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Courthouse Hill Historic District

Janesville City, Rock County, WI

The Courthouse Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Courthouse Hill Historic District is a 30 block area of Janesville's east side which is significant for architecture because of its variety of mid-to-late 19th and early 20th century residential design, representing many historical periods of construction, and particularly, because the district contains buildings which are outstanding examples of major architectural styles during its period of significance. Further, it has the best concentration of significant architecture in the City of Janesville. It is also historically significant because it was an important late 19th century and early 20th century residential area for many of Janesville's most influential citizens in the areas of commerce, industry and law; people who had a significant effect on the growth and development of 19th and 20th century Janesville. These themes will be developed after a brief historical overview of the district.

In 1833, following the resolution of the Black Hawk War, the United States government surveyed the west bank of the Rock River including part of what would become the City of Janesville. The first settlers arrived from the east in the fall of 1835. In 1836, the territorial legislature established the Rock County seat upon the claim of Henry Janes for whom the city would be named. Janes had designated the four block Courthouse site that has become the core of the proposed district.

Initially, development occurred on the east bank of the Rock River. However, with the construction of the first bridge in 1842, development rapidly spread to the west bank. By 1849, approximately two-thirds of the residential population was located on the west bank of the river.

Janesville began to develop early as a commercial and industrial center in southern Wisconsin. Because it was the location of the county seat, legal and governmental services also became important components of Janesville's growth. By the mid-1850's Janesville's prosperity was well established. Substantial brick commercial blocks and buildings had replaced or supplemented the primary frame structures. Although street-level storefronts in the commercial area west of the District have changed through time, crowning many of the brick facades are the names of prominent early merchants: Ashcraft, Bostwick, and Lappin.

By the 1860's, several factors contributed to the continued growth and prosperity of Janesville: the establishment of flour and lumber mills; the booming wheat trade and other produce markets, the growing heavy industries and mercantile establishments and the location of three railroad lines.3 The evolution of the Courthouse Hill District reflected this development and prosperity; by 1860 seven of the now existing houses had been constructed in the district. Many of these mid-19th century residences were large and substantial, constructed in the latest architectural styles.

Because of its prominent site with relatively few houses, the Courthouse Hill area was selected for the location of the first Wisconsin State Fair, held on October 12, 1851. The fair occurred on the crest of the hill immediately east of the Upper Courthouse Park; a site that would eventually become the location of elaborate homes such as those for bankers Timothy and Claremont Jackman (55 and 69 S. Atwood Avenue, respectively).

After the Civil War, construction in the Courthouse Hill area boomed. As the city prospered, and the ability to deal with the hilly geography of the area improved, many of Janesville's most prominent citizens sought out lots near the Courthouse to build homes. Early views of the city show that many of the existing large homes replaced modest cottages. Forty-three of the existing homes in the Courthouse Hill District were built by 1880. During the next 30 years, Courthouse Hill would become a prestigious neighborhood in which to build a home, as more and more doctors, lawyers, and heads of the city's industrial concerns constructed their architecturally high-style houses there. At the turn of the century,. Janesville's population was 13,185 and the Courthouse Hill area numbered over 114 houses. Over 50 of these homes were built between 1890 and 1900. The Lower Courthouse Park was enhanced by the erection of a Civil War Monument in 1901. Growth in the Courthouse Hill District continued into the 20th century with at least 35 homes built between 1900 and 1910 and over 30 between 1910 and 1920. Completing the period of significance were 17 homes built between 1920 and 1931.

Today, the neighborhood still maintains an elegant look, although some of the houses have been divided into apartments. The open spaces and generally large lots with their well-maintained homes still make the Courthouse Hill Historic District a desirable place to live in the midst of a still-expanding community.

The Courthouse Hill Historic District is significant for architecture because it contains an outstanding group of 19th century and early 20th century architecturally styled structures, ranging from simple to elaborate forms of most of the era's major styles—Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Shingle, Prairie, Bungalow, Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, and even Spanish Colonial Revival. The cohesiveness of this district does not necessarily result from the similar size of the buildings or their construction materials, although certain streetscapes illustrate this feature, but primarily from the richness of style and the development of these styles in both the simple buildings and the elaborate houses in the district. A brief overview of the significant features in this district will illustrate this point.

While not fully developed in this district, a fine and well-preserved example of a Greek Revival house exists at 231 S. Main, the Abel Jones house. This house has the primary elements of the style as seen in more simple Greek Revival residences: wooden frieze, cornice returns and delicate pilasters.

There are several outstanding examples of the Italianate style in this district. They feature brick, stone, or frame construction, but are similar in their scale (two-story) and elaborateness. Usually with two-story main blocks, and lower-level wings, these houses feature the major details of the style: low-pitched hipped or gable roofs, wide overhanging eaves, elaborate brackets, window hoods, and porches with the small, square decorated columns typical of Italianate houses. These houses include the cream brick Doty-Baldwin house, 209-211 S. Atwood, the brick Timothy Jackman house at 55 S. Atwood, the brick George Barnes house at 303 E. Court, the frame Thomas Lappin house at 404 St. Lawrence, and one of the few extant stone buildings in the district, the Chester A. Alden house at 211 S. Main.

More modest examples of the Italianate style are also seen in this district, and while they do not have the elaborateness of the houses described above, they contribute to the district because they have the general Italianate form and because they have details such as wide eaves, brackets, window hoods, or Italianate porches, which add to the complexity of the development of the style in the district. These more modest examples include the Edward Jepson house at 224 Jackman, the Platt Ecyleshimer house at 602 E. Court, the George Diehls house at 625 E. Milwaukee, and the Charles Skelly house at 704 E. Milwaukee.

The Queen Anne style is probably the most fully developed style in the district. Houses were built which ranged from simple forms (two-story, asymmetrical roof line, projecting bays) such as the houses from 14 to 22 S. Wisconsin, to somewhat more complex buildings with more details including verandas, Eastlake trim, and scalloped shingles, as seen in the Mark Ripley house at 606 E. Court, the Frank Blodgett house at 825 E. Court, the Sayles house at 622 E. Court, and the houses at 343 S. Parker, 309 E. Holmes, and 718 E. Milwaukee. The most elaborate examples of the Queen Anne style, though, are wide-ranging in this district. The most classic design is probably the Claremont Jackman house at 69 S. Atwood, with its conical corner tower, two-story projecting bay section extending to form another tower, veranda with spool and spindle balusters, projecting dormers, and massive corbelled chimney. A slightly more compact version of a classic Queen Anne design is the Frank C. Cook house, 509 E. Court, which features a corner tower, veranda, projecting pediments, and bays. Also in this vein is the Frederick W. Winslow house at 327 S. Parker, with a three-story tower, shingled gable ends, and full front porch. Queen Anne houses often included a profusion of applied stickwork and Eastlake detail. A good example of this type of design in the Courthouse Hill district is the Allen Lovejoy house, 220 St. Lawrence, a cream brick two and one-half story house with multi-textured wood and shingle decorations, bargeboards, and brackets. The Michael Murphy/George Yahn house at 823 E. Milwaukee has an "explosion" of detail, accented by the multi-colored paint scheme currently in use on the facade. It features front porch beadwork, spandrels,, modillions, scalloped shingles, spool and spindle balusters, and a carved wood panel on the front facade.

The other major style grouping found in this district can be combined under the heading of "Period Revival." There are numerous houses which show Colonial Revival details, such as pedimented roof dormers, and full front porches with columns. But the best example of this style is the David K. Jeffris house at 625 S. Lawrence. It features the traditional dormers on front and side facades, along with the front porch with round columns topped with scrolled capitals. The porch also has a frieze with modillions and dentils. Several of the houses in the district may be termed Georgian Revival, with the best example being the William G. Wheeler house at 700 St. Lawrence. A two-story red brick house with a central doorway and portico, it also has the central projecting bay with full pediment found in the style. The Russell C. Parker house at 904 E. Court is a full-fledged, although modest, example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, designed by Frank A. Carpenter, a Rockford, Illinois architect. It has the characteristic red-tiled roof, stuccoed facade and arched portal mock arcades over first floor windows.

Adding to the variety of styles seen in this district is the Wadsworth G. Wheelock house, 418 St. Lawrence, a Second Empire house of brick with the mansard roof of multi-colored slate. There are also paired brackets under the eaves, a projecting central pavilion and paired windows with decorative hoods. Two houses illustrate the Shingle style with a massive shingled front gable as their major feature. They are the Julia Brittan house at 314 St. Lawrence and the C. B. Bostwick house at 18 S. Atwood. There are a number of bungalow designs in this district, primarily smaller versions of the style. However, the Charles Sutherland house at 216 S. Division is the best example with its broad gable roof, exposed rafter ends, central dormer and large brackets.

The Midwest's important Prairie School style of architecture is also seen in this district. The Malcolm G. Jeffris house at 502 St. Lawrence, although altered by its conversion to a nursing home, illustrates details of the Prairie School with Sullivanesque details. Plastered capitals feature distinctive Sullivanesque relief ornaments which are repeated on the porch piers. There are window transoms with stained and leaded glass in geometric and angular shapes characteristic of the style. The two-story central portion also features an attic floor dormer with arches separated by columns with Sullivanesque capitals. A more interesting example of the style is the small, yet elegant, George Barker house at 308 St. Lawrence. Designed by noted Chicago architect Hugh M. Garden, it stresses the horizontal lines of the style with a low pitched hipped roof, horizontal board and batten siding, wide eaves, string course, and a long stuccoed band decorated with wood strips separating the second floor corner windows.

Even though many houses in the district have been converted to apartments and other uses, and given the general trend toward remodeling and re-siding which has been prevalent over the last 50 years, the overall level of preservation in this district is extremely high, as many of the houses have been owned by the same family for a number of years and they have been very well-maintained with only limited alterations. The amount of integrity is also extremely high, probably for the same reason. Because of the wide range of styles in this district, with the high number of outstanding examples of major 19th and early 20th century architectural forms, the high level of preservation and integrity of this district and because it has the best concentration of architecture in Janesville, the Courthouse Hill Historic District is a significant landmark area of the community.

During the period of significance for the Courthouse Hill Historic District, a large group of leaders of Janesville's commercial sector lived in the district. Although these persons were scattered throughout the community during Janesville's early settlement and development, by the 1880's they were coming together in the Courthouse Hill area, drawn by their desire to associate with other persons of their "standing" in the community, in houses which reflected their importance in the city.

Bankers have always played an important role in the economic development of any community. In Janesville during the 19th and early 20th century, three banks were especially significant. The Rock County National Bank was founded in 1855 by Timothy Jackman, who lived at 69 South Atwood, and in 1865 became a National Bank. Frank H. Jackman and Claremont Jackman both lived in the Courthouse Hill District at 202 Sinclair and 69 S. Atwood respectively while they were presidents of this bank. The First National Bank was also founded in 1855 and became a National Bank in 1863, and boasted of being the oldest bank in Janesville. John Rexford lived at 210 Sinclair in the district and was President of this bank. Fred H. Palmer, 320 E. Holmes, was a manager of the savings department of this bank also. Finally, the Merchants & Mechanics Savings Bank, founded in 1875 also had management representatives living in Courthouse Hill. William S. Jeffris, whose father founded the bank, became Cashier in 1883 and later served as President longer than anyone else, lived at 625 St. Lawrence. William Bladen, the Cashier in 1875, eventually became vice-president of the bank and lived at 23 S. Atwood. The Merchants and Mechanics Bank is now the Bank of Wisconsin, the largest bank in Rock County.

There were a number of merchants who operated important retail establishments in Janesville's commercial district which contributed to the success of the community as a service and retail center. Of these Archie Reid, a dry goods merchant, operated a significant retail store at the turn of the century and lived at 320 St. Lawrence. Another early (the first, reportedly) merchant, Thomas Lappin was responsible for the construction of the Lappin-Hayes Block in downtown Janesville, and lived at 404 St. Lawrence. Charles B. Bostwick and Robert M. Bostwick operated long-time and significant clothing and dry goods establishments in Janesville and lived at 18 S. Atwood and 521 E. Court. Frank C. Cook, of 509 E. Court operated an important jewelry business, established in the 1860's, Frank C. Cook & Co.

These are only a few of the many merchants and commercial businessmen who made Courthouse Hill their home. Their success in the 19th and early 20 century has provided Janesville with a stable commercial base, drawing regional trade throughout the area. For this reason, they are significant to Janesville's commercial history and significant to the district where they had major residences.

Since its early days of development, Janesville has been a community dependent upon industry for a major part of its economic success. A number of residents who lived in the Courthouse Hill Historic District were significantly responsible for the growth and development of Janesville's industrial base in the 19th century, as well as its future industrial growth in the 20th century. For this reason they are significant persons who also chose to live in the "prestige" district in the community, building houses befitting their importance in the area.

For example, during the 19th century and early 20th century, a plethora of community "industrialists" lived in Courthouse Hill. C. W. Hodson, founder of Hodson flour mill in the 1880's lived at 321 E. Court. Fred A. Capelle, Treasurer, and Arthur J. Harris, President of the Janesville Barbed Wire Company lived at 621 E. Holmes and 118 Sinclair, respectively. George F. Kimball, President of the Thoroughgood Company, manufacturer of cigar boxes, an important adjunct to the significant tobacco industry in Janesville, lived at 612 E. Court and 420 E. Holmes. John P. Cullen founder of J.P Cullen Inc., one of the largest construction firms in the region, lived at 312 S. Parker. These men and the industries which they owned or managed, along with many other owners and managers of industries who lived in Courthouse Hill, provided a significant number of jobs and profits in the community.

More importantly, there are two industries which have had the greatest impact on the industrial base in Janesville. The internationally known Parker Pen Company originated in Janesville in 1891 when George S. Parker and William F. Palmer incorporated the company. The company manufactured fine writing instruments, and has continued to do so into the 20th century. Today, the company still manufactures pens, but has also branched out into other business areas and is a major economic force in the community. It is the second largest employer in the city. Both George Parker and William Palmer built houses in Courthouse Hill, Palmer at 802 E. Court, and Parker at 803 E. Court (demolished in 1969 and now Parker Park). A member of the Parker family still lives in the Courthouse Hill district.

Perhaps most significant of Janesville's industrialists was Joseph A. Craig. In 1897, Craig became General Manager of the Janesville Machine Company, then the city's largest industry, which manufactured plows and farm implements. In 1918, the General Motors Corporation took over the farm equipment division of the Janesville Machine Company and the California-based Samson Company, consolidating them as the Samson Tractor Company, under Craig's leadership as President. In 1923, the Chevrolet Division of General Motors Corporation took over the operation of the Samson Tractor Company. Today, the General Motors plant is the city's largest employer and an important force in the economic base of the community. During the years that Craig was with General Motors, he lived at 603 E. Court. Later he built a Ranch style house at 120 S. Division. Even in retirement Craig was a major community philanthropist, rescuing the Janesville Fairgrounds and helping form the Rock County 4-H Fair Association. In 1953 Craig purchased the A.P. Lovejoy house at 220 St. Lawrence and donated it to the Y.W.C.A. along with funds for its renovation for community activities.

As the seat of county government, Janesville attracted many lawyers, as well as providing the base of operation for the legal activities of the county government. The Courthouse Hill Historic District is important because many persons significant to the community's legal affairs lived in the district.

One of the most important persons related to the legal profession was Angie King, who lived at 17 Sinclair. King was a "pioneer" woman lawyer, entering the predominantly male profession in the 19th century. She attended a Chicago law school in 1871, became the third woman to pass the Wisconsin State Bar exam in 1879 and formed a law partnership in Janesville with another woman, Lavinia Goodell.

John Winans, who lived at 202 E. Van Buren, began practicing law in Janesville in 1857. He combined his law practice with public service as Janesville City Attorney, Mayor, and was elected to the State Legislature as a Representative in 1874, 1882, and 1886.

At the turn of the century, as more professionals moved into the district, a number of the Courthouse Hill residents held prominent posts in community legal firms and government. Among these were William G. Wheeler, who lived at 618 E. Court and 700 St. Lawrence. Wheeler served as Clerk of the County Circuit Court, District Attorney, and as State Assemblyman. He was also U.S. District Attorney in 1903. Malcolm Jeffris, who lived at 203 S. Atwood and 502 St. Lawrence was a member of one of the leading law firms in Janesville, Fethers, Jeffris, & Fifield. He entered the firm in 1882 and was an expert in insurance law. George Sutherland, 418 St. Lawrence, was a member of the firm of Doe & Sutherland and was also President of the Bower City Bank. J. A. Blount, 605 St. Lawrence, was a member of the firm of Lovejoy & Blount. He was also elected to the office of City Treasurer in 1883 and served as Assemblyman from 1876 to 1877. John W. Sale of 119 S. Wisconsin was a city attorney during the 1870's, a county District Attorney from 1875 to 1885, Rock County Judge in 1886 and a Vice-President of the Bower City Bank. Thomas J. Nolan of 402 E. Holmes was a Police Justice and Judge of the Municipal Court in 1880 and also President of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners in 1903. Charles Fifield of 201 Jackman was also Police Justice and Judge of the Municipal Court in 1898 and was a member of the law firm Fethers, Jeffris, and Fifield.

These are some of the more important persons out of the many legal and governmental professionals who lived in the Courthouse Hill Historic District. Close to their governmental and private offices, they helped establish the legal and governmental service base that has been maintained in Janesville to the present time. Because they resided in the Courthouse Hill Historic District, they are a part of its significance to the community.

‡ Richard P. Hartung, Rock County Historical Society, Carol Cartwright, Richard Haviza, Janesville Planning Department and Lynda Wannamaker, Courthouse Hill Historic District, Rock County, Wisconsin,, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Atwood Avenue South • Court Street East • Division Street South • Harrison Street • Holmes Street East • Jackman Street • Main Street South • Milwaukee Street East • Parker Drive South • Sinclair Street • St Lawrence Avenue • Van Buren Street East • Wisconsin Street South