In February 1889, Belle, whose full name was Mary Isabelle Shurrum married Caleb Lee at the home of her uncle,
Daniel Johnson on Liberty Street. Caleb was 54 years old and Belle was 40. That same year, they built a new
house on the lot owned by Belle, just north of the Congregational Church. They grew old together in this show place
which appeared in two pictorial folders printed in 1898 and 1900 showing Evansville's best homes and commercial
Caleb Lee came to Evansville as a harness maker, but he had pursued several careers. Born in Pennsylvania in
1835, he came with his family to Wisconsin in the spring of 1847. First he worked for his father on a farm but
wanted to escape from agricultural work and in 1853, Caleb went to work as a machinist in the Western Novelty
Works in Janesville. Still not satisfied with his career choice, and getting the urge to travel, he went to Minnesota
and became an engineer on a steam boat cruising the Mississippi River.
In 1858, the restless young man again picked up stakes and went to New York City to work on steamers out of that
port. In the spring of 1861, Caleb enlisted in the U. S. Navy as a Third Assistant Engineer.
Lee was one of the few men from Rock County to serve in the Navy during the Civil War. On April 4, 1861, he
began his term of duty on the Anacosta and eight days later, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter.
The first battle that Caleb took part in was on the Potomac River where his ship was part of a flotilla guarding
Washington D. C. As the war continued Lee served on several ships. During his tour of duty, he was transferred to
the Pocahontas and took part in the battle that gave the Union forces control of Port Royal, South Carolina.
When President Abraham Lincoln ordered blockades of the Confederate ports, Lee was aboard a ship stationed
near Mobile, Alabama. The crew of Caleb's ship successfully captured several blockade runners.
Lee was transferred several times during the war and in reviewing his naval career in later years he could list a long
line of ships on which he had served as an engineer. He seemed to have found his niche in life and Caleb
continued his service in the Navy after the Civil War ended. He was able to satisfy his wanderlust aboard several
more ships that cruised the West India Islands, the north and east coast of South America, the Falkland Islands and
the west coast of Africa. Caleb also served on several iron-clad ships that were active in patrolling the coasts of the
Western United States.
In 1876, Caleb retired from the Navy and returned to Rock County. For a few years he worked a farm of 280 acres
that he owned in Magnolia township, then in 1885, he decided to change careers again and become a harness
maker. Lee purchased the harness shop of E. W. Stearns and moved to Evansville. For the next several years,
Lee advertised his business in the local papers: "Manufacturer of Light & Heavy Harnesses. The highest market
price paid for hides, pelts, and furs. Dealer in whips, curry combs, brushes, horse blankets, Caster lap robes, etc.
Repairing promptly done"
Lee began to court Miss Mary Isabelle Shurrum and after their marriage in February 1889, they made plans to build
a home on the lot Belle owned on South First Street. By March, Caleb and Belle were looking over drawings with
architect-builder, Benjamin S. Hoxie. Lee had finished a major portion of the drawings for the new house and
planned to superintend the work himself. Hoxie agreed to add some of the finer architectural details to the house
plans and to apply his skillful workmanship as master carpenter.
George Bidwell purchased the small old house that was on the grounds and moved it to a lot north of the bridge
across Allen's Creek on Union Road. A large quantity of stone was delivered to the lot on South First Street and A.
M. Van Wormer and J. M. Ballard were hired to scrape away the dirt to form the basement. This was laborious
work. Van Wormer and Ballard had teams of horses harnessed to scrapers that dug into the earth and scraped it
away, little by little, until the cellar was the proper depth.
Before the days of poured cement foundations, quarry stone was used to make the walls of the foundation and
basement. Three masons were hired to lay the stones for the foundation and basement of the Lee house. Belle's
brother, Theodore F. Shurrum, Isaac Brink and H. Royer were responsible for the masonry .
Because of the hard work of digging the foundation, many homes had small cellars under only a portion of the main
structure. Belle and Caleb designed their house with a basement that drew special interest. "It will be the largest
cellar we know of in this city", the editor of the Tribune noted.
The groundwork was started in April and completed by May 1889. Then the carpenters were put to work building
the frame for the structure. Four men were working on the house with Benjamin Hoxie as the chief carpenter.
As soon as the first floor was completed, the carpenters began to enclose it. The workmen completed the
enclosures on the second story and began the interior finish in early June. By August the painter, William Burk, had
started the final decoration. The Lees were settled in their new house by November.
Because her husband and brother, Theodore, had served in the Civil War, she was eligible to become a member of
the Evansville Woman's Relief Corp. This organization served as an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic
and helped former soldiers, widows, and children of veterans who needed food, clothing, or medical aid. The group
also held reunions of GAR members and sponsored Memorial Day programs. The women were primarily
responsible for serving meals and holding fund raisers.
Caleb Lee decided to retire from harness making in 1895 and advertised in the local papers that he was willing to
sell his business. However, there were not many willing buyers and it took two years before the harness shop was
sold to John Lemmel in May 1897.
The new leisure time gave the Lee's an opportunity to travel and they took frequent trips. The large vacant house
was a temptation and the Lees were victims of a burglary attempt. There were few crimes committed in Evansville,
but burglary was one of the most frequent ones reported by the local police.
The Lee house was broken into while they were on a trip to St. Louis in 1904. When they returned home they
reported that their house had been entered and someone had rummaged through their belongings. While nothing
of value of taken, every drawer and chest had been opened and things were strewn around the house.
Caleb and Belle did not let this little disaster stop their journeys. They continued their vacations and often spent the
winter months in travels to California. In 1909, the Lee's were forced to remain closer to home because of health
problems. That winter they closed up the house and moved into the Central house hotel. The heavy work of
keeping a furnace going in the winter had become too much for Caleb, as had the long trips to warmer climates.
With the house vacant part of the year, Caleb and Belle decided to divide the big house into apartments. One of
the first couples to take up residence in the Lee apartment was the popular Evansville dentist, Dr. Ernest Denison
and his bride, Miss Fannie Powles.
Ernest and Fannie decided they would have their wedding ceremony in their new home. The Powles-Dennison
wedding took place at the Lee home on February 15, 1911. A small orchestra played the wedding march as the
couple took their places to say their vows. The music continued after the ceremony as a three-course dinner was
served to guests. Before they settled down to married life, the Denisons took a honeymoon trip by train to the
Southern states. In the spring of the following year, they moved into Fannie’s parents home on Liberty Street.
Caleb's health was failing and by the early months of 1912, he was confined to his house. He died on May 22, 1912
and the Review devoted an entire column to his obituary. The funeral was held in the home on South First Street.
Throughout his illness, Belle had remained by his side and their friends marveled at her loyalty and cheerfulness.
When Belle Lee died in 1925, there were no children to inherit the estate and she was the last of her brothers and
sisters. Her only survivors were three nieces, who lived out of the Evansville area and a cousin, William H. H.
None of the relatives wanted the large house that the Lees had so carefully planned so it was put on the real estate
market. For several months the house was rented to H. A. Knapp and then in June 1926, the house was sold to
Charles and Eleanora Johnson. Johnson worked for the D. E. Wood Butter Company and later for the Baker
Johnson lived in the house and used the apartment as an investment. Ads for "modern apartment. 23 S. First.
Chas. R. Johnson. Phone 314W" appear in March 1928 newspapers. By April, the following year, Johnson had sold
the house to Fred W. and Nay Gillman.
The Johnson’s continued to live in the house and Eleanora’s mother, Barbara Hough, lived with them. Mrs. Hough
celebrated her 90th birthday in the house on Friday, May 1, 1936. Despite her age, Barbara Hough could read and
sew without glasses.
Both Fred and Nay were employees of the City of Evansville and operated a store. Fred was on the police force
and served as City Clerk and Nay Gillman had also served as the Evansville City Clerk. They were also partners in
the Ray Gillman and Sons clothing store. Nay was also a member of the Evansville Fire Department for 52 years.
Fred had served as Fire Chief and died in 1940. Nay Gillman owned the property until his death in 1944. Then the
house became the property of his wife, Rose, and his daughter, Bernadine.
Bernadine sold the property to Russell and Margaret Weary. In May 1946, their daughter Lois became the second
bride to be married in the house. The wedding party stood in front of a picture window as Lois and William
Patterson said their vows. The room was decorated with spring flowers and the only guests were the parents and
The Weary's sold the house to Borger and Inga Hanson in 1948. It was common practice for new home owners to
borrow money from individuals, rather than banks and the Hanson's followed this trend. The Hanson's borrowed the
money for the purchase of the house at 23 South Madison from Jane Rodd. Mrs. Rodd held a mortgage on the
house for $9,000.
Borger was a carpenter and remodeled the interior of the house to modernize the kitchen and build small cabinets
and storage areas. The Hanson's rented the upstairs apartment to the young attorney, Albert Gill and his wife,
Renee, when they came to Evansville in 1950. Gill had his law practice at 16 1/2 East Main Street.
When Inga Hanson died in January 1963, Borger retired and moved to Stoughton. From 1963 until the early 1990s
the house was investment property for the owners. Ellen and Leo Brunsell purchased the property in July 1963 from
Borger Hanson. Brunsell's rented the apartments on South First Street and lived in their home on Grove Street.
A small fire was reported in the house in 1969.
In 1975, the Brunsell's sold the house at 23 South First to John & Barbara Willoughby and Jane & Ron Pierce. The
Willougby-Pierce partnership continued to use the house as income property, renting it out to several occupants
over the years.
In the 1990s, the residence was sold to Tom and Christe McKittrick and they have made interior renovations that
once again restored the home to a single family dwelling. The McKittrick's had the exterior painted in contrasting
colors to highlight the architectural details designed in 1889 by Caleb Lee and Benjamin Hoxie.
In October 2007, the McKittrick’s put the house up for sale.
23 South First is a beautifully maintained historic home in Evansville's Historic District. It has been the scene of
many happy family events.
| Caleb & Belle Lee
1898 Illustrated Souvenir
Supplement to the Tribune February 15, 1898
23 South First Street
Researched and Written
by Ruth Ann Montgomery
|April 7, 1875, Evansville Review, p. 3, col. 3, Evansville, Wisconsin
Belle Shurrum owned a little house just
north of the Congregational Church which
she purchased from Isaac Bennett in 1881.
Her mother had died that year and Belle
may have used money inherited from her
mother's estate to invest in the home.
Belle's brother, Theodore, helped to keep
the real estate in good repair, patching the
leaking roof and performing other
Belle supported herself by working as a
dressmaker. In the 1870s, she and her
partner, Mrs. Hunter rented rooms in a
store just a few doors away from Caleb
Lee's harness shop on East Main Street.
March 6, 1885, Evansville Review,
p. 3, col. 3, Evansville, Wisconsin
|April 3, 1885, Evansville Review, p. 3, advertisements, Evansville, Wisconsin
|Photo featured in "Glimpses of Evansville Wisconsin"
published in 1900 by The Clark Engraving Co. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
To his friends and neighbors, Caleb was known as
"Captain", because of his navy background. He was
never at a loss for conversation because of his
extensive travels and his love of good books and
Mary Isabelle Shurrum Lee was one of Evansville's
prominent club women. A native of Wisconsin, Belle
was born in Cooksville in 1849. She could trace her
ancestry back to the Revolutionary War. Belle's
mother and father were part of the Western migration
from settlers of Ohio. They had moved to Wisconsin
three years before Belle's birth. The Shurrums chose
land in Porter township and their small family was
recorded by the census taker in 1850.
As an adult, Belle lived in Milwaukee for a few years,
then returned to Evansville. After her marriage, she
became a charter member of the Columbia Chapter
29 of the Eastern Star organized in Evansville and
was chosen the organizations first Worthy Matron.
Belle was also a charter members of the Evansville
Woman's Literary Club when it was founded in 1894
and for many years she served as treasurer of the St.
John's Episcopal Guild.
October 27, 1893, Enterprise, p. 4, col.
3, Evansville, Wisconsin
Women's Literary Club
and Their Husbands,
Click on photo to
December 23, 1909, Evansville
Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
Borger & Inga Hanson celebrated at their home on South First
Street in 1962.
January 25, 1962, Evansville Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
May 2, 1946, Evansville Review, p.
8, col. 4, Evansville, Wisconsin
Frances Hatlevig Scrapbooks, January
1969, Eager Free Public Library,
Evansville, Wisconsin also in the
Evansville Review, January 16, 1969,
p. 1, col. 5, Evansville, Wisconsin