Two large department stores in Evansville?  For nearly 30 years, from
1904 to the 1930s, the Grange Store in the first block of West Main
Street and the Economy Store in the first block of East Main Street
sold a wide variety of merchandise in grand buildings that were said to
rival those in Milwaukee.  

The stores' annual spring and fall sales brought people to Evansville
from the surrounding countryside as well as many smaller towns in the
vicinity.    The streets of Evansville were filled with shoppers attracted
by sales and entertainment.   Income for the Grange and the Economy
totaled several thousand dollars on the sale day, a great sum of money
when men's suits sold for just $5.

The Economy Store owners, H. A. Langemak and Verne Axtell, rented
space from Almeron Eager.  When Eager died in 1902, all commercial
property he owned became part of the Eager estates, administered by
three trustees.  This included the site of the first Economy store located
on the south side of the first block of West Main Street and several
stores Eager owned on the south side of the first block of East Main

In 1903, the Economy Store occupied two store fronts in the Eager
Block built in 1897 on West Main Street and Langemak and Axtell had
rented the store to the west for additional room.  Their offices and
merchandise were crowded into 75 x 75 feet of floor space and it was
still not enough.  

The Economy Store was a rapidly growing business whose principal
competitor was the Grange Store, and by 1904, Langemak and Axtell
were again in needed floor space.  Jud W. Calkins, a local grocery
store owner, joined the Economy Store in March 1904, increasing the
stock and the number of customers coming into the store.  

The owners of the Economy had been looking around the city for
additional space, and the Eager trustees promised to build them a
new store.  The plans for the new Eager Block made it the second
largest merchantile floor space in Wisconsin, west of Milwaukee.  The
new Grange store was said to be the largest.  

In March 1904, the Eager trustees, George Pullen, Allen Baker and
Robert D. Hartley, announced that the estate would be building a large
store on the south side of East Main Street that would cover the entire
area from the Pioneer Drug Store to the Post Office which was then
located at 11 East Main.

The old buildings on the site would be torn down.  One of the buildings
was the remaining portions of the old Methodist Church, erected in
1847.  The building was the first church and one of the first frame
buildings erected in "the grove".   

Those who had been among the first settlers remembered that the
church was painted white with four enormous posts through the center.  
It was a plain structure, with no steeple and no stained glass windows
and only one big stove to heat the building when it was in use.  In 1855,
when the Evansville Seminary was fo
rmed, the church was the site of the
first classrooms for the new school.  

A cemetery to the south of the of the old church was removed in 1855 in
anticipation of the commercial growth.  The bodies were re-interred at the
Maple Hill Cemetery.  However, some of the unmarked graves were missed
and when cisterns and sewers were dug in later years, human bones were
found in portions of the land that had been Evansville's first cemetery.

Retail businesses were already located in the blocks around the
intersection of Main Street and Madison.  Although there were no
official zoning ordinances, there were forward looking people who
wanted Evansville to grow in an orderly manner.  

In 1866, the Trustees of the Methodist Church sold their church on East
Main Street to Nelson Swager.  Swager moved the building closer to
the street line.  An article in the July 1866 Evansville Citizen announced
the new enterprise: "The old Methodist Church....has been dismantled,
removed from its foundations and brought up to a line nearly to the
street and taken a stride west, to accommodate aspiring neighbors
and associates, for future commercial use.  Fifteen feet is to be added
to the front, making the entire length 60 feet, beams are put in and
another storey added to be used as a public hall, 30 by 60 feet." The
building was finished in the fall of 1866. "

The eastern portion of the old church property was excavated and two
stores were built.  One was for Mr. J. B. Bemis, who owned a boot and
shoe store and another for Stillman Parker, who operated a general

Swager opened a furniture and hardware store in the remodeled
church.  In the new public hall, on the second story, church groups and
other organizations held parties and fund raisers.  

The Methodists built a new church on South Madison Street in 1867.

In August 1867, the Janesville Gazette announced the sale of the
building.  Swager  sold the store to Joseph R. Finch and Son, for

Swager told the local news reporter that he intended to operate a farm.

Joseph Finch was from Albany, Wisconsin.  He and his son continued
to operate the store as a hardware business.  

In December 1867, Almeron Eager purchased a store on East Main
from a Mr. L. Adler, who held a close-out sale and moved away.  The
following March, In March 1868, Almeron Eager and William Smith, in
a firm known as Smith & Eager, opened a store to the east of the
Finch's store.  

Smith had been in the general store business in Janesville.  The
Evansville Citizen reported Mr. Eager to be "an honorable, industrious,
independent farmer".  The two men were brothers-in-law, having
married sisters.  The families moved into the second story of the store.  

Ten years later, in 1878, Almeron Eager paid $1,000 for three stores
to the west of their store site.  Included in this purchased was the old
Methodist Church property, and Finch's hardware store and hall.

Eager owned these buildings until his death in 1902 when they
became part of the Eager Estate.

It was the combination of these property on East Main Street and a
store owned by Judson Calkins,that became the location for the
second Eager Block in Evansville.When the Eager Estate decided to
put up a modern department store building, the old buildings on the
site needed to be cleared away.  The Eager trustees placed a notice
in the newspaper that bids would be taken on all, or any part of the
buildings owned by the A. Eager estate between the post office and
the Pioneer drug store.   

The trustees planned to gain a small amount from the sale of the
buildings.  Buyers had to moved the buildings or dismantle them for the
lumber and other salvage.   

The second stories of the buildings were still used as apartments when
the trustees made their announcement and the tenants began looking
for other rental properties.

W. F. Biglow purchased the first store west of the post office and
planned to move it to North Madison street where he was building a
new house.  However, the job must have proved too difficult or too
costly and he sold the building to Mat Van Wormer who moved it to
make an addition to a house he was building on North Madison
Street.  East Main Street was blocked for two days as the building was
moved to its new location.  The old Methodist church, which had been
remodeled into a store was dismantled.

Throughout the spring and summer, the reporter for the Evansville
Review noted the progress.   William Meggott, the contractor for the
Grange building on West Main Street, was chosen to oversee the work
on the Eager building and since he also designed buildings, it is
probable that he was the architect, since no other person was given
credit for the design.   

The plans for the new Eager Block showed 96 feet of frontage on East
Main Street with a building depth of 100 feet deep.   The cream brick
exterior was in line with the other buildings on East Main which
included the Pioneer Drug Store to the west and the Byron Campbell
building which housed the post office and the Masonic Lodge on the
east.  The new store was designed for five departments on the main
floor, a basement for storage and modern apartments on the second

The grounds were ready by the end of April and construction began in
the first week in May with the excavation of the basement.  Many of the
same people who had just finished work on the new Grange block
were employed in the construction of the new Eager block.  The mason
contractor, Isaac Brink, laid a cement foundation for both stores.    

By June the first floor joists of the building were in place.  Masons had
the front of the building nearly completed and the carpenters were
working on the second floor by the end of that month. The July 21, 1904
issue of the Evansville Review announced that F. S. Baker & Co. had
received the contract for the plumbing work.  

In late September the interior of the store was nearly finished.   The
ceilings were painted white with a gilded molding.  The interior walls
and doric columns were painted white and the mahogany balcony,
shelves, counters and show cases were finished with an oil stain.  

There were five large windows in the front of the store that lighted the
five departments on the first floor of the structure.  There were also
large windows in the south end of the building and a large sky light in
the center of the store that increased the amount of natural light.

The new store was divided into five departments, clothing shoes, dry
goods, hardware, crockery and grocery.  The balcony held the cloak
and suit department and the cashier's desk.  There were rugs and
carpets in the second floor. Waiting rooms and toilets for both sexes
had been built for the convenience of the Economy Store customers.  

In addition there were apartments on the second floor.  One of the new
store employees, Charles Spencer, who managed the shoe
department, was one of the first occupants.  An Evansville native,
Spencer had been working in Janesville. His new job in the Economy
store brought him back to Evansville and his family moved into the new
Eager flats.   

In October the Economy Store began moving their merchandise from
West Main Street to the new store on East Main.  Boots, clothing a dry
goods were moved into the store on October 22, according to the
diaries of James Powles, who sometimes worked in the store.  Exactly
a month later, he new Economy Store opened for business.  Large
crowds of people attended the opening.  

On November 22nd and 23rd, 1904, the new Economy Store opened
its doors for a celebration of a new beginning.  The store was festively
decorated with palms, ferns and chrysanthemums.  Music was
provided the Evansville Seminary students and an orchestra from
Beloit.   Chase & Sanborn tea and coffee company sent
demonstrators to the opening, as did other manufacturers of food,
stoves, shoes, furs, and other products.   

In December, the sales were repeated and again music was
provided.  The Grange Store in the next block also celebrated their
spring and fall sale days with product demonstrations by manufacturers
and entertainment for their customers.  For many years thereafter, the
Economy and the Grange coordinated their sales days in the spring
and fall and hundreds of people came from miles around, by wagon,
carriage and train, to examine the merchandise and listen to the

Extra clerks were hired just for the fall and spring opening sale days.  
One of the local citizens who took on temporary jobs was James
Powles.  He was hired for the fall sale in 1906.  On the night of October
24, 1906, Powles wrote his daily diary report:  "Opening day at the
Economy Store. I helped them in p.m.  Good crowd for the day.  Sales
$3,000."  Powles recorded in his diary, that the following day was "a
quiet day in business after yesterday's rush at the Economy and

Again the following year, Langemak and Axtell prepared for the
October 30 sale, by hiring 25 extra clerks just for the day.  Hundreds of
people came to listen to the Kneff & Hatch orchestra from Janesville.  It
was the greatest sale day since the store opened three years earlier.

The Economy owners were always looking for ways to make their store
and parking more convenient for their customers.   In the summer of
1908, they built a covered platform along the entire width of the south
end of their building.  Customers could drive up to the store and unload
on the platform without having to get out in the rain and mud during wet

The 1910 Prospectus of Evansville captured the interior of the
Economy Store.  {Click on each photo to enlarge}

The basement of the store was remodeled in 1910.  What had once
been a store room became the hardware, horse goods, china and
crockery departments.

It was the combined talents of the three principal members of the firm
that seemed to make the business successful.  H. A. Langemak
concentrated on the advertising campaigns and developed the large
ads that appeared in each weeks' local papers as well as the flyers
that went out to Rock, Green and Dane county residents.

Axtell selected much of the merchandise and made frequent trips to
Chicago to purchase new goods for the store.  It was the philosophy of
the managers that they should keep small amounts of products on
hand, "a buy often and sell quickly" program.  

Calkins' experience in the grocery business gave credibility to that
portion of the business.  Within six years, the new Economy Store was
recognized as a strong employer in the city.  

Langemak, Axtell and Calkins, the three principals in the Economy
Store, were always looking for innovative ways to advertise their
business.  Large display ads in the newspapers promoted  their sales
each week.  Elaborate decorations were placed around the store,
including Japanese lanterns, huge banners and American flags.  

The Economy Store also used new technology to let customers know
they were open for business.  The store had the first electric sign in the
city installed in October 1912.  Although electricity had been used for
lighting businesses and homes for many years, a new electric sign was
cause for notice in the Evansville Review.   

For the three owners of the Economy, being active community
members was good for business.  Langemak, Axtell and Calkins
worked with enthusiasm to promote Evansville as a good place to live
and do business.

H. A. Langemak had a strong background in the department store
business before coming to Evansville.  He had worked in dry good
stores, general stores, and department stores in four cities in
Wisconsin and Illinois before moving to Evansville in 1898.  

Langemak considered himself an advertising expert and his partners
agreed.  He used his skills to promote the growth of Evansville, as well
as the Economy store.  From 1910 until the First World War, an
organized group of Evansville businessmen, calling themselves the
Commercial Club, attempted to persuade new industries and
businesses to locate in Evansville.  

The Commercial Club was a group of forward looking men who
wanted the community to prosper.  By promoting new businesses and
industry, the promoters believed that their own businesses would
grow.  Langemak joined the first Commercial Club venture organized
in 1910 and the group successfully brought at least one new industry, a
vegetable canning company, to Evansville that year.  

Jud Calkins became president of a the Commercial Club in 1914.   
During his administration the club rented one of the largest flats in the
second story of the Economy block.  The apartment included five
rooms furnished with leather davenports, library tables, chairs and
rockers.  The permanent location of the club meant the members would
have a place to meet and entertain potential businessmen who wanted
to locate in Evansville.  The members were asked to pledge support
for three years and pay dues of $10 a year for the upkeep of the club

Verne Axtell's role in the community was in local government and
church activities.  He served as an alderman on the City Council and in
later years served as justice of the peace.  He was also superintendent
of the Congregational Church Sunday School for many years.  Axtell's
business interests were not limited to the Economy Store.  He served
on the board of the Farmers & Merchants State Bank and also
invested in Canadian wheat land with several other Evansville
businessmen including T. C. Richardson, the manager of the
Economy's chief competitor, the Grange Store.

The thirteen year partnership of the three men ended suddenly when
Jud Calkins unexpectedly died in August 1917.  He had been
attending a meeting with other members of the Economy partnership.  
As he left the Economy office, Calkins fell down the stairs leading from
the office to the main floor of the store.  When Axtell and Langemak
reached him, he was already dead.

The Evansville Review praised Calkins as a man who would have the
lasting regard of the community. "His name and influence have been
associated with the growth and development of the city."  Langemak
and Axtell never took in another partner.  The two remaining partners
continued to run the Economy Store on their own following Calkin's

The Eager Trustees continued to rent the apartments and offices
above the Economy to individuals and businesses.  These occupants
stayed short periods of time, then moved.  Several doctors were
occupants of office in the second story over the years the Economy
was in the building.  

In 1909, Dr. A. F. Haag moved his offices from the Baker block into the
Eager Block, above the Economy Store.  Later, another doctor also
operated out of the same location.  The 1918 Evansville Review ads
indicated that Dr. K. W. Shipman, an Osteopathic Physician, had
offices over the Economy Store.  By 1935, Dr. W. E. Bray and Dr. K. K.
Ford, Physicians and Surgeons had offices in the building.

Other businesses also operated in the second story.  A beauty shop
run by Charlotte Magee operated on the second floor of the Economy.  
Magee had been in business for 12 years when, in January 1930, a
fire nearly destroyed the building.  It started from an explosion of a
kerosene heater in the beauty shop and flames spread quickly to the
rafters and the floor below.  Fortunately, the Evansville Fire Department
responded quickly to douse the blaze.  Only $300 damage was done
to the building, but many feared that the flames could have spread
throughout the entire Economy Store.  That same week it was
announced that Magee had sold her shop to Theresa Erickson.  

Three years later, Dolly Wesenberg and Clara Olson, rented the area
for a beauty shop and Theresa Erickson moved to a ground floor shop
in the next block west.  

As other businesses took up residence in the building, the Economy
Store continued to operate on the first floor but the store appeared to
have reached its zenith by the 1920s.  While the Grange Store in the
next block west had taken over the basement, as well as the second
story of their building, the Economy Store stabilized but did not
expand.    Christmas 1929, was the last time that toys were advertised
in the basement of the Economy.  Dolls could be purchased for 50
cents.  Candy sold for 25 cents a pound.  Groceries, clothing and toys
were the principal items sold.

By 1930, the Economy had given up use of the basement of the store
and the Eager trustees had that part of the building remolded for a
recreation center and ice cream parlor.  The new basement
amusement center was named "The Arcade" and operated by Louis
Belongy who had purchased the Evansville Bowling Alley that had
previously been housed in the Baker Block.  

The bowling alley equipment was moved into the basement below the
Economy and bleachers were erected near the alleys for spectator
seating.   Belongy advertised that he would be organizing leagues and
tournaments for both men and women.  He especially encouraged the
women to take part in bowling and held a weekly ladies' night.  Belongy
also had a soda fountain, booths, and an attractive lounge in the new
recreation center.  The operation lasted just three years and by
November 1933, the alleys were once again located in the second
story of the Baker Block.

The severe depression of the 1930s affected many businesses in
Evansville and the Economy store was no exception.  The community
could no longer support two large department stores.  

In an attempt to recover some of the charge accounts that had not
been paid, the Economy held a raffle for a basket of groceries to those
who purchased merchandise or paid up their account, in late 1932.

In what seemed like a final hope for a their business, the final Economy
ad in 1933 was a Christmas/New Year's greeting:  "Something tells us
1934 is going to produce that long-hoped-for Prosperity and
Happiness in this community.  May you and your get yours share of it.  
The Economy Store.

Axtell and Langemak managed to hold onto the store for another three
years.  In June 1937, a Quitting Business Sale was in progress for the
old Economy Store.  Men's suits sold for $3, less that the cost of a suit
in the early 1900s.  Shoes and boots sold for five cents each.   In
contrast, the Grange Store ads for the same week advertised men's
suits at $14.95-19.75.

The era of the Economy Store was over.  Langemak opened a men's
clothing store in another location, and Axtell retired.

The Eager Trustees, who now included Leonard Eager and his mother,
Gertrude, attempted to fill the vacant store front but the Depression had
taken a sharp hold on Evansville businesses.  To find a single
business that would rent the entire space of former department store
was nearly impossible.    

In August 1937, Gertrude Eager announced that there would be two
stores moving into the vacant building.  One of the stores, a forty-foot
frontage area of the Eager Block, had been rented to William A. Steffin
of Fort Atkinson.  Steffin had managed the Penney Company store in
Fort Atkinson.  He would be opening a Ben Franklin Store that would
carry men's and ladies wear, light hardware, toys and other smaller
goods.  The second store was the A & P store.

As with any building project going on in the business district, there
were many onlookers as the old store front was taken down and a new
Ben Franklin Store front was installed.   The materials were delivered
by rail and installed by Paul Dehnert.  

The Ben Franklin company had more than 2,600 stores throughout the
United States. Each store was owned independently, but the
association with the Ben Franklin Company allowed local store owners
access to merchandise that had been purchased in large quantities by
the company.  The combined buying power of the large number of
stores meant better prices for customers, according to the Ben
Franklin advertising.

Each store also had a front designed by the company, as well as
shelving and other fixtures that were specially made for Ben Franklin
stores.  The Eager Trustees agreed to the remodeling of the inside
and outside of the portion of the store to be used by Steffin's new store.

The interior was completely remodeled with new lighting fixtures and
new shelving.  The new materials arrived in September and Russell
George and Elmer Northam installed the shelving for the new store.  It
was considered to be the most modern and attractive stores in the city.

It had taken just three months for the new Ben Franklin exterior and
interior changes and grand openings were planned in October 1937.   
William Steffen, his wife, Gertrude, and their daughter Marion were
employed in the store.    The Steffens employed six other people,
including Mrs. Bonita Probst, Rose Popanz, Helen Park, Marion Miner,
Mildred Funk and Mildred Croft.  For the opening days, they intended
to hire several other temporary employees.

While the Ben Franklin store was being remodeled, the Eager Estates
also set to work on the floor space to be rented to the Great Atlantic
and Pacific Tea Company, commonly known as the A & P.  The new A
& P was to be managed by L. B. Goodrich, who had been managing a
store in Plymouth Wisconsin.  Tex Loveless, of Edgerton, and Jens
Norum of Evansville were also employed in the store.  

The A & P held a grand opening at the same time as the new Ben
Franklin.  To entice people into their store, they gave away 400 loaves
of bread to the first 400 customers in the store.  A new beginning for an
old store was in progress.

The Eager Estate's remodeling of the 1904 Economy store building
into three store fronts was the beginning of many years of changes that
would occur in the building.  Each store was given a separate

Exterior stairways were opened on the front of the buildings to the
apartments.  Above the store were 10 apartments and offices with
three to five rooms in each rental unit.  Little attention was paid to
fireproofing the walls between the new store fronts, and in later years,
this would prove to be disastrous.

Occupants of the apartments changed frequently, but one of the
professional offices was maintained for sevreal years. In 1937, a
recent graduate of the Northwestern Medical School, Dr. Samuel S.
Sorkin,  M. D established his first practice in the second story of the
Eager building.  Patients were required to hike a long flight of stairs to
reach his office.

Sorkin had served his intership at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison and
decided to locate in Evansville.  Two years later, he married.  Sorkin
raised his family in Evansville and spent his entire professional life

Another professional renter in 1938 was Joseph G. Page, Attorney at
law.  He was listed at 7 1/2 East Main St.  Page later moved to
Janesville and opened a law practice in the Jackman Block. In the late
1940s, the attorney advertised that he would continue to serve his local
customers by meeting them in Evansville in the evening.

The Eager Estate trustees persuaded Hampel's Bakery to move from
the north side of the street, at 12 East Main, into a newly remodeled
room in the Eager Block.  The new store was at 9 East main, in an
area of the old Economy Store building just east of the Ben Franklin
store.  Ham sandwiches and coffee were served at the bakery during
its grand opening in June 1938.    

Although they had made a splashy beginning and advertised heavily in
the local papers, the A & P store did not stay in Evansville.  An October
13, 1938, ad stated that the  A & P would hold close out sales from
October 10-15, 1938.  The west store of the building was vacant.  
In 1940, Warren Reese moved his pool hall and restaurant from the
Fisher Building at 19 East Main into one of the stores in the Eager
Block.   The business was known as the Stockman's bar and was a
local gathering place for stock buyers and real estate agents who
conducted business as they played cards or played pool.

Five years later, just before Christmas in 1943, the Kroger company
announced that it was opening a self service store in west store of the
Eager Block.  The new location was being remodeled and painted.  
Iver A. Mickelson was the manager of the store.  The company had
been in Evansville for 25 years at various locations in the business
district.  The first location was on the north side of the East Main
Street, then the store moved to West Main Street, before opening in
the old Economy Store.  

At the opening of their store at the new location, the Kroger company
offered bread for five cents a loaf and offered their customers "an
exciting adventure" at their new store.  Many of the brands offered at
the store were Kroger brands, such as their famous Spotlight Coffee.  
Customers could grind their own coffee and the fragrance filled the
store.  A three pound bag of  the freshly ground coffee sold for just 59
cents.  The store also offered local produce and in an advertisement
reminescent of the old general stores, Kroger's offered to buy eggs
from local farmers.  

The store was a popular shopping spot in Evansville and needed
additional space.  In 1946 the Kroger Store rented a second store at 1
West Main at the corner in the next block and kept their store the old
Economy Store building as well.  However, by February of the following
year, Krogers had given up the space in the former Economy Store
building and the Hamilton Hardware replaced the  Kroger Store.  
Kroger's then operated exclusively out of the store at the corner of  
Main and Madison Streets.

Origianlly owned by Harry M. Hamilton the Hamilton Hardware store
had opened in the Baker Block in  August 1936. After Harry's death in
1939, his wife and their son-in-law Howard Beecher managed the
store.  When the Baker Block was sold to the Boreva Garmet Co. in
1946, Mrs. Hamilton and Beecher decided to move into the old
Economy Store building.  Moving an old store to a new location was
cause for a festive occasion and nearly 500 people attended the
opening of Hamilton Hardware at 5 East Main Street.      

The renters in the Eager Block seemed to be constantly changing.  In
May 1948, the Hampel and Foss Bakery was sold to Wallace Chaney
of Beloit.   It became known as Wally's Pastry Shop.  Chaney
purchased the bakery equipment from Mr. & Mrs. Foss, who had taken
over the Hampel bakery.  Chaney had previously owned a bakery in
Clinton and had worked in a bakery in Beloit.  Chaney, his wife and two
daughters moved to Evansville.  Updating the business was very
important to Chaney and he wanted to install new equipment as soon
as possible.  Bread, rolls, pies, cakes, cookies and other delicious
bakery products were offered by the new owners.  He employed Mrs.
Robert Levin as his assistant.

The most stable store was the old dime store, in the same location
since 1936. The Ben Franklin store operated by William Steffen and
his wife, Gertrude in the middle section of the Eager building was sold
to Howard Cufaude in 1960.  Cufaude had been associated with the F.
W. Woolworth Company in Chicago.      

Other changes included new offices for Richard Eager, an attorney,
and great-grandson of Almeron Eager, the original owner of the
property.  He moved into the farthest store east in the Eager Block.

In 1967, Roberts Liquor Store moved from a building across the street
to the old Economy Store building.  The Union Bank & Trust had
decided to expand their bank and dismantled the building that had
housed the Robert Liquor Store.  They offered the Roberts' store the
option of moving into the west side of the old Economy Store, in the
area that had formerly been occupied by Hamilton Hardware.  

In 1972 the Eager Estate remodeled for Gas Company one of the
stores on the east side of the building for the Wisconsin Gas
Company.  The remodeling was reported to have cost $5,238,
according to building inspector reports.  For the next four years, the
occupants of the building remained stable.  The Wisconsin Gas
Company, Richard Eager's law office, the Ben Franklin Store and
Roberts Liquor Store.

On Palm Sunday 1976, the first of two disastrous fires hit the building.  
Early Sunday morning, while many Evansville residents were in church,
the fire alarm sounded.  Passers-by had seen smoke coming out the
the Ben Franklin store and finally the heat became so intense that one
of the front windows blew out.  Heavy black smoke gushed from

Evansville fire department responded immediately, many of the men
being called by the fire whistle from church services.  However, they
needed aid from other departments and called for the Janesville Fire
Department to send reinforcements.   

Firemen fought the blaze and had it under control within an hour and a
half but they were on the scene for several more hours.  The entire
building had been threatened, including the law offices of Richard
Eager, the Wisconsin Gas Company office, and the Roberts Liquor
Store.  The early detection of the fire and quick response by the fire
departments meant that damage to three other busineses was limited
to smoke, soot and water.  

The fire was believed to have started from a faulty electrical outlet on
the east wall of the dime store, near the front corner.  A clock plugged
into the outlet had a severed wire and had stopped at 10:15 a.m. and
boards behind the outlet box were charred.

In addition to the four businesses in the building there were also ten
second-floor apartments.  Occupants included Lee Barnard, Louise
Hosely, Richard Schneider, Tony Allen, Rod Davis and Bob Corning.   
Fortunately all were evacuated safely from the building.  Even stores
that were farther away, Ken's Karpet Korner at 1 East Main and Phyllis'
Fasions at 11 East Main reported smoke damage.  

Cufaude's Ben Franklin Store was heavily damaged by fire, smoke
and water damage.  The contents on the first floor and in the basement
were considered a total loss.  Pictures of the fire in area newspapers
showed charred merchandise, and water running from the store's open
front doors.  Windows had blown out from the heat and others were
knocked out by the firemen to get access to the fire.  Cufaude and a
crew of helpers boarded up the store windows with large plywood

By the following Monday, electricity had been restored and at least one
business, the Roberts Liquor Store was open to customers.  Most of
the people who rented apartments found they were homeless because
of the damage from the fire.  The Eager Trust moved quickly to repair
the building.  Repairs to the building reports cost $10,000, according
to a building inspector's report.

The Ben Franklin was expected to open in the fall of 1976, but in July,
Cufaude removed the large letters from the front of the Ben Franklin
store.  He said that he would retain ownership of the franchise for the
store, but the Eager Trust, headed by Leonard Eager was asking more
than he wanted to pay for rent.   

The largest portion of the store, which had housed the Ben Franklin
Store was remodeled, but now empty.  The owners announced that the
store was for rent. The following July, Cufaude became business
manager for the Evansville Community School District.  He eventually
sold the Ben Franklin Store franchise and the store reopened.

By 1980, Richard Eager had moved his law offices to 16 West Main
and the old Economy Store building contained three businesses.  
Wisconsin Gas Company occupied 20 foot store area.  Ben Franklin
occupied 55 foot store area middle and Roberts Liquor Store
occupied 20 foot store area west.

In late 1980, Doris Roberts decided to retire from the liquor store
business.  She sold the contents of the store to Molly Porter who was
about to open Molly's Place at 16 East Main Street.  The Shoe Store,
operated by Russell Felz of Whitewater moved into the former liquor
store.  The Gas Company built a new house, at the eastern edge of the
City and a clothing store moved into that vacant area.

In September 1984, the building was again treatened by fire.  At 12:30
a.m. on a Sunday morning passersby discovered flames shooting up
through the back stairway and the roof was ignited in a matter of
minutes.  Though the Evansville Fire Department responded  quickly
after getting the call, the fire was out of control.  Apartment dwellers
above the stores were evacuated in their night clothes.  

Realizing the potential hazard to the downtown business block, the
local fire department immediately asked for mutual aid from
surrounding communities and Orfordville, Janesville, Brodhead,
Edgerton, Brooklyn, Footville and  Fitchburg responded.  Attempts
were made to enter the building to knock down the fire, but smoke and
fear of collapsing floors forced the firemen to withdraw.  Portable water
tanks were set up on side streets and water was pumped from Lake
Leota to supplement the over-worked water mains in the city.  No
amount of effort was able to contain the fire.    

When daylight revealed the collapse of the entire roof and it was
obvious that the brick front of the store bowed-out from lack of support,
local authorities blockaded the street in front of the store.  People
feared that the front of the building would collapse endangering the
lives of anyone in the vicinity.  

Michael Bichanich, the proprietor of the Ben Franklin store had been
on the scene all night long and declared his store a disaster.  Russell
Felz, who owned the Shoe Store reported a loss of $45,000 in
inventory.  He too had stayed on the scene all night long.  Boots 'N
Britches, an apparel shop, the third renter in the first floor of the
building had also lost the contents of their store.

With nothing left but the exterior walls, the Eager Trust decided not to
rebuild.  The City building inspector issued a letter of condemnation,
as he considered the building to be a public nuisance.  Roger Berg
purchased the property in November and went before the City Council
to ask for help in saving the burned-out property.  

Thanks to a supportive city government, the building was saved.  After
consulting with the city attorney, Mayor, John Jones said he would
support Berg's proposal to save the building, allowing Berg time to
work out his plan for reconstruction.  A group of local businessmen
including,  Berg, Robert Judd, and Lewis Farnsworth, were interested
in rebuilding the store and they simply needed time to explore the
possibilities for grants or other financial support for the project.  

By December, the investors were reroofing the old Economy Store,
with a metal roof from the Varco-Pruden company.  The building had
been saved and the 1904 Economy Store, though only a memory, was
still an important part of the historic Evansville business district.  

In 2006 the Eager Trust sold the building to a group of investors and
another remodeling project began.  The apartments on the second
floor were restored, as well as a mezzanine, and offices on the first

An elevator, fireplaces, and exposed brick walls, enhanced the
apartments.  Jeff Farnsworth's State Farm insurance Agency was the
first business to move into the newly remodeled building in December

A Baker Windmill is featured prominently in the basement level of the
building  and can been seen in the restored windows on the first floor.

Read about Jeff Farnsworth, one of the current owners of the Eager Block.
wood buildings on the right (and
to the right of the cream-colored
two story building that held the
Masonic Lodge and the post
office) WERE TORN DOWN in
STORE was built on the site.

Almeron Eager
ca. 1898

October 2, 1878,
Evansville Review,
p. 3, col. 3,
Enterprise, April 2, 1904,
p. 1, col. 5,
Evansville, Wisconsin
The excavation for the new
Economy block is being nearly
completed and the masons will
now begin the laying of the
foundation walls.
   May 19, 1904,  Evansville

The mason contractor, Isaac
Brink, began laying of cement
foundations for the new Economy
block on Monday,
   May 26, 1904, Evansville
The work on the new Economy
store is now up to the first floor
and will soon move forward.  
The workmen are making rapid
progress in their work.
   June 16, 1904  Evansville

Messrs. Langemak and Axtell of
the Economy, were in Chicago
last week, looking up stock and
fresh ideas for their new store
building.  If push and enterprise
can accomplish anything, these
gentlemen propose to have one
of the finest department blocks
in Southern Wisconsin .
   June 23, 1904, Evansville
Review, Evansville, Wisconsin
November 26, 1904,
Badger, p. 1, col. 5,
Evansville, Wisconsin
Verne Axtell in Economy Store Office
March 21, 1929,
Evansville Review,
Evansville, Wisconsin
August 23, 1917,
Evansville Review, p. 1,
Evansville, Wisconsin
1930 Grocery Ad for the Economy Store