photography business and put them in the city dump
near South First Street and Old Hwy 92.  He continued to develop film and do picture framing at his home.  He also
raised gold fish in an attractive pond in his back yard.

A year after he closed the studio, his wife Maude died.  Elmer was heartbroken.  His life-long partner he affectionately
called "Mau" was gone.  "There must be a bright tomorrow for every yesterday.  Mau's last enemy death!  Life is a
brief journey at the best." were the words Combs wrote in his notebook.

The Combs' daughter, Maude, had married Frank Lewis and they were living in the house with her parents.   After E.
E. Combs' death in 1945, Maude and Frank continued to live in the house until they became residents of the
Evansville Manor nursing home in 1974.  Frank died in 1975 and Maude survived into her 90th year.  She died in

Maude was a graduate of the Evansville Seminary.  Frank Lewis was a draftsman in the engineering department of
Baker Manufacturing Co for 53 years.  He retired in 1952.  The Lewis' were married 51 years.    

The house seemed to attract teachers.  John and Barbara Willoughby were the next owners.  They purchased the
house with its contents and found boxes of photographs and glass negatives from Combs' studio.   Many of the glass
negatives were donated to the Rock County Historical Society in 1980.  Prints of the old photographs have been made
from these negatives and are housed in the archives in Janesville.

The house was featured in the Evansville Historic House Walk in 1973.   It was owned by Ronald and Jeanne
Petterson.  They decorated the house with attractive antiques.

For a number of years, the first floor of the residence served as The Tower House gift shop.  Though it has returned
to being a two-apartment residence, the sign announcing the Tower House still stands in the front yard.
One of the most photographed houses in the
city is located at 44 West Main.  Its square,
steeple-shaped tower and rounded bay windows
are unique, and have captivated the notice of
many visitors to Evansville.  

Described as late picturesque stick-style
architecture, this design was readily available in
house pattern books of the late 1800s.  The
residence features gabled roofs with decorative
trusses at the apex and overhanging eaves with
exposed rafter ends.  There are other details
that highlight the vertical design of the house
including, wooden dentils, vertical boards and
ornamental head blocks on the windows.   The
tower is also a typical feature on stick-style

44 West Main has been home to many
fascinating people.  The house was built for
Byron and Frances Libby Campbell in 1881.  
Campbell paid $500 for the land he purchased
from Hiram Spencer on the northeast corner of
Main and First Streets.  First he built a barn,
and then dug the basement for the house.