16 East Main
Researched and Written By Ruth Ann Montgomery

In the early 1890s, the architectural expertise of craftsmen and professional designers from outside the local community was being sought.  The city had hired a Madison firm to design city hall in 1892.  Local builder, Caleb Snashall had spent the early 1890s building houses in Chicago.  Both Madison and Janesville had professional architectural firms that were marketing their business in small communities in the area.

One of these contractor-builders was James Wray from Janesville.  When Charles Tuttle and George Dibble joined together in a real estate business, they wanted a modern commercial building to house their enterprise, as well as provide rental income for their firm.  They purchased land from Caleb Libby on the north side of the first block of East Main Street in February 1895 for $1,000.

As the city of Evansville grew, so did the service professions that located in the area.  Lawyers, real estate agents, and insurance salesmen began opening businesses in the community.  What had once been retail business buildings were taken over by the new businesses that offered professional services.

The real estate firm that purchased the land at 16 East Main, planned to build a three story building that would house several businesses.  Because they did not need room to carry merchandise as did the retail businesses, several professional businesses could be housed in small office space.

On the site of the new business was an old building that had been damaged by a fire in 1888 and never adequately repaired.  Local people considered the structure to be an eyesore.  The occupant of the old building, Henry Monshau, operated a harness shop in the space he rented from Caleb Libby.  When he discovered that Libby had sold the building and the new owners were about to demolish his shop, Monshau was forced to find a different location.  He temporarily moved his business to the Snashall building in the same block.  The old store that Monshau had occupied was torn down.

James Wray visited the site in April 1895 to give the real estate businessmen an estimate on a new building.  Tuttle and Dibble had a new partner, Marshall Fisher, who joined in the real estate business and the men wasted no time in getting their project underway.

Within ten days after Wray's visit the excavation work for the foundation of the new building was complete. The structure was to have 17 feet of frontage on East Main Street  and a depth of 66 feet, taking up the entire area of the lot.  The new building would be located wall-to-wall with Lawrence Shively's new double store on the west and Jud Calkin's new store to the east.

In June 1895, the local newspaper reported that the front glass in the new building was being put in by a Mr. Hutchison of Janesville.  It measured 120 x 132 inches and was the largest in the city.  The following month, the real estate firm moved into the second story of the building.  Immediately, the new building became known as the Copper Front building, because of the large metal double bay windows on the second story.

Although the real estate firm had owned the entire building when the construction started, they had an opportunity to make money on their investment.  They sold the first floor of the structure to Earnest J. Ballard, before the construction was complete.

By July, Ballard had also moved his jewelry store into the first floor of the building and Tuttle, Fisher and Dibble took over the second story of the building for their real estate firm.  Soon after the building was completed, Allen W. Dibble and Marshall Fisher purchased the real estate business and the second story of the building from Charles M. Tuttle and George W. Dibble.  The third story of the building became the home of the Knights of Pythias, a local men's organization.

One of the real estate partners, Allan W. Dibble was an attorney.  He also acted as a bill collection agent and sold insurance in the offices at 16 1/2 East Main.  In July 1896, he sold his law business,  to Fred L. Janes, a young attorney who had recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin law school.   Janes moved into the Copper Front building and Dibble joined forces with a Mr. Webb in a new law firm.

Marshall Fisher had a new partner in the real estate business, James Gillies, and they shared office space with Janes on the second floor of the building.  The real estate agents took out large ads in the local papers and declared they could find the best locations, the lowest prices, and would provide the easiest terms for those who purchased property through their firm.  The slogan, "We want to give you a chance to buy a piece of the earth", headed their ad in the Evansville Review.

The attorney, Fred Janes, was well known in Evansville.  He had moved to the city with his family from their farm in Magnolia township when he was sixteen years old and had attended the Evansville Seminary.   In 1901, Janes married Mabel Snashall, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Snashall, and for the rest of his life, Janes lived in Evansville.

Fred Janes' father, Chester Janes, was a New Yorker who had moved to Janesville in 1836 with his cousin, Henry Janes.  Chester was just 18 and ready for a western adventure.  His cousin, Henry, became the first postmaster in that city and so the community was named for him.  Henry later moved west and founded other Janesvilles in Minnesota and California.  It was a mark of distinction for Evansville's Janes family.

Evansville's Janes family preferred to stay in the area and once settled in his business location, Fred Janes never moved his law practice.  He stayed in the same building for fifty years.

In the 1930s he became a partner with his son, Burton "Dusty" Janes, in the insurance business.  When he retired in 1946, Fred Janes was the oldest practicing attorney in Rock County and considered the "dean" of the legal profession in the area.  With the exception of Robert M. Antes, the editor of the Evansville Review in 1946, Janes owned his business longer than anyone else in the city.

Janes found his office with the real estate firm was good for business.  While his business cards in the local papers advertised that he gave special attention to the settlement of estates, Janes could also help with the legal aspects of real estate sales.  In addition, he sold insurance to cover any losses of property owners.

Marshall Fisher died in 1912 and Janes became a partner with James Gillies in the real estate business.  They also advertised that they would loan money for real estate purchases.  Janes also continued with his law practice and had served as a court commissioner for Rock County.  He was considered one of Evansville's young men with energy and push.

Over the years, Janes took in a number of partners.  In 1925, he was in a law partnership called Janes & Behnke.  They advertised legal business of all kinds at their office at 16 1/2 East Main Street.

The "Copper Front Store" was the site of businesses that were once found only in larger cosmopolitan areas.  On the first floor of the building Earnest J. Ballard maintained his jewelry store.  He first started in the jewelry business in Evansville in 1886.

Ballard purchased jewelry from a bankrupcy sale of Edward Fischer.  Fischer had operated a jewelry store in Evansville for about a year and had not done well financially.  In April 1886, Fischerís goods were sold at auction. After Fischerís creditors had purchased the goods that they wanted, Earnest Ballard purchased the remaining items and opened his business.

Ballard advertised that he would make the repairing of watches, clocks and jewelry a specialty.  To supplement the income from his jewelry sales he also operated an optical service.  Since there were no optometrists working in Evansville, Ballard served in that capacity.  He gave his customers eye exams and fitted them with glasses.  To improve his skills, Ballard had taken courses and was a graduate of two optical colleges, including Philadelphia Optical College, reported to be one of the best in America.

While most of his time was devoted to the jewelry business, another side line for Ballard was his music business.  From the jewelry store, Ballard was also selling sheet music, pianos and victrolas.

In 1916, he hired a young man named Joe Straka to work in his shop.  Joe was a watch maker and jeweler.  This same year Ballard was also elected president of the Southern Wisconsin Jeweler's Club.  It was a professional organization of jewelry story owners from the area who got together for business and social events.

Within a few years Ballard became too ill to work and was confined to his home.  His young assistant, Joe Straka, was called to serve in the First World War in May 1918.  When he returned from the Great Lakes Training Center after being discharged in February 1919, Straka went back to work at his job in Ballard's jewelry store.  He found Ballard could no longer operate the business.

Ernest James Ballard died June 2, 1920 and from 1920 to 1924, the jewelry store was operated by Myron Helgesen and J. S. J. Park who purchased the jewelry business and rented the store from Ballard's family.

Then in 1924, Joe Straka purchased the business.  Straka continued to call the store "The Jewelry Shop" and was in continuous operation at 16 East Main until his retirement in 1959.

For a brief period of time, Straka shared the store with Dr. Myron W. Haack, a trained optometrist who also sold hearing aids from Straka's store.  Haack moved into the store in April 1944, but the very next month moved his operation to the second floor of the Grange Store building.

On the retirement of his father in 1959, Rowland Straka and his wife, Terry, took over the jewelry business.  In the late 1960s, the Straka's purchased a store at 18 West Main Street and moved the jewelry business to that location.

The Ballard family continued to own the building after Ernest's death in 1920.  Fred Janes and his wife, Mabel, purchased the store at 16 East Main in November 1945 from the Ballard children, Byrl E. Ballard, Eilleen Beath, and  Lawrence Ballard.  Several years later, in February 1952, the property was sold to Burton C. and Theresa Janes.

In September 1950, a new attorney, Albert H. Gill, came to Evansville and located his offices at 16 1/2 East Main.  His law partner was Walter Nitcher.  Gill was a native of Egermont England and came to the United States in 1922 with his parents.  He graduated from Michigan State College in 1942 with a degree in police administration and then served in World War II.  He was a lieutenant in the Air Force and was on duty in the India-Burma war zone.

After the war, he came to the University of Wisconsin Law School to get his law degree and was admitted to the bar in June 1949.  He came to Evansville the following year.

Nitcher left the law firm and moved to the South.  In October 1952, Richard Eager joined Gill in the law business and they operated under the name Gill and Eager.  Richard had served in the U. S. Army in World War II and continued to serve after the war. He was stationed in Germany.  In the late 1940s he returned to Wisconsin and earned his law degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1950.  He worked for the Occidental Life Insurance company in California and was recalled into the army for intelligence work in 1951.  He returned to his home town to practice law in 1952.

Gill became president of the Rock County Bar Association in 1953 and was elected to serve as a supervisor on the Rock County Board.  Gill also had a law office in Footville.  He died unexpectedly in February 1969, at the age of 48.

For the next few years, businesses in the building moved in and out frequently.  On the first floor of the building at 16 East Main, businesses operated for brief periods of time in the 1970s.  In 1976, Burton Janes sold the property to Leo W. & Judith Kuenzli, William J. Schneider and Carol Heath.  That year, a fabric store called "Mary Mary Fabrics" operated in the first floor and a craft and antique shop called Patchwork & Calico was located in the second story.

In March 1977, a Senior Citizen's Drop-in Center opened in the first floor at 16 East Main Street.  The Senior center was funded in part by the Rock County Commission on Aging.  It was hoped that people would stop in for coffee, have an occasional lunch or pot luck dinner.  The organizers advertised for donations of appliances, chairs, tables, and other items to furnish the new center.  Within a few months, a meal site opened at the Village Square restaurant and the senior center became Hermanson's Taxidermy shop.

The building was purchased by Matthew and Mary Peterson in August 1977.  They rented the property to   Dean Hermanson, a graduated of Rineharts School of Taxidermy.  Hermanson had operated his business at his home on Tuttle Road before moving it to the main business district in Evansville.  He advertised as a licensed taxidermist working with fish and other animals sportsmen wanted mounted for display.  In 1980, he moved into the store on the south side of the street at 11 East Main.

The first floor of the building at 16 East Main became "Molly's Place", a liquor store operated by Dolores Porter.  "Molly" was a nickname her husband, Spencer, had given her years ago.

Porter purchased the liquor stock of Doris Roberts who had operated Roberts Beverage at 5 East Main.  Porter's children, Tim, Sally and Tom, helped stock the shelves in the new store and Molly's Place opened for business in December 1980.

After Porter quit the business, the store remained vacant for a number of years.  This year, Mr. Jack's Salon opened for business in the first floor of the store at 16 East Main Street, on February 28, 1996.  The business operated by Jack Meredith and Mary Peterson had been at 14 West Main for a number of years.

After Jack's death, Mary Peterson continued operating the hair styling business at 16 East Main Street.

Now more than 100 years old, the building is still serving Evansville businesses.  Jewelers, lawyers, taxidermists and hair dressers have found a home at 16 East Main.  With little change to the exterior of the structure, the "Copper Front" store is an impressive historic building in Evansville's commercial district.