In 1848, West’s building served as the site of the first official post office and Dr. J. M. Evans served as the first postmaster. According to a letter to the editor of the Badger in March 1895, Dr. Evans stated, “In 1849 we had come to be of enough importance to have a post office established here as a part of the postal system then carried on by stages. I was appointed postmaster and had the office where W. F. Biglow now has his furniture store. The office was called Evansville and in 1855 when the town was platted the same name was kept.”
West sold the land to Clayton Semans in May 1856 for $1,125. The amount of the sale indicates there was a substantial building on the lot.
Later sales reflect a turn in the economy, as Evansville waited for the railroad to be built to the village. In 1858, Semans sold the property to Emaline Kelly for $1,100. The 1858 map of Evansville indicates that Kelly's grocery store was in business at this location. Kelly sold the building to George Hall in 1862 for $830 and Hall sold it two years later to Elisha W. Fairbanks for the same amount.
Elisa Fairbanks was from Massachusetts and the son of a Revolutionary War officer. Elisha had farmed in Vermont and Illinois before moving to Evansville in 1864. With his brother, Stephen, he operated a small general store at 10 East Main, but being a merchant did not suit him. When his brother died, Elisha traded his store merchandise for property in Evansville and later moved to a farm in Union township where he continued farming until his death in the late 1880s.
In 1867, he sold the west portion of the lot to Gabriel Crist who built a store. (This portion was later incorporated into the Snashall and Mygatt block mentioned in last week's article)
The building at 10 East Main became known as the "Fairbanks" building and it was rented to a variety of businesses. In 1867, a dressmaking shop operated by Miss T. C. Frantz was located in the building. For a brief period of time, the former Methodist minister, Elija Robinson operated a clothing store.
In 1880, a Mr. Thayer from Janesville decided to open a "temperance billiard saloon" in the Fairbanks building. However, Evansville citizens did not favor billiards or saloons, even if they were prefaced by the word temperance and Mr. Thayer soon gave up the business.
From 1881 until the 1970's the building was used primarily as a furniture store that was also associated with an undertaking business. Homer Potter purchased the building in 1881 and made changes in the building to house his furniture and undertaking business and he created apartments in the second story.
Potter advertised that he sold and manufactured furniture. His specialty was upholstering and making picture frames. He also had an undertaking business. Potter advertised in the Evansville Review that there was no charge for embalming or preparing bodies for burial and that he was ready "at all times to direct and take charge of funerals and had caskets and coffins, always on hand."
Potter's major competitor in the late 1880s was the firm of Antes and Smith. However, each firm decided it would be more profitable if they specialized. Antes and Smith purchased the entire furniture stock of Potter and in turn, Homer Potter purchased the undertaking business of Antes and Smith.
In 1893, Harry Potter and his son, Nathan B. decided to get out of the undertaking business and sold it to Antes and Young (formerly the old competitors Antes and Smith), owners of the furniture store. Harry Potter maintained a picture framing business in the store at 10 East Main and Antes carried on the furniture and undertaking business in the east side of the Shivley building at 12 East Main.
In 1897, another undertaker and furniture business located in the store at 10 East Main. Walter Biglow had owned a hardware business with Harry Benny starting in 1886. They rented space in Snashall and Mygatt's building at 6 East Main, next door to Potter's store. Harry Benney bought out his partner's interest in the hardware business and Biglow continued his furniture business.
In 1892, Biglow moved into the west half of Snashall & Mygatt's building at 8 East Main. However, Biglow seemed dissatisfied with the building and for the next few years, moved his business to various locations until November 1897 when he purchased the building just to the east, at 10 East Main for $3,000.
Walter Biglow was a native of Wisconsin and was born on a farm near Brooklyn. After his father died, Walter, his mother, and brothers and sisters moved to Evansville and built a large house on Church Street. Walter married Katherine (Kittie) West, a granddaughter of Jacob West, the original owner of the property at 10 East Main.
After Biglow purchased the building he remained in the same location for the next 30 years. A picture of Biglow's furniture and undertaking parlor appeared in the 1898 Souvenier edition of the Evansville Tribune and again in Elmer Combs' 1900 Glimpses of Evansville brochure. Biglow was considered a popular and genial businessman.
1898 Photo of 10 East Main
According to a 1907 Sanborn Map of the city, Biglow's furniture business was located in the front part of the store facing Main Street. A repair shop was located in the rear portion next to the alley north of the building.
For his undertaking business, Biglow maintained his own hearse, rather than hiring one from a livery stable. At the turn of the century, when horse-drawn carriages were used, Biglow purchased his vehicles from local wagon maker, J. W. Morgan. In 1917, he had the first automobile hearse in Rock County. Biglow went to Des Moines, Iowa to purchase the new vehicle, manufactured at the Des Moines Casket Company. The president of the casket factory was W. H. Antes, who had operated the Antes and Smith furniture store in Evansville.
Biglow registered his funerals in a sales ledger for stoves that was probably left over from his hardware merchant days. The records included the name of the deceased, the age, the date and cause of death. To preserve this part of Evansville's history, the pages of the book have been encapsulated and the record is in the archives at the Eager Free Public Library.
In September 1920, Biglow sold half of his business to Harry Roderick and the name of the business was changed to Biglow and Roderick. They continued to sell furniture and funeral services. As the business grew, the two men had the building remodeled. In 1927, they refurbished the embalming room, painting the walls white and adding white metal furniture.
Roderick purchased Biglow's interest in the business in 1929. Roderick made some minor changes to the interior by adding a cork linoleum floor to the store. He expanded the furniture business by leasing a warehouse on Maple Street that served as storage and a show room.
Biglow turned his interests to operating his fox farm on West Main Street and Roderick maintained the furniture store and undertaking business at 10 East Main for the next three years. In 1931, he purchased a large home on North First Street and moved the mortuary there.
In a business transfer that was reminiscent of an earlier one, Oscar Lehnherr and Carroll Bly purchased the furniture business from Roderick and Roderick concentrated on the undertaking business. Biglow and Roderick continued to own the building.
In March 1931, the two new businessmen, who were also brothers-in-law, opened their store at 10 East Main. Both had been employed in the Grange Store and they used some of the sales techniques they had learned at the large department store.
Lehnherr and Bly offered fall and spring sale days at their store. Out-of-town shoppers were offered rewards. One sales promotion offered an inner spring mattress to the person who came the farthest to shop at Lehnherr and Bly.
The 1930s were tough times for new businesses and the store was also hit by a major fire that put its sales on hold for several months. In January 1936, a fire started near the furnace in the basement of the store.
Within a short time, the blaze spread through the walls of the two-story building, threatening the stores on either side. Centrally located in the first block of East Main Street, the firemen feared that the blaze would spread to adjoining businesses and the Janesville Fire Department was summoned to aid the local volunteers.
Janesville sent a truck with five experienced men and they arrived within 30 minutes after being called. The local department had the situation under control by the time the Janesville truck arrived, but welcomed the more experienced crew.
Three men were overcome with smoke when they entered the building to fight the fire and rescue merchandise. Fred Kleinsmith, Leslie Giles and Robert Kuby had to be carried out of the burning building after they succumbed to the thick smoke that poured from the walls.
Firemen cut into the roof of the building to try to stop the fire. They also used water and chemicals to try to squelch the conflagration. Water gushed down the second-floor apartment stairway and completely flooded the store and basement before the fire was under control.
Tom Johnson occupied the second floor apartment of the burning building and his furnishings were considered a total loss. Firewalls on either side of the store saved the businesses in the adjoining buildings. Gillman's clothing store in the Snashall & Mygatt building on the west and the Kroger store, in the building on the east had no fire damage.
Furniture in the Lehnherr and Bly store was damaged by smoke and water. It was stored in the Peterson building at 17 East Main, on the opposite side of the street, until their building could be repaired.
Biglow and Roderick, who still owned the building, decided to rebuild and by February there were workmen repairing the store at 10 East Main. In late February, Russell George, a carpenter working on the roof of the building was injured when he fell through a skylight. The skylight was covered with snow and Mr. George did not realize it was there. He received back and shoulder injured, but fortunately did not break any bones.
By March 1936, the store was back in business. Bly had decided to go into a plumbing and heating business and Oscar Lehnherr was operating the furniture store on his own.
A new heating system had been installed and other remodeling had taken place. Lehnherr advertised studio couches at $15 and up. The couches were displayed in the new windows facing Main Street. Lehnherr continued in the furniture business until 1939, when he became an employee of the Baker Manufacturing Company. He later worked as a flagman for the Chicago North Western railroad.
In the early 1940s, a printing shop opened at 10 East Main Street. The business, called the Evansville Printing Company, did job printing and also published a small newspaper called the Evansville News. The newspaper and printing shop was a short-lived enterprise.
In September 1943, William Bone and his wife, rented to store to use for a recreational parlor for the girls who attended the Leota School for Girls. Bone planed to open the rooms two or three evenings a week. He planned to purchase a victrola and piano, as well as provide games such as badminton, ping pong, basket ball and volley ball.
By the late 1940s the Keyes Radio and Record shop was located at 10 East Main. In addition to small electrical appliances, the store sold leather goods, costume jewelry and ceramic figurines.
Twenty years later, Cal Anderson moved his appliance sales and repair shop in the building. Anderson had been in the television repair business since 1959 and had operated out of several different business locations before moving to 10 East Main in 1967.
In 1970, Anderson and his wife, Kay, expanded the business, adding furniture to their sales line. Their business continued to grow and by 1975, they were out of room and needed additional display area for their merchandise. In December of that year, they were ready to move into the building on South Madison Street where they would have a larger show room, and increased space for their repair business.
Since the late 1970s, the building has been used as office space. In the spring of 1977, Prudhon Real Estate and Appraisal Service operated in the space that had been Anderson TV and Appliance at 10 East Main. The floor space was changed to create a private office, a waiting room and a conference room. In the 1980s, Jeff Farnsworth and his father purchased the building and Jeff opened the State Farm Insurance Agency at 10 East Main.
Today the building is rented to the Wisconsin State Forensics Association as their state headquarters. J. Peter Shaw is in charge of the Forensics Assocation. Shaw is a former Evansville drama coach and teacher and is frequently seen in theater productions in Madison and Stoughton.
The history of the businesses that have operated at 10 East Main, reflects
the interconnected business and personal relationships that are common
in a small town.