ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin




Founding of the

Watertown Historical Society

Derived from the Watertown Daily Times, with annotations added




The long-proposed historical society in Watertown is soon to be organized and in a short time the first meeting is to be held, sponsors of the organization have announced.


For years there has been talk of the formation of an historical group and for a long while Joseph Schaefer, of the state historical society, who is familiar with the history of the city, has urged local people to form a branch of the state association here.


Watertown in less than four years will be 100 years old.  Many residents feel that the occasion should be marked by a huge celebration, one that will be remembered and talked about for generations to come.  They believe that a historical society will be a tremendous factor in the success of a centennial celebrator, and are of the opinion that the sooner the society is launched, the better able it will be to take a prominent part in the observance.


Friends of the proposed society also feel that objects of historical interest in the city should be collected and preserved in one place by some organization.


Watertown residents have many old pictures and other objects of historical significance and those who are planning to form a society here foresee a decided opportunity for it to play a much needed part in the activities of the community.    WDTimes




The first step in the formation of a historical society in Watertown was taken last night when a group of those interested gathered to draw up the articles of incorporation.  The meeting was held at the home of Hans D. Gaebler, who for a long time has been interested in the organization of a historical society here.


After discussing the organization plans it was determined to hold the first meeting on April 24, at which time the organization will be formally launched and members admitted.  January 24 was set as the time for the annual meeting.  This date was chosen because it will be the anniversary of the signing of the city charter.


A historical society for Watertown has been contemplated for a long time.  The state historical society, knowing the city to be rich in articles of historic interest, has given residents here, interested in the formation of a historical society, much encouragement.  The local organization would be affiliated with the state group.  All articles presented to the society, however, will remain in Watertown and for the time being, it is understood, will be placed for safe keeping in the Octagon House, an old landmark on the crest of Richard’s Hill.


From now until the April meeting, a survey will be made to learn who might be interested in joining.  It is estimated that 60 residents will become charter members of the society.


The formation of the organization at this time has been particularly appropriate in that the group, it is felt, will be able to play a valuable part in the proposed centennial celebration here in 1936, when Watertown will be 100 years old.    WDTimes



The state charter for the Watertown Historical Society, which was applied for a number of days ago, has been received here by Hans D. Gaebler, who was instrumental in the formation of the organization.  The incorporation papers will be filed at the court house at Jefferson.


The first meeting of the new organization was held a number of days ago at which time the necessary papers to incorporate the society were passed upon and the articles of incorporation and by-laws approved.


The next meeting will be held on April 24.  This will be the first important meeting of the organization.  Members will be admitted at this time, officers elected, and other necessary business transacted.  An outside speaker is to be obtained.


A large amount of interest is being shown in the new historical group.  Many Watertown residents, realizing that a city as rich in articles of historic interest as Watertown is, should have an historical society, have indicated their intentions of becoming members of the organization.  Residence in the city is the only membership requirement.    WDTimes



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“Oh, mommy, lookit at that big, around house on that hill,” cried the little curly-haired girl as she pressed her nose against the window of a Milwaukee Road train while it slowed its pace on entering Watertown.


“That’s the ‘Octagon House’ – the old Richards home, girlie,” the conductor intervened as he strolled through the coach.  “It’s one of the most famous landmarks along this route.  Almost everyone asks about it on my run.  Folks in Watertown don’t pay much attention to it though, it’s been there so long.”


The little child listened and stared, just as countless other little girls and grownups alike have admired it for years – the old mansion of the Hon. John Richards, Watertown pioneer, business leader and statesman.


     May Become Museum


As the conductor mused – folks in Watertown don’t pay much attention to it.  It’s been there so long – he probably spoke the truth, but Watertown folks are beginning to take more than casual pride over this architectural gem.  They plan to make it a museum of Watertown relics, the headquarters of the newly-organized historical society.  How the association plans to accomplish its goal still is undecided, yet that is the aim.


Erected on a high bluff of the roaming Rock River valley, the Richards home has seen three generations pass as it looked down like a fortress from its lofty, natural acropolis.  Since 1853, for 80 years, the eight-sided brick home has housed the Richard family.


Today two persons occupy the rooms which once were those of a large family, Mrs. Anna R. Thomas, daughter of the Hon. John Richards, and her son, William R. Thomas, realtor whose present ambition is to see the old homestead developed into a Watertown museum.


     Houses Many Treasures


Truly a treasure house is this old home.  Many a simple bauble or home and farm implement of another day has become a relic to be cached away in this great Watertown relic that once was a shining example of domestic building grandeur.


Three stories above the ground this home remains intact in all effects as it was the day on which it was built.  A builder’s level proves that the structure has not sunk its well-planned foundations in its battle with the elements during those long 80 years.  In all it is unchanged.  No electric lights shed their twentieth century glow over the fancily-decorated rooms; no radio barks out jazz notes and oily gutturals of crooners; no roller shades to keep out the strong summer rays of the sun.


     Blinds Shade Windows


Instead oil lamps, which replace their crude predecessors – candles – years ago, provide the only light after the sun had departed for the day.  For music there is an old spinet-style piano in one of the parlors for those who would play on it.  Old, wooden blinds cover the many windows on the structure’s eight sides.


When John Richards went to build his home 80 years ago, he did so with a resolution that it should be totally apart from anything in the city.  A journey to the grounds and through the home will prove to the most skeptical that he accomplished his purpose.  From Milwaukee came the thousands of bricks, the real cream brick which gave the Wisconsin metropolis its nickname.  With an octagon for a geometrical pattern, he selected the plans for the remarkable house which wastes not an inch of precious space.


     Bible Stands on Table


Entering from the west door a few feet from the ground, one finds himself in a parlor, oddly shaped, yet beautifully decorated in the finery of a hundred years ago.  In the center of the room is a low table with the family bible standing on it.  To the right are chairs and a lounge all of which have passed the century mark in age.  To the left is the oblong spinet piano, the first instrument of its kind in Watertown.  Piled on its closed hood are photographs, albums and trinkets, each having some honored connection either to the Richards family or to Watertown.


This room Mr. Thomas plans to turn over to the historical society temporarily, so that it may preserve the other objects of interest, which it has gathered, here in one of the oldest homes in the city.


A door to the right leads to a second parlor, decorated with bright wall paper and its ceiling ornate with carved moldings.  Chairs, cabinets, stools and tables, all homemade of valuable woods and carefully preserved, dot the room.  These, too, have stood in their places since the earliest days of the home.  Their master looks with pride upon them for to him they are more than antiques.  Both he and his mother have grown from childhood about them; they are relics.


     Oil Lamp Hangs Above


Overhead a fancy oil lamp of chandelier proportions hangs.  Windows, with blinds turned ajar, permit the deep sunlight to filter through the finely-paned glass.


Continuing the walk along the lower floor, the visitor passes through an anteroom off of the east door and finds himself in still another section of this mammoth octagon.  This time it is the dining room, with chairs lining the long linen-covered table, and the buffet carefully serviced with valuable old silver and china.  Paintings line the walls of this room just as they did the others, carefully hung and safely preserved.


A door to the right again leads back to the first parlor where the visitor entered but a few minutes before.  The trip about the lower floor is ended, the octagon has been circumscribed.


     Stairway Winds Upwards


In the geometric center of the house is erected a circular stairway, exactly as constructed by hand labor years ago.  Its fine railing is turned perfectly and the stairs spiral their path upward to the cupola from where one can scan for miles around the countryside of Watertown – the winding river to the east, the business section to the west and the fringe of the city and the adjoining outskirts to the north and south, with the tall spires of churches piercing up from lattice of roofs that covers the vista.


The second floor is given over totally to bedrooms, furnished with soft, comfortable appearing beds, carved of fine wood and finished with all the turns and curves that characterized interior decoration of generations past.  Bureaus and wardrobes all are finely kept and possess the luster that the years have failed to blemish.  Curiously, on the second floor the interior octagon is divided once more into a polygon of 16 sides and where, on the first floor, one room stood, here two, a large bedroom and a smaller one, complete with window and closet, take up the space.  The designer of this home well knew the means of conserving space.


     Soft Water Runs


At each landing on the spiral stairway is a small door, inside of which one will find a little faucet from which flows soft water.  As the rain pours onto the tin-covered roof above it drains into a tank, well-hidden, from whence the water is fed to the series of tappets on each floor.


Up the stairway once again is the third floor, all given over, except for one room, to the store space for furniture, clothing and other belongings.


     Treasures Fill Room


In the one room set aside are to be found a myriad of old treasures.  Along the walls, on the floor and on the table in the center, are countless gewgaws that have played parts in the growing life of Watertown.


On the floor are old trunks, good in their day, but hardly strong enough to stand the knocks of modern day rail handling.  Against the wall lay oxen yokes and on the side hangs an old saddle which had been in the Richards family long before the house was erected.  In one corner is a sample of Indian beadwork, brought from the then territory of Montana.  Against one wall hangs maps of the United States in 1854, the western states of 1849 and Jefferson county in 1872.


     Photos Cover Walls


Quaint old etchings of such scenes as the “Fall of Richmond” in the Civil War, photographs of the home and grave of Jesse James in Missouri and pictures of early Watertown streets and people, adorn other sides of the wall.


Below is a book on an antique desk used by Mr. Richards in his mill.  This is the register which Mr. Thomas has started and in which tourists from coast to coast, a thousand or more of them, have inscribed their names. Along the highway, they have noticed the house, paused and found a genial host and guide in Mr. Thomas to show them about.


In the center of this curio room is a table on which innumerable articles are kept.  Here is a little dinner bell, set up in a fancy bronzed frame adorned with mother-of-pearl.  Next to it is the bell which one day called carefree pupils to the school which John Richards built to the south of his mansion.


     Keep Surveyor’s Chain


Next to it is the chain which was among those used in surveying the strip of land for the laying of the famed Watertown Plank Road into Milwaukee years ago.  Then there is a toy cannon and a mold for the manufacture of home-dipped candles.  Nearby rests a candle snuffer.


Most curious of all is a small bagatelle board with which Mr. Thomas said he played 60 years ago.  Bagatelle is the game from which the now popular marble game developed.  Nowadays it costs a nickel to send 10 or more marbles rolling around the frame, bouncing off pins and then falling into slots for a score, but this little box puts on the same entertainment for the player at no cost except the original payment.


     Cradle Still Rocks


In the corner is the hand-made wooden cradle which has passed through generations in the Richards family.  Mrs. Thomas, now 91 years of age, is one of the many who slept in it in their baby days.  On the table is a leather pouch which another member of the family wore in the Civil War.  In the pouch were carried the messages from one battalion to the other.  Truly this mute piece of worn leather could tell a romantic tale if only it could speak.


On a shelf is a miniature replica of the Richards home which Mr. Thomas fashioned for an exhibition years ago.  The model shows the house in its original design, which a porch surrounding the entire structure on each of the three floors.  This porch endured for years on the house, but the wood could not withstand rain and snow as well as its brick supports with the result that it was removed.


     Lawn Possesses Beauty


And so the tours ends.  The visitor winds his way down the spiral stairway again and walks out on to the well-landscaped lawn that rolls like a huge billow to the east and overlooks the winding river valley.  The house in the background stands in its weather-beaten grey, its blinds setting off the many angles of its sides.  Here is, indeed, a museum of history of pioneer days.  Only the concerted efforts of the new Watertown Historical Society are needed to make it one permanently.    WDTimes



Dr. Joseph Schafer, superintendent of the State Historical Society, has been engaged to address the first meeting of the recently organized Watertown Historical society to be held here Monday evening.  The place for the meeting is still to be determined, but it is expected to be at the high school auditorium.


During the many months that an historical society has been contemplated here, Dr. Schafer has acted in an advisory capacity and has encouraged the group responsible for the organization of the society.  He is gratified to learn that a city such as Watertown has formed an historical society and feels that much can be accomplished here by such an organization.


A state charter has been granted the society and later, if it desires, it may become a part of the state organization.  The charter has been registered with the register of deeds office at Jefferson.


At the meeting Monday, members will be accepted, directors and officers elected, plans outlined and other business transacted.  Residence in the city is the only eligibility requirement.  Sponsors of the organization are anxious to have all residents, regardless of age, interested in the historical society, to attend the first meeting and become charter members of the organization and hear Dr. Schafer’s address.


Among the functions of the organizations, as detailed in the articles of organization, will be “to collect, compile and preserve the history and traditions of Watertown by securing books, papers, documents and relics pertaining to the same, and to cooperate with the State Historical Society in the preservation of such history and traditions” and “to provide and maintain a suitable place for the preservation of such manuscripts, relics, histories, biographies, data, etc., within the city of Watertown and the state of Wisconsin, and to provide a fund for suitable maintenance thereof.”


For the time being, articles of the historical society will be kept in a room in the Richard’s Octagon House.  Some day it is hoped to turn the home into a historical museum.   WDTimes



The Watertown Historical Society got underway to a good start last evening, when the organization of the society was completed at the high school.  A large group enrolled as charter members and heard the address by Dr. Joseph Schafer, superintendent of the State Historical Society, who assisted in perfecting the organization of the local society.


Because the weather kept many who had planned to be at the meeting away, all residents of the city joining the organization during the next month will be enrolled as charter members.  Application for membership may be made with any of the directors chosen last evening.


At a meeting of the directors, following their election, T.M.N. Lewis was chosen to head to organization.


Miss Ella Wilder, Miss Jennie Lord and John D. Clifford were named vice presidents; Hans D. Gaebler was chosen secretary; Miss Claire Herrmann, treasurer, and Will Thomas, custodian.  These officers, together with Miss Gladys Mollart and J. E. McAdams, constitute the board of directors.


Dr. Schafer, speaking to the group following the organization of the society, expressed much satisfaction in seeing an historical society formed in Watertown, and during his talk gave the members much valuable information that will be of help in the future activities of the society.


Complete newspaper files and letters are most invaluable to an historical society, Dr. Schafer declared, and urged members of the Watertown Historical society not to neglect this part of the work.  In stressing the value of letters in reconstructing early history, Dr. Schafer told of an interesting discover he made recently while sifting through letters left behind by the Martin family at Green Bay.  One of the Martins had been corresponding with an attorney at Washington, who signed his name F. S. Key.  Further investigating revealed that “F. S. Key” was none other than the author of the “Star Spangled Banner” Francis Scott Key.


All articles of historical interest placed with the society will be kept in the Richard’s Octagon House.



T. M. N. Lewis, president of the Watertown Historical society, has announced the program of the organization.  Since the organization was launched a few weeks ago, many new members have been received.  Anyone joining the organization to and including May 24 will be a charter member.


Mr. Lewis’ statement:


Within the next few weeks the recently organized Watertown Historical society is to begin its activities as described below.


Inasmuch as there appears to exist some degree of vagueness on the part of many as to just why Watertown needs an organization of this type, perhaps a brief explanation is warranted.


Our students have been led to believe for too long a time that history has been produced only during very ancient times.  That is purely a case of distance in time lending [leading to] enchantment. To remedy this misconception, it is necessary to bring our people to the appreciation of the fact that this community is actually making history, which, in many respects, is as valuable as any history concerning ancient times.


In this part of the United States especially does this lack of appreciation exist.  Observers will find that the east and south are much more familiar with their local history.  The collection and preservation of all local facts and objects of interest will cause to prevail in our community an intelligence which is now beyond our highest anticipation.


The following is an approximate outline of the procedure which will be adopted and the directorate of the society urges all citizens of Watertown and the surrounding community, who feel that the society is a worthy project, to join hands with the fastly increasing membership and become either active or inactive members as they may desire.


The interesting work outlined below is to be performed by committees appointed from the membership.


1. Conditions which made Watertown a desirable location in which to settle.

(a) Soil, timber, streams and roads.

(b) Chief sources of wealth at time of settlement.

(c) Productions.


2. By whom settled.

(a) Nationality: by birth, by parentage.

(b) From whence came the pioneers?

(c) What incentive led them here?

(d) What were their previous occupations and conditions of life?

(e) Biographical sketches of early pioneers.


3. Early map of Watertown.

(a) Locate early buildings and locations of prominent citizens from earliest settlement.


4. Cemeteries.

(a) When and where located from earliest time to present.

(b) Record earliest inscriptions and chart graves.

(c) Trace the origin of stones bearing no inscriptions.


5. Transportation and communication.

(a) History of noted wagon roads, early mail routes, railroads, telegraph and telephone.

(b) Chief products shipped to and from Watertown.


6. Material process.

(a) Early industries.

(b) Have these early industries developed into the present or have lines changed?

(c) If changes have taken place, assign reasons.


7. Educational institutions.

(a) Schools and colleges: when, where and by whom located; sketches of prominent teachers and students; present schools, colleges and teachers.

(b) Libraries: when and where establish; how sustained.

(c) Clubs: history of all so far formed; present status and leading members.

(d) Newspapers: history of each from the first; sketches of prominent individuals connected with them.


8. Churches.

(a) When and where each organized.

(b) Names of charter members.

(c) Sketches of most noted pastors or all if possible.

(d) Sketches of leading workers from the first. (e) Present conditions.


9. Charitable, penal and correctional institutions.

(a) Homes for the defective.

(b) Jails.


10. War History.

(a) Enlistments.

(b) List of casualties in battle.

(c) List of deaths in service from other causes.

(d) Names and addresses of those still living.

(e) Biographical sketches of noted service men.


11. Professional life, sketches of.

(a) Local.

(b) Medical.

(c) Educational.

(d) Ministerial. (e) Business.


12. Local government.

(a) When organized.

(b) List of officers serving since organization.


13. [Genealogy] of older families.

(a) Ancestry of early settlers.

(b) Full record of each branch and member of family since settlement, including births, marriages, and deaths.


14. Indian history.

(a) Tribes.

(b) Camp sites.

(c) Hostilities.



Dr. Anthony Hahn has been elected secretary of the Watertown Historical society, succeeding Hans D. Gaebler, who recently resigned.  Mr. Gaebler now resides in Chicago.


Mr. Gaebler was one of those responsible for the organization of the local society.  He long had been interested in the formation of a historical society here and during the last year gathered much in the formation of a historical society here during the last year gathered much information about similar organizations in other cities.


Since the society organized here more than a month ago, many new members have been added.  Several have placed relics and other items of historical interest with the society.  For the time being all articles placed with the organization are kept in one of the ground floor rooms of the Octagon House on Richards Hill.  Will Thomas [grandson of John Richards, builder of the Octagon] is custodian of the articles.


Articles may be placed with the society through any member of the board.  Memberships also can be supplied by any of the directors.  The board consists of T. M. N. Lewis, president; Miss Ella Wilder, Miss Jennie Lord and John D. Clifford, vice presidents; Dr. Anthony Hahn, secretary; Miss Claire Herrmann, treasurer; Will Thomas, custodian, and Miss [Gladys] Mollart and J. E. McAdams.



The first step in the direction of an historical museum for Watertown is to be taken shortly by the Watertown Historical society, it is announced by the board of directors of the organization.


At this time four second-hand cases, each ten feet long, are to be purchased and placed in Cole Memorial Hall of the public library.  Photographs, relics and many other articles of historical value now are being assembled to be placed in the cases.  Later, it is expected, another room in the library, where the opportunities to expand will be greater, will be obtained.



A number of committee chairman were named at the meeting of the Watertown Historical society held at the men’s reading room of the public library last evening.  A large number of members were present.


The work of compiling historical data is to be undertaken by at least 14 committees.  Several of the committee chairmen were chosen last evening.


Miss Ella Wilder was selected to head the cemetery committee;

Hans D. Gaebler, the war records committee;

W. R. Thomas, the committee on local governments that existed in Watertown since its founding;

F. E. Henning was chosen to head the committee on Indian history;

Prof. Elmer C. Kiessling was elected chairman of the geology committee;

Henry Mulberger was named to head the committee on professional life;

Miss Ida Kopp was named to be chairman of the committee on educational institutions; and

Miss Ida Barganz was chosen to head the committee on industries.


Several topics are to be prepared by high school history classes.


The next meeting of the society will be held in January.  Last night’s meeting was presided over by T. M. N. Lewis, president.    WDTimes




A committee of five members was appointed last night at a meeting of the Watertown Historical society to take charge of the organization’s display which is to be presented at the joint meeting of the Saturday club and Euterpe club on the afternoon of February 13.


The meeting will be held at Cole Memorial hall, where one large case will be filled with historical articles of interest.


The committee consists of Miss Gladys Mollart, Miss Claire Herrmann, Mrs. George C. Lewis, all members of the historical society, Mrs. John Conway, chairman of the Saturday club’s committee on history and landmarks, and Mrs. Eli Fischer, a member of the committee.


A while ago the society purchased four second hand cases, each one capable of holding a large number of articles.  All the cases at the present time are located in Cole Memorial hall.  In the near future, the organization plans to secure articles from local residents to place in the cases.    WDTimes



The Watertown Historical Society, at a meeting last evening in the men’s reading room of the public library, determined to ask Harvey B. Richards of Chicago, who is one of those in charge of the Richards estate here, to hold open for the society the opportunity to acquire the Octagon Home on Richards Hill.


Mr. Richards, a while ago, informed G. H. Lehrkind while on a business trip in Chicago, that he was disposed to turn the home over to someone upon the assurance it would be properly cared for.  The society at the present time is unable to accept the offer, but hopes to in several years to come.


The eight-sided house is one of the oldest homes in Watertown.  It has attracted attention all over the state and in many other states.  Visitors from coast to coast have made it a point to visit the home when in this vicinity.


Cross Reference Note:  Harvey Richards, a son of Estelle Bennett Richards and Charles Richards, and grandson of the original builder, John Richards, worked with G. H. Lehrkind, Historical Society president in 1938, and Attorney Wallace Thauer to transfer title of the property.



The Watertown Historical Society is planning an exhibit of school articles, such as pictures of schools, classes, teachers, and mementos pertaining to early schools in Watertown.  According to W. R. Thomas, president of the society, the exhibit will be placed in the public library sometime in May.



The Watertown Historical Society already has received a number of loans for its school exhibit to be held at the public library in June.


A photograph of Mr. Dippel and a spelling primer has been received from Miss Ida Barganz; a photograph of Miss Electa Wilder was received from Miss Ella Wilder and programs of commencement exercises have been presented by Miss Jane Lord.


An extensive bibliography of the city, prepared by Miss Florence Hays, librarian, will be one of the features of the exhibit.


Persons desiring to loan old school pictures, programs or other articles that might be appropriate for the school exhibit may leave them at the public library. The proposed exhibit already is attracting much attention and it is expected that a large number of articles will be displayed in June.



A large number of articles have been received during the last few days for the Watertown Historical Society’s school exhibit to be held at the public library sometime in June.


One of the most outstanding of the recent contributions is a complete equipment for a schoolboy of 1860.


Anyone having old school books or pictures may enter them in the exhibit by leaving them at the library. All articles turned in for the exhibit will be returned unless the contributor desires to leave the articles permanently with the society.



New officers of the Watertown Historical society were chosen last evening at a meeting in the men’s reading room of the public library.


W. R. (Willie) Thomas was named president, succeeding T. M. N. Lewis, who resigned from the club a while ago.  Other officers chosen are:  First vice president, Edward F. Wieman; second vice president Dr. J. H. Ott; third vice president, John D. Clifford; secretary Miss Gladys, and treasurer Miss Claire Herrmann.


The members last evening laid plans for a display of old school pictures and articles.  The display will be placed at the library about the middle of May.  The committee in charge of the display includes Hans D. Gaebler, Miss Ida Barganz and Miss Ella Wilder.    WDTimes



Pictures of the school marms and instructors of more than 50 years ago are being received in large numbers for the approaching exhibit on early school days sponsored by the Watertown Historical Society. The exhibit will begin on Friday, June 1, and will continue for two weeks.  It will be placed in the library.


One of the pictures that has been turned over to the society for the exhibit is a photo of Miss Cushman, who later became Mrs. Moak and the mother of Misses Anna and Orleanna Moak, who lost their lives in the Iroquois theatre fire in Chicago. 



The school exhibit of the Watertown Historical Society, the first major one to be arranged by the organization since it was formed a year ago, is now being displayed on the main floor of the public library.  The exhibit is not pretentious, but this first effort of the organization is commendable.  The exhibit contains many fine pictures and articles concerning the early school days in the city, all neatly arranged in a large glass case.  The articles and photos have come from many parts of the city and were presented by a large number of residents of the community.


Watertown, it is generally conceded, is rich in history.  This first effort of the Watertown Historical Society amply demonstrates this fact.  Other exhibits of interest are to follow and all of them should be interesting and attract a large number of persons.  It is no easy task to assemble exhibits, but after all the material is gathered, there is something worthwhile.


The Watertown Historical Society, although only a year old, should, in the years to come, be a most valuable organization.  In addition to collecting articles of historical interest and assembling historical facts about Watertown, an organization of this kind can be of much help in civic affairs.  It undoubtedly will aid in planning the centennial program for 1936.


There is a place for a historical society in Watertown.  Its efforts deserves recognition. One way of showing this recognition is to visit the free exhibits the society plans as one feature of the year’s program.



The exhibit of the Watertown Historical society now in progress at the public library will remain in place another week, W. R. Thomas, president of the group, announced today. He urges the public to visit the library and see the display next week if they have not already done so.


School textbooks of a past era, pictures, school essentials, etc., are included in the display.  It is worth a visit.


06 14          SCHOOL EXHIBIT ENDS

The school display at the public library will remain only until the end of the week, it was announced today by officers of the Watertown Historical Society, which has placed the exhibit.  During the last week and a half a large number of persons have visited the library to view the exhibit.  The officers and members of the organization invite all those who have not seen the exhibit to do so before the end of the week.  The display contains many interesting articles and pictures, which will interest both young and old.



Tuesday afternoon, between 2 and 5 o’clock, the members of the Watertown Historical Society and their friends will gather at the lawn adjacent to the old Richards home, or Octagon House, for a basket picnic.


W. R. Thomas, president of the organization, invites all members and their friends to attend and enjoy the cool breezes under the many shade trees sheltering the lawn.


One of the highlights of the afternoon will be a trip through the house, one of the historical places in the city and this section of the state.



A place of interest in Watertown, and one which is not well-known to the people of the city, is the Octagon House on Richards Hill, the home of Mrs. George Thomas and her son, William.


Many people entering the city or driving along the road next to the river have looked up on the top of the hill and have observed this interesting structure.  It has three stories and a basement, and is octagon shaped.  There are twelve big rooms in the house and many little rooms, which the Thomases use for store rooms and clothes presses.  In the center of the house is the circular stairway which winds up from the first floor to the cupola on top.  As the house is so large, Mrs. Thomas and her son use only the basement floor and the first floor.  Even on these two floors there is ample place for comfortable living quarters.  Not all of the rooms are furnished at the present time, but most of the first two floors have old-fashioned furniture.


Mrs. Thomas’ mother, the late Mrs. John Richards, brought several pieces from Massachusetts at the time she moved to Watertown with her husband, among them a mahogany table and a sofa.


During the winter months many of the rooms are closed off, but in summer they are opened up for use.


Mr. and Mrs. John Richards moved to Watertown in 1840.  They settled on a farm which was situated in the area of the Fox Farm on the east side of town.  Mrs. Thomas was born on the farm and lived there until her father, deciding more room was needed for the family, purchased the home across from the power plant at the bottom of the hill which was one day to bear his name.


In 1853, Mr. Richards started to build on the hill in the present location.  While the house was in construction, he became ill and work was ceased for a short time.  He wanted to supervise the work himself, and therefore nothing could be done during his illness.


The house was completed in 1854, and the family moved in.  At this time, Mrs. Thomas was only eight or ten years of age. She has resided in the old home ever since. 


In 1862, she was married to the late George Thomas, who died more than forty years ago.  One son, William, was born to them, and has lived with his mother ever since.  He is a real estate agent and manages all the Thomas property, which covers a goodly portion of the area on the hill.


In spite of the fact that Mrs. Thomas is nearing the age of 91 years, she is in fair health and moves about in her kitchen with all confidence.  She has not gone through the upstairs rooms for some time, nor does she leave the house very often.  When she does, she never walks, but rides in a car.  When asked about her stand regarding children coming up on the hill to ski or toboggan, she replied, “I like to have the children come up on the hill.  I don’t mind their playing up here if they don’t hurt themselves or run into the fence with their sleds.”


Travelers passing through the city as well as residents of Watertown have gone up to the Thomas home in curiosity.  Due to the fact that Mrs. Thomas is not well enough to go through the house and show people around, inquisitive people are requested not to come.  If one or two are allowed to enter, Mrs. Thomas feels that all would be welcome, and she is not in condition to have them come.      Watertown Tribune, December 21, 1934


Cross Reference to those mentioned above:

Mrs. John Richards (Eliza Forbes) (1816-1902)

         | Anna Richards, dau of John and Eliza (1842-1936), married George Thomas

                | William Thomas, son of Anna and George (1863-1937)




Back in April 1933, a group of public spirited citizens in Watertown gathered and formed the Watertown Historical Society.  The main object of the organization was and is to gather data and material connected with Watertown’s early and present history and to preserve this data and these materials for future generations.


Extensive Program Outlined


Affiliated with the State Historical Society, the local organization has been built along lines suggested by the state society as a model for numerous other local societies in the state.  Fourteen committees have been formed, each with a division of the large general field included in the society’s activities.  Committees have been appointed to investigate and collect data on the early settlement, pioneer autobiographies, early maps of the city, early cemeteries, early transportation facilities, early industries, early educational facilities, churches, charitable, penal and correctional institutions and war history.  Any data along these lines is always welcome to the society.


An annual fee of one dollar is charged to all members of the organization.  At present the society numbers approximately 50 members.


Plan Second Exhibition


Last June the society sponsored a public exhibition on early education in the community.  A rather extensive display of great interest to residents was shown at the library.  Items for display of this type are loaned to the society by residents although many items have been donated to the society for their permanent collection.


At present the members of the organization are planning an exhibit on the history of music in Watertown.  No definite date has been set for the exhibition but it has been planned for this spring.  An appeal is made to the residents of the city to let the society members know if they have anything along the lines of pictures of old musical organizations, old music, concert programs, newspaper clippings souvenirs of band conventions, saengerfests, or anything along musical lines connected with the early days of Watertown.


Establishing Permanent Historical Record


Beyond the cases of the society which are now on display at the public library, the local group has gathered many items of historical interest which are being cared for by W. Thomas, custodian.  All items belonging to the society plus many items belonging to individuals have been and are being carefully cataloged so that in time a complete bibliography of local history will be available.  A permanent record in the form of a card index is being slowly built up.  It is hoped that a good portion of this work can be completed in time for Watertown’s centennial celebration in 1936.


Since funds and adequate quarters are as yet unavailable for the organization further exhibits will be held at the public library.  In time it is planned to place a permanent exhibition on display in quarters of their own.


The work, often of a painstaking rather exhaustive nature, is progressing well and the society hopes to be able to add much to the centennial celebration and to the general historic knowledge of the community.    Watertown Tribune; March 8, 1935



A sectional meeting of the Watertown Historical Society was held last night to determine plans for an exhibition on Watertown’s musical history and it was decided to sponsor such an exhibit at the public library the latter part of May.  The society will work in conjunction with the Euterpe club and it is planned to assemble data and exhibition pieces for the display.


Mrs. R. C. Guenther, president of the Euterpe club, has accepted the chairmanship of the committee and plans to release publicity data of music in Watertown, its history and background, prior to the opening of the exhibit.


04 24          EXHIBIT

When Watertown’s musical history is portrayed in that coming exhibition which the Watertown Historical Society is arranging at the public library it is likely that some mementoes of the late Richard Hardege will be included in the display.


There are some articles and other items relating to Mr. Hardege which are owned by numerous local people and plans are now under way to secure them for the exhibit.


One such owner has already agreed to it.


Mr. Hardege, who died some ten years ago, was generally conceded to have been one of the most brilliant musicians of his day and old friends and acquaintances always speak of him as a genius.



A music exhibit, featuring Watertown compositions and mementoes of the city’s musical history, will open Monday at the public library and will be open daily until June 1. 


The exhibit is being sponsored by the Watertown Historical Society and the Euterpe club is cooperating in the venture. 


H. D. Gaebler is chairman of the Euterpe division.


Mr. Gaebler said today that the committee would like to get copies of any composition by Watertown musicians and if any residents are in possession of any they will be conferring a great favor by loaning them for the exhibit. 


Anyone having such material is asked to communicate with Mr. Gaebler.



A sketch of the Concordia Musical Society, one of the city’s most famous musical organizations of generations ago, is contained in a reprint from the October 6, 1890, issue of “Der Seebote,” a Milwaukee publication.  The article was written by the late Emil E. Gaebler and was part of his memoirs which the paper printed.


Click to link to chapter on Gaebler

Because today the Watertown Public Library opened an exhibit dealing with Watertown’s musical history, which is being sponsored by the Watertown Historical Society and the cooperation of the Euterpe club, part of the article is being reprinted here.  It follows:


At the time Emil C. Gaebler came to Watertown, in 1859, there was an established musical society here, called the Music and Singing Society and when Gaebler organized a new society, called Philharmonic, there was an effort to combine the two.  The two finally joined but the passive members tried to run it and after six months the active members seceded and formed their own society in July, 1862, called the Concordia.


Emil Gaebler had organized a musical society in 1852 at Danbury, Conn., and was familiar with the management of the Northeastern Singers league of New York.  He, therefore, organized the Northwest league shortly after he came to Wisconsin and to this league the Concordia gave its support, so actively, that at the first saengerfest held in La Crosse in 1866 Watertown won the first prize, a silver loving cup, now on display in the historical museum in Madison.


Thereafter the following saengerfests (conventions or music festivals) were held: Watertown, 1867; Milwaukee, 1868; Madison, 1869; La Crosse, 1871; Dubuque, 1873; Watertown, 1875; Freeport, 1877; Milwaukee, 1879; Madison, 1881; La Crosse; 1883; Watertown, 1885; Freeport, 1887; Minneapolis, 1889; Milwaukee 1891; Dubuque, 1896.  There was also a band convention in Watertown in 1879.


As early as 1885 interest began to lag and young people turned to amusements rather than to music.  In its “floruit” the Concordia undertook many projects besides regular concerts and opera performances in Watertown.  The old music hall on North Second Street burned to the ground and a new opera house was built at a cost of $11,872, of which $2,158 was raised by the women members or auxiliary of the organization. 


The Concordia Society also purchased the Tivoli island, planted trees on it, built a pavilion, and painted it themselves.  In 1879 an octagon band stand was built on the island, forty feet in diameter and was first used for the band convention for which occasion Mr. Sleeper was director and Mr. Mulberger, field marshal.  Many concerts and picnics were held on the island, a windmill supplied water power for the large fountain, a garden, and a fine bowling alley helped make this a very popular place.  A large collection of manuscript music, opera scores, and instrumental numbers are to this day reposing in one of our local stores waiting for the day when Watertown will again take an interest in local amateur musical activities.



Northwestern College, rich in musical tradition in the community has contributed to the Watertown musical history exhibit, which is now in process at the public library.  The exhibit is sponsored by the Watertown Historical Society in cooperation with the Euterpe club and will be open daily from now till June 1.


The college contribution to the exhibit is a collection of programs of musical events in Watertown, notably at the college, which has been complied by Walter E. Ott, son of Dr. J. H. Ott, veteran member of the college faculty.


There is a section from the history of the college which was written in 1915 by Dr. Arthur Hoermann.  This relates especially to the part the college has played in musical circles in the community.


Included also in the collection are copies of programs, past and present, of musical events.  There is one program of the eight annual concert by the college band and orchestra given in 1908.  There were then 23 band members and 21 members in the orchestra.  There also are copies of the programs presented in the college auditorium by such world-famous artists such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Fritz Kreisler, Muscha Elman, Alberto Salvi, Anna Case, Ley Weston and others.


There are also programs from the Minneapolis symphony concert which was directed by the late Henri Verbrugghen, St. Olaf’s choir of New Ulm, Minn.(*), which appeared here under the leadership of the renowned F. Melius Christiansen and programs from many other of the renowned organizations in music which have either been sponsored locally by the college or which were given in the college auditorium.


That Watertown’s musical history would have been far less brilliant had the college not been active in the art is evident from the collection of programs it now contributes to the exhibition.  And the college record is by no means complete, because many of the programs are missing.  Until Mr. Ott set to work to compile and prepare some sort of record there was no organized collection of such historical data.  He is planning to make the scrapbook even more complete and to add additional records to it as he comes across them in his search of the college files and records.


(*) Webmaster’s Note:  St. Olaf choir is that of St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, not New Ulm.



This column urges all people who are interested in Watertown’s musical history and its musical traditions to visit the public library between now and June 1 to view the music history exhibit which the Watertown Historical society is sponsoring.


While the exhibit is not very large it does contain some items that are of interest to a great many people.  There are original compositions by a half dozen or so Watertown composers, old pictures of bands, orchestras and musical organizations, pictures of individual musicians and many programs and year books of musical events, in addition to newspaper articles and clippings.


The writer has heard a lot about the old Sinnissippi band which was in existence from 1893 to 1899 but not until yesterday had he seen a picture of this unique organization.  It is just one of the many items worth seeing.  Views of the old Concordia Music Society in its heyday are also there.  There are far too many items to list individually, but there are several there and worth seeing.



Compositions by a number of Watertown composers are included in the music exhibit which is now on display at the public library under the auspices of the Watertown Historical Society.


Among those represented are E. J. Brandt, Emil C. Gaebler, Otto Goeldner, Richard Hardege, John W. Keck, and William Weber. In addition, several others not represented have promised to take part and these will be added later.


Of all the musicians Watertown has had, the name of Richard Hardege had probably attracted more notice than any other. His death some years ago removed a man of Genius.


Click to link to chapter on Hardege

Mr. Brandt some years ago wrote a sketch of Mr. Hardege and it is reprinted here:


Sketch of Hardege


Richard Hardege was born at Haverstraw near New York city in 1853. When a young man he took up the study of the violin and also of the piano and spent several years in the musical atmosphere of Leipzig, Germany, during this time. He has marked native talent as a composer and his ability as a violinist is well known. Mr. Hardege has composed a considerable number of songs as well as compositions for instruments and in former years was sought as a solo violinist. In later years it has been difficult or perhaps impossible to induce him to appear in public.


Mr. Julius Klauser, author of “The Septonate and the Centralization of the Tonal System”, a work on higher education in music, and of other works on music, was Mr. Hardege’s particular friend and induced him to have one of his compositions, a symphony for orchestra, in two movements, produced in Milwaukee.  It was Mr. Hardege’s thought to produce and publish his works in a musical center in Germany, but circumstances prevented this.


One or two incidents in connections with the above may be of interest:


Several years ago Skovgaard (pronounced Skoogawt) the Danish violinist passed through this city stopping off for a few hours at the leading hotel. While playing on his violin in his room there he heard an answering theme on another violin not far away.  After these answers reached his ears several times he became curious to know who it was that could follow his musical thought in this manner.  On following the sound he discovered that they originated in Mr. Hardege’s studio nearby and from this time dates the friendship of the two violinists. 


It may also be of interest to note that the initial rehearsal of the Theodore Thomas orchestra was conducted at the home of Karl Klauser the father of Julius Klauser, who also revised to Schirmer Editions of music for a long time.



The music exhibit now under way at the public library has brought forth an interesting question.  Who was the first piano teacher in Watertown?  Was it Mr. Hoeper, Mr. Silla, or Mr. Licht?


A picture of considerable interest displayed at the exhibit is the photograph of the first Watertown cornet band.  It was organized in 1870 and was composed of the following members: Charles Nowack, William Sommerfeld, Charles Wenck, A. Gritzner, Otto Nowack, Alex Nowack, William Roeder, Fred Pohlmann, A. Schuelermann, Frank Kartak, John Weissert, W. D. Sproesser.


Another photograph of interest is one recently taken of a noted male quartet composed of E. L. Schempf, William Sproesser, Oscar Meyer, and Max Rohr.


Many noted musicians gave concerts in Watertown.  Among the early ones were Urso, Reminji, and Sherwood.  Later came such artists as Steindel, Itte, Heinrich, and Jaffe, and in recent years we had Schumann-Heink, Case Bauer, Ellman, Kreisler, Salvi, and others.


Some of these artists were entertained by local people and after the regular concert a private concert would often be held in the home of the host.  Dr. and Mrs. C. R. Feld often entertained the Chicago artists, as did Mr. and Mrs. C. Manz.  In recent years, Dr. and Mrs. T. C. H. Abelmann and Mr. and Mrs. William Sproesser were hosts to the celebrities.


                          Webmasters Note:  Watertown Cornet Band assumed to be the same as the Watertown Philharmonic Cornet Band.



History Society Discusses Plans for Centennial


Plans for Watertown’s centennial were discussed last evening at a meeting of the directors of the Watertown Historical Society held at the library. 


Historical exhibits in windows of downtown business places are contemplated by the organization.  An art exhibit also is being considered.  Other projects which would adequately depict the early history of Watertown also were discussed.  Harry Smith, Chairman of the centennial, was present at the meeting, attending at the invitation of the directors.


The directors last night decided to make a determined effort to have the Schurz monument, which is to be purchased by the Federation of German Societies in Wisconsin, erected in Watertown.  The society [Federation of German Societies in Wisconsin] has asked the state for permission to erect the monument on either the state capitol grounds or the University of Wisconsin campus.




Hans D. Gaebler was named president of the Watertown Historical Society by the board of directors of the organization following the annual meeting of the society last night.  Both meetings were held at the Octagon House of Will Thomas, retiring president who did not desire re-election.


Other officers are: Miss Ella Wilder, first vice president; Dr. O. E. Meyer, second vice president; John D. Clifford, third vice president; Miss Gladys Mollart, secretary, Miss Claire Herrmann, treasurer, and Will Thomas, custodian.


The above officers, together with Miss Jennie Lord and J. E. McAdams, constitute the board of directors.  Directors re-elected last night were Miss Herrmann and Miss Wilder.  Dr. Meyer succeeded Attorney E. F. Wieman, who declined re-election.


The board of directors extended Mr. Thomas a vote of thanks for the services he rendered the organization as president during the past year.





The Octagon House, one of the outstanding historic landmarks of the city, will be the scene of the Rotary club’s next noon day luncheon meeting on Tuesday.  The club will meet at the Octagon House instead of the Elks [club], where weekly meetings were usually held.


Mayor R. W. Lueck and others will be guests of the club, as well as Will Thomas, past president of the Watertown Historical Society, who lives in the house.


The Rotary club, through its president, G. H. Lehrkind, has taken a particular interest in the Octagon House and hopes to some day see it preserved as a historical landmark of the city. 


The home has attracted wide attention in the state and in other states.  Persons from all over the nation have gone out of their way to visit the “home with eight sides,” and all who have seen it were greatly impressed. The visitors’ book which Mr. Thomas keeps contains thousands of names from all parts of the United States.


It is reported that the owner of the home will turn it over, free of charge, to any responsible organization that will agree to keep it up and preserve it as a landmark and a place of historic interest.



Much sentiment favoring the acquisition of the historic Octagon House was expressed at the meeting of the Rotary club which was held on the lawn of the home on Monday afternoon.  The movement to have the home kept up as a historic landmark has been gaining momentum for many months.  Recently the Rotary has taken a great interest in the movement and is now lending its influence to the project.


A number of officials were guests of the club at the luncheon meeting.  All members of the park board were present, as well as Mayor R. W. Lueck.


It was reported at the meeting by G. H. Lehrkind, president of the club, that the house, together with the spacious lawn, will be turned over to any responsible group that can assure upkeep of the property.


All those who addressed the gathering favored the acquisition of the property by the city, with the park board or a commission taking charge of it.  Speakers also pointed out that the upkeep would not involve a great deal of money.  The possibility that the property could be self-supporting also was mentioned by several of the speakers who pointed to similar historic places in other communities that were self-supporting.


Cost Small


With only a small cost involved to keep up the property, Mayor Lueck expressed his belief that the present city administration would favor the acquisition of the home.  Members of the park board indicated that the historic site would be a welcome addition to the city’s park system and stated that every effort would be made to keep up the grounds in the event the city acquired the property and turned it over to the park board.


The Octagon House was built by the late John Richards, who came to Watertown in 1836, a few months after Timothy Johnson, the first settler, came here, Will Thomas, who lives in the home, told those present.  He said the home was built by Mr. Richards in 1854 and despite the fact that it is 82 years old the home stills stands perfectly level.  Mr. Thomas expressed a hope that the house would be acquired by the city, or some responsible organization, and kept up as a memorial to the late John Richards and preserved as one of the foremost landmarks of the city.


Many of those at the meeting saw the house for the first time yesterday.  All were very much enthused and stated that they never had realized that Watertown had a home of such historical significance as the Octagon House.


The home has proved extremely popular with outside visitors.  The register at the home contains the names of several thousand persons from nearly every state in the union.  A home with eight sides is a rare sight, visitors have told Mr. Thomas, and all who have seen it have informed him that they did not regret the fact that they made it a point to visit the home while passing through the city.




Must Restore Home to Original State and Guarantee Upkeep


The historic Octagon House, located on Richards hill, has been offered to the city without cost by Harvey Richards, Chicago, the owner, it was announced today.


The offer, however, calls for the restoration of the home in its original form, including the porches which encircled the house, and a guarantee of its perpetual upkeep.


Mr. Richards’ proposition will be presented to the representatives of local organizations who will meet at the Octagon House at 7:30 o’clock on Friday evening.  The Watertown Historical Society, which has been sponsoring the movement to keep up the home, has invited representatives of over 50 local organizations to attend the meeting.


The Octagon House, which stands on the crest of Richard’s hill, is one of the city’s and State’s oldest landmarks.  The home was built by the late Hon. John Richards, one of the pioneer settlers of this community.  It was built in 1852 – 85 years ago.  The eight-sided house contains 57 rooms, built around a spiral stairway in the center that is lighted at the very top by the glass enclosed cupola.  All the brick used in the structure was hauled here by horse and ox team from Milwaukee.


When building the home Mr. Richards sought the latest in heating and other facilities.  He installed a furnace in the basement capable of heating the entire three floors.  Although no longer in use, the crude heating plant is still intact.  It was a wood burner variety that could take a log seven feet long.


The present owner of the home is a grandson of the late Hon. Richards.


The home is now occupied by Will Thomas, another grandson.



Interest in preserving the Octagon House, one of the landmarks of the city and one of the most distinguished of the older homes in Wisconsin, is growing by leaps and bounds since it has become known that the owner of the home, Harvey Richards of Chicago, has offered to give it to the city.


Representatives of all clubs and organizations in the city are invited to attend a meeting which is to be held at the Octagon House on Friday evening at 7:30 o’clock.  At the meeting, the Watertown Historical Society, which is sponsoring the movement for the preservation of the home, will present the offer of Mr. Richards.  The society hopes for a large attendance in order that the question of acquiring and maintaining the home might be thoroughly discussed.  The only provisions to Mr. Richard’s offer is that the home be kept up and restored to its original state.


Watertown’s Octagon House is one of the very few homes of its kind in the United States.  When the late Hon. John Richards set about to build a home for himself and family 85 years ago – 15 years after the city was founded – his ambition was to construct a home that would be truly different.  He determined upon an eight-sided house.  He built it so well that today – more than three quarters of a century later – it has not “settled” even a fraction of an inch.


Few Watertown persons realize what an attraction the old home has been to residents of other states.  A register at the home carries the names of several thousand persons, men, woman and children from practically every state in the union.  They had heard about the Octagon House at Watertown and determined to drive through here in order to see the famous eight-sided home.


The large number of persons in the city now interested in seeing the home, located on the crest of Richard’s hill, preserved and hope to see the city accept the offer of Mr. Richards and possibly add the home and the beautiful grounds to the city’s park system.



Nearly 100 Persons, All Representing Clubs, Meet Last Night


More than 100 persons, representing well over half of all the organizations of the city, went on record last night as unanimously recommending the acquisition of the Octagon House on Richard’s hill.


The house has been offered to the city by Harvey Richards, Chicago, grandson of the late Hon. John Richards, builder of the home.


Last night’s meeting was held at the Octagon House.  Three of the rooms on the first floor were filled with persons, representing organizations in the city who came to hear the details of Mr. Richards’ offer and other information concerning the historic home.  The meeting was called by the Watertown Historical society, which for several years has been sponsoring the movement to have the home acquired locally and maintained as one of Watertown’s prized historic sites.  Hans D. Gaebler, president, presided.


Offer Told


The offer of Harvey Richards was told to the club representatives by G. H. Lehrkind, president of the Rotary club, who has contacted Mr. Richards on several occasions in regard to the home.  Mr. Lehrkind said that Mr. Richards offers the home to the city without cost, with the stipulations that it be restored to its original state, which means that the porches encircling the house must be replaced, and the home placed in a good state of repair.  Land on each side of the house and on the east, all the way to Concord Avenue, would go with the house.


Contractors, Mr. Lehrkind said, have estimated that $3500 would cover the cost of restoring the house.  If the home would be acquired, he said it would be necessary to have a custodian at the home. 


At least part of this cost could be offset by a small charge to tourists who desire to go through the home.  He named other cities, notable Prairie du Chien, which charge a small fee to tourists who desire to go through homes of historic interest and said that in one recent year fees charged to visit a home of historic interest at Prairie du Chien totaled $1800.


In the near future, it was pointed out at the meeting, an ordinance will be presented to the city council, calling for the acceptance of the home by the city and which will set forth the method of handling the property.  Many ordinances governing the subject have been received from other cities.  The one best suited for the local situation is the ordinance at Prairie du Chien.  A committee of four, consisting of Mayor R. W. Lueck, City Attorney Harold Hartwig, Attorney Wallace Thauer and George Fischer, has been selected to prepare the ordinance which will be presented to the council in the near future.


Lueck Favors Plan


Mayor Lueck, in a brief address at last night’s gathering, declared that he favored the acquisition of the home.  “It is not often that you have an opportunity to acquire a piece of property like this without cost,” the mayor said.


The representatives of the many organizations present were much enthused over the offer of Mr. Richards.  Many had not seen the inside of the home until last night and were surprised to find a home as unique and distinguished as the Octagon House existed in Watertown.


04 26          ROOMS DECORATED

Beautiful bouquets of flowers, donated by Benke Bros., decorated several rooms of the Octagon House on Friday night when representatives in the city met at the home.  The representatives unanimously went on record as favoring the offer of Harvey Richards, Chicago, to give the historic home to the city on the condition that it is restored to its original state and placed in a state of good repair.





Voice of the People

Editor, Daily Times  –


Relative to the city of Watertown accepting the Octagon House and using it for museum purposes, I want to make the following pertinent comments and believe a majority of the taxpayers of the city will agree with me.


It will be an everlasting yearly expense to the taxpayer, it will need a lot of repair work, new porches, heating, plumbing, wiring, landscaping, etc., that by the time it is renovated it will not be the same building but only the brick shell of the present building will remain.


To most people it is nothing but a bunch of worn out lumber and brick.  Further, there is nothing unusual about a building just because it is eight cornered, they can be built sixteen cornered or any size or shape desired.  If this building were an architectural gem there might be some cause to preserve it, but it is merely a freak design and certainly is not worth the price it will cost the taxpayers for its upkeep and preservation for years to come.


I for one am decidedly opposed to the city acquiring this property and ask that you taxpayers who are also opposed contact your alderman and inform him of your stand.


Why not let the citizens of Watertown vote on this proposition at the next election?


Albert W. Maas, Jr.





(Editor’s Note: The following letter, written by Carl Block, general contractor, is addressed to the Watertown Historical Society.  The letter contains Mr. Block’s opinion of the Octagon House, which has been offered to the city by Harvey Richards, the owner.  Mr. Block’s opinion was sought by the society, which for a long time has sponsored the movement to have the house maintained as one of the outstanding historical landmarks of Watertown.)


I was glad to visit the Richards house as you asked, and look it over, to note what its real condition is and what might be needed in repairs to make it usable for many years. •


It is in splendid condition, considering it is nearly 100 years old.  In fact, it is in better condition to live in than many houses built in Watertown 35 and 50 years ago, and it will outlast many of the most substantial homes in town, and with reasonable care and some expenditures, will last many more years.


This house is built to last — heavy brick walls — also the main partitions are brick.  The timbers are heavy oak, hand hewn, and such things as floors and stair treads bear weight without creaking.  Doors and windows do not stick— it shows that the foundation and walls are sound and few cracks appear.


On the top floor, known as the third floor, the plaster has fallen down years ago from roof leakage at the time when the old composition roof was on.  The old roof has been replaced with a substantial tin roof, painted, that in the near future should have some mending and an additional coat of paint.


All of the rooms are in a remarkably good condition, free from cracks and have a good appearance.  The woodwork on the cupola will need some repairing and there are several outside blinds that need repairs.


You have, of course, noted that paint should at some future time be applied, especially after the wood parts mentioned are repaired, as it will help much to preserve the building.


The chimneys need pointing up.


Taking it altogether, I was much astonished to find this property so much worthwhile, especially when I learned what good use was to be made of it.


On your question as to what it would cost to reproduce such a house at this time, built in the substantial manner that this is, reproducing the woodwork, chests, drawers, etc., it would be my opinion that $35,000 to $40,000 might cover it.


Carl Block,

General Contractor.



     Milwaukee Journal article of 06 27 1937


Watertown, Wis.—Watertown civic and cultural organizations have rallied nearly 100% behind a plan whereby the city can acquire the Octagon House, famous landmark which stands on the crest of Richards hill and overlooks Rock river.


Harvey Richards, Chicago, grandson of John Richards, the original owner, has offered the eight-sided, 57-room house to the city under provision that the building be restored and maintained as a historical landmark. The gift would include the many heirlooms which have been kept intact throughout 50 years.


An ordinance accepting the gift is expected to come before the city council Tuesday.  It provides that the city be given a reasonable length of time in which to restore the house and that if no action is taken the home shall revert to Richards.


Porches Biggest Item


Chief item of cost in the restoration would be rebuilding the porches which surround the building on both the first and second stories.  The city’s cost of fulfilling the contract has been estimated at $3,500.


Because of the cost opposition has arisen, but proponents of the project believe that the cost will be more than justified by giving Watertown a historic attraction which should bring hundreds of visitors here.  Maintenance would be possible through fees charged for inspection.


G. H. Lehrkind, Rotary club president and prominent in civic affairs, expressed the viewpoint of the organizations favoring the ordinance.


“The societies foresee a great historical route through Wisconsin.  By acquisition of the Octagon House we visualize Watertown as a link in this chain which would include all cities with objects of historical interest.  In addition, the house would fill a long-felt need as a meeting place for cultural clubs.”


A Carl Schurz Room


Should the city acquire the property is is expected that one room would be set aside as a “Carl Schurz room” in honor of the German-American statesman who once lived here.


Another room would represent the first kindergarten in the United States, which was established here by Mrs. Carl Schurz.  In part of the basement would be displayed crude farm implements of early Wisconsin days.


The 57 rooms of the octagon house are built around a spiral stairway which is lighted at the top by a glass-enclosed cupola . A furnace, capable of heating the entire three floors, is intact.  A marvel of its day, the wood-burning plant is capable of -taking logs seven feet long.


John Richards, who built the home in 1852, was Watertown’s first lawyer and one of its early mayors.



The following article on the Octagon House, one of Watertown’s outstanding historical landmarks, is presented by a native resident of the community.


The Watertown Historical Society is to be commended for its sole purpose.  The assembly and preservation of everything available, pertaining to a history of the community, continuing from the pioneer days.


An evidence of successful effort was in the exhibition of historical relics, displayed during last year’s Centennial.  Some anxiety is not the concern of the society, on the absence of proper housing for the collection which daily grows in volume and value.


The Richards’ estate tenders a proposal to our city in the gift of the Octagon House.  Here, if accepted, is solved the problem of housing.  A most timely proposal, the building ideal for the purpose since it is of the pioneer era and the location of nature’s most picturesque settings.


The writer lived for many years a short distance from this venerable home.  It now seems as if its tower was the first to be gilded with the rays of the awakening sun and the last to toy with its sunbeams as it disappeared in the splendor of its setting.


As a boy we roamed the grove at will, our fishing expeditions to the Rough and Ready dam were through the Richards’ property, our coasting was upon the eastern slope of the hill.  Never in all the years, did we encounter a “No Trespassing” sign.  We assumed a most kindly people inhabited the big house.  So we have a sentimental reason for the preservation of the home, let us confess, but communities do not acquire property in recognition of one man’s sentiment.  A consensus, however, is often a factor.


A careful review of the Richards’ proposal, would seem to warrant the acceptance of the offer as a lasting monument to the pioneers who founded this community.  One man or one family did not erect this building.  Its history, design and furnishings depict the industry, courage, and handicraft and perseverance of sturdy men and women who founded a city in a wilderness.  In testimony of our reverence for the memory of the pioneers, let us in unified action further the movement of the Historical Society to preserve the Octagon House for all time.





(The Octagon House, historic landmark on Richard’s hill, is discussed in another article which follows.  A previous article appeared several days ago.)


The present era, has at times, the color of lack of appreciation, in that which is old.  The slogan seems to be “off with the old and on with the new.”


The idea will probably revert to teachings as ancient as time itself when age will again come in for reverence.  Throughout our state, we find communities making sacrifices to obtain and maintain historical buildings.  In some instances, the motive is alone (only) one of appreciation to an older day and a people now gone to eternity.  In others the asset value is in the ascendancy.


Some of our citizens seem to be disturbed on the Richards’ proposal, in that the city will acquire a very old building and in consequence, the maintenance cost become a burden.


We fail to entertain this view.  The proposal is an outright gift, with some provision for restoring of exterior balconies and upkeep of the building.  There is no request for immediate construction, only the promise the work to be done when convenient and the burden, if any, allocated to prosperous days.


Perish the thought, that the building is to be modernized, equipped with terrazzo and tile, electrified, humidified and its originality generally lost in transformations.  Such a program would border on criminal intent.  Modern palatial homes are all around us.  The Octagon House is the product of another day and therein lies its charm.


No changes are to be made in the structural body or interior furnishings and equipment.  These must remain intact to reflect the customs and civilization of a day long in the past.


The city needs this one remaining structure of the pioneer age.  We are not asked to perpetuate the memory of John Richards, although being the builder and owner his name will be forever linked with the home.  Our thought is that in the preservation we are in a great measure recognizing the virtues of our forefathers and will diligently strive to save every material memento of their lives to be exhibited and safeguarded in the Octagon House.





(In the following article more facts on the Octagon House, which has been offered to the city without cost, is presented):


In matters of public interest there is always present, the affirmative and negative position in the movement.  The emphasized feature is the cost burden.  It is well that we have the given right for expression of thought, for life would be dull indeed were that right denied us.


Some concern seems to be exercised on the burden of cost in the city’s acceptance of the Octagon House.  We think some of the estimated sums in expenditures are exaggerated and the maintenance of building and ground will entail no great hardship upon the people of our city.


The acquisition of the property will be worth all it will cost, the very site of the building is one of the best in our corporate limits.  Anyone who has occasion to loiter a few hours on the crest of the hill adjacent to the home, comes away intensified with the beauty and grandeur of the view as it unfolds across the valley of the Rock to the eastern hills and horizon.


Today we learned of a most unreasonable thought and we think a very un-neighborly gesture, to the effect, that the acquiring of the property by the city would tend to increase the value of lots unsold and homes contiguous to the site.  What serpent of envy and jealously prompts this thought. Are we not all neighbors and friends one to another?  Suppose the thought comes true, what of it, we will glory in the good fortune of our neighbor, not condemn the movement because there are issues from it some good to another.


The city does not and cannot acquire property for the purpose of enhancing the value of resident’s property as against another, but if in the course of public policy an indirect value accrues to one or many, it is inconsistent with good citizenship to howl in jealous rage because luck fell beyond our individual ownership.


The acceptance of the proposal will gain a valuable asset for the community, we will all share the benefits, we will have a home for our historical relics, we will have a monument to the courage, perseverance, industry and resourcefulness of our pioneer people to the end that the memory of their life’s’ work may be perpetuated.  This is the very least we can do in appreciation for their sacrifices.  May we hope the enthusiasm in favor of the proposal becomes unanimous.





Possibility that the offer of Harvey Richards, owner of the Octagon house on Richards hill here, to turn it over to the city will be formally presented to the city council at its next meeting was seen today, when it was reported that preliminary details have been worked out.  The deed to the property has been filed in the event the council decides to accept the offer.  An ordinance covering the proposed transaction is ready and will probably be introduced at the council meeting next Tuesday night.


No formal action, however, is expected at that meeting, since the proposal, as a matter of routine, will be referred to the council as a whole committee.  In that event the vote on the acceptance or rejection may be expected on August 17, unless it is longer delayed for some unforeseen reason.


The original offer to turn the house over to the city was made public some months ago and has been the subject of considerable discussion.  It has been urged, by those who support the plan, to accept the building, to maintain it as a museum of headquarters for the Watertown Historical Society.  In the meantime, both acceptance and rejection of the offer has been urged by various individuals and groups.





A plan under which the Octagon House on Richard’s hill will be governed in the event the city council decides to accept the offer made on behalf of the Richards family by Harvey Richards of Chicago to turn the property over to the municipality for a museum and headquarters for the Watertown Historical Society was outlined last night at the city council meeting and at the same time it was planned today to hold a public meeting at the city hall, third floor, next Wednesday night to conduct a hearing at which any person may speak and give his opinions on the offer.


The meeting will be held under the direction of the council and is for the purpose of giving everyone in the city who wants to be heard to appear and express his views and sentiments.  The session will begin at 7:30 o’clock.


The council has already received numerous communications in the past few weeks when various local organizations which have gone on record favoring the acceptance of the offer.  At the same time several blasts against such a proposal have also been heard in the community, chiefly by aldermen in their wards.  Last night the Catholic Women’s club filed a communication urging the acceptance of the offer.


Board Would Govern


Under the plan as outlined last night, a board of five persons would govern and control the property if the city takes it over.  This board would consist of one alderman, one member of the Watertown Historical Society, one park board member, one member of the Richards family and one citizen at large.


Harvey Richards would represent the family during his lifetime, or as long as he desired to be a member of the board.  The historical society member and the citizen at large would serve for three years each, the park commissioner member two years and the council member one year.  As the various terms expire new members would be selected or the old ones would be renamed for new terms.


The board would be empowered to adopt bylaws and make rules for the use of the property.  It would turn over all money to the city which would be collected as fees and would maintain the grounds.  It would be empowered to draw up and operate on a budget each year.


Set One Room Aside


The place would be used as a museum where articles and objects pertaining to Watertown would be kept.  One room in the house would be set aside for the exclusive use of displaying articles belonging to the Richards’ family.


The place would also have to be put in repair at a cost not to exceed $3,000 and it is further provided that $1,000 of this be spent each year for three years.  The board would be permitted to fix a fee for visitors who sought to inspect the place.  No tavern would be permitted within 500 feet of the place at any time in the future.  There are now no taverns in the region.  No signs or advertising displays would be permitted on the premises, but the Richards family would be permitted to erect a bronze plate on the property.  In the event the city would cease operating and maintaining the place it would revert back to the Richards family.


Those are the highlights of the plan as outlined to the council in an ordinance drawn up by City Attorney Harold W. Hartwig and approved by members of the family.  The proposal has been referred to the entire council membership as a committee and a vote is scheduled August 17, following next week’s public meeting to determine further city-wide sentiment.




A Waterloo woman, who has seen the octagon house many times, presents her impressions of the historic home in the following letter to the daily times:



Watertown Daily Times.


Dear Sir:


I have been reading with great interest varying articles concerning the Octagon House in Watertown.  A front page article in the Milwaukee Sentinel gives the information that Watertown is divided on acceptance as a gift of the 57 room house.  Would the people of Watertown be interested on knowing what an outsider thinks of this project?


It is without doubt the most remarkable home in this section of the state!  Beautifully situated, of study construction, and a great asset to the city historically, it will grow in value as time goes on.


When we entertain guests (and they come from distances) one day of entertainment is always set aside for a visit to the Octagon House in Watertown.  Several of our guests have made repeat visits.  The kindly courtesy of the now deceased Mrs. Thomas and her son Will Thomas will always remain a pleasant memory.


Within the last two years we have heard rumors to the effect that the home would be turned over to the city and that a small charge would be made to go through the home to help defray the expense of the upkeep.  We came prepared and would have been glad to pay for the privilege of going through the home, but found that it had not yet been turned over.


Our American people travel to foreign lands to see points of historical interest.  Europeans work and spend to keep that interest alive!  If young Americans are ever to become interested in their own, is it not time that we began preserving our places of historical interest?


I believe that it will pay Watertown not only be enriching it historically – but in actual dollars and cents, to keep the Octagon House.


Sincerely yours,


Mrs. G. E. S.




No Objections Are Voiced at Open Hearing

Council Will Vote on Issue Next Tuesday; 75 Are Present


Acceptance of the offer of Harvey Richards, Chicago, to turn over to the city the Richards’ property – the Octagon House on Richards’ hill on condition that the city maintain it as a museum or other similar civic use be put to it – was urged last night at a public mass meeting by a number of speakers.  No voice of objection to the plan was raised at the meeting, all persons who took the floor urged that the offer be accepted by the city council which is to vote on the issue at its meeting next Tuesday night.


The meeting last night was attended by about 75 persons and if there were any in the hall who were opposed to the plan they maintained silence, because three times Mayor R. W. Lueck, who presided in the absence of Alderman William Bast, president of the council, called upon the audience to express their views after a number of persons had taken the floor to urge adoption of the plan.  The mayor said the meeting had been called by the council as a committee to gauge public sentiment and that if anyone, regardless of his views on the matter, wished to speak that was the place to do so.  The council sat as a committee.  When the president did not appear the mayor was elected to preside.  One other alderman, Fred W. Pfeiffer, also was absent from the session.  Aldermen took no part in the discussion.


Historic Value Stressed


All of the speakers stressed the historic value of the 57-room, eight-sided house which was erected in 1852 by John Richards, pioneer and one-time mayor of Watertown and grandfather of Mr. Richards who is making the offer.


G. H. Lehrkind, who opened the meeting’s discussion to get the question before the committee, told the aldermen that in his estimation Mr. Richards is extremely liberal in his terms regarding the future use of the property, since he has set no limit upon the civic uses to which it may be put.


“I think,” said Mr. Lehrkind, “that when it comes to the terms of the transfer, Mr. Richards has shown a splendid spirit.  The building can be made useful, even if some of us may not think so now.  Look at the armory building.  Some 12 years ago it stood condemned and it was viewed as offering no further use.  Today it is being utilized by hundreds of our citizens.  I venture to say that the same thing will result with the Octagon House, if it is accepted, and as time goes on and we come to look upon it as a building that can and should be used by the community.”


Mr. Lehrkind pointed out that Watertown has no building that is now devoted to preserving things of historic interest and said the Octagon House offered unlimited possibilities.  At one point in question, he pointed out that a room could be set aside in the place as a Carl Schurz memorial where things relating to the great German-American patriot could be preserved.  He said that many other similar uses could be worked out once the building is taken over.


Former Mayor Speaks


J. E. McAdams, former mayor here, also spoke at the meeting.  He stressed the need for taking over the property at this time if the city does not wish to see such an opportunity slip by.


“I submit to you,” he said, “the issues as embodying a building which stands as the last tangible evidence of a residence of a pioneer era here.  In that building is incorporated much of a pioneer civilization here.  We can make of it a monument to our forefathers who built this city . As time goes on it will become more and more valuable historically.  If we let this offer pass by we lose forever the most splendid opportunity we have to preserve for future generations the one pioneer link we still have in this city.  Other old properties which were historic have passed into private hands.  Many are no more.  Should we permit this to happen in this instance?”


Mr. McAdams said that the aldermen, as representatives of their wards, have a double duty.  They must watch the expenditure of the taxpayer’s money and consider what is best for the greatest number of people.  He said he feels the building, if it is acquired, will become invaluable in years to come and pointed out that no undertaking is ever supported by all of the people.  He told of some of the experiences he had when he served as an alderman from the old Seventh ward.  He said that most of the many things which were then opposed and which were adopted in spite of opposition have become accepted things today and that the citizens would not want to do without them now.  He said that the Octagon House would follow the same course in the years to come if the city takes it over.


Ordinance is Ready


At the suggestion of Attorney Wallace Thauer, who helped draw up the terms of the offer made by Mr. Richards, the ordinance covering the deal was read at the meeting.  It had been previously read to the council at its last regular meeting and then copies of it were distributed to aldermen.  Mr. Thauer also spoke briefly on the plan last night as did Miss Ella Wilder, Miss Olive Parks, H. D. Gaebler, president of the Watertown Historical Society, and Mrs. William E. Kelly.  Mrs. Kelly said she represented the member of Violet Temple No. 18, Pythian Sisters, who had unanimously gone on record favoring the plan.  Miss Parks was there in behalf of the Watertown Curtain Club.  Miss Wilder spoke from the viewpoint of a member of the historical society and other women’s groups in the city and a teacher.  She said she believes the house will become a shrine that will attract many tourists and stand as a monument that is historically associated with Watertown.


Meeting Out Early


Earlier in the meeting a representative of the Prairie du Chien historical group appeared at the invitation of Mr. Gaebler and told how that city has made a shrine for the famous Villa Louis, the old Dousman house.  He outlined its management and gave figures to show it is increasing in popularity among tourists and made a report on the income derived from it.  While the plan is in many ways different from that suggested here, he told the meeting that he saw no reason why the Octagon House cannot be built up into a tourist attraction and bring in considerable revenue.


Dr. Oscar E. Meyer also spoke briefly and told how many of the accepted things of today had brought about vigorous objection by people in the past.  He cited the Main Street paving plan and other developments which were looked upon as unnecessary expenditures in their day.  He said that many people today hold similar viewpoints regarding the Octagon House.


The meeting adjourned after additional opportunity had been given for speakers to express their views and after a little more than an hour had been devoted to the expression of sentiment.  The hearing was held in the council chamber, the size of the assemblage making it unnecessary to take over the larger hall on the third floor as planned.




Ballot Taken After Move to Delay Is Lost

Decision Comes at End of Council Session; Few Backers Present


By a vote of 11 to 3, the city council last night rejected the offer of the Richards family to turn over the Octagon House to the city for museum and historical purposes.  The ballot came almost at the end of the meeting and was somewhat of a surprise in view of the fact that it had been the intention of some of the aldermen to have the matter laid over until a later date.  As a result only a handful of people were in the council chamber by the time the council got around to deciding the issue.


Among those who were present was H. D. Gaebler, president of the Watertown Historical Society, one of the organizations which has advocated acceptance of the building.


The roll call vote showed that the three aldermen who supported the measure were John Bublitz of the Twelfth ward in whose precinct the house is located; S. C. Northrop, Third ward; and Harry A. Beurhaus, Eighth ward, sponsor of the ordinance covering the terms of the agreement.


Mr. Beurhaus made a last minute statement to the council after he had vainly tried to put off the vote to enable Harvey Richards of Chicago, the donor, to appear before the council in an effort to iron out some of the questions that have been raised over the property, and the terms of the transfer.  The council, however, rejected the plan to delay the ballot.


New Offer is Hinted


After the vote was taken and just before the council adjourned, Mr. Beurhaus took the floor and his statement hinted that Mr. Richards may have a new offer to turn the property over to the city without any strings attached such as were embodied in the ordinance.  This, however, is a mere conjecture.  Mr. Beurhaus asked whether, if Mr. Richards came here at a later date and made a new offer, the council would hear him and consider any other plan.  He was assured the council would give him a hearing.


Mr. Gaebler also appeared before the vote was taken but said he had little to say.  He pointed out that the Watertown Historical Society has been interested in preserving the home but pointed out that the organization is small and cannot swing the deal itself.  He said he felt that the city ought to consider the offer seriously, because in years to come the property would be looked upon as more and more historic importance.  Mr. Beurhaus, too, told the council that the day will come when the city will not regret not having taken over the house.


Issue is Raised


The council meeting was near an end.  The business of ordinances had been passed over without a report on the Octagon House and it appeared that the matter would be laid over as planned.  Then the issue was raised by Alderman Arthur W. Leitzke of the Sixth ward who arose for a point of information.  He said he wondered what had become of a report on the house and asked that it be considered.  The effort to lay it over was lost and a report was prepared in which the council failed to reach a definite agreement on acceptance or rejection, thereby throwing the question open to the entire council for solution.


The vote was taken without debate.  The only two speakers were Mr. Neurhaus and Mr. Gaebler and both made their remarks brief.  There was no rebuttal.  Alderman William Asmus of the Eleventh ward asked for the question and roll call was taken. 


The vote of 11 to 3 was one less than had been conceded in official circles the past week.  That the measure would be close had been indicated for some time.


09 29          WILLY THOMAS (1863-1937)



Funeral services for William R. Thomas, 74, who died at St. Mary’s hospital yesterday afternoon, will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Octagon House which was his home.  Mr. Thomas was the grandson of John Richards, builder of the famed 57-room home on Richards hill and resided there most of his life.


Click to enlarge


Mr. Thomas had been in ill health for some time and had been a patient at a Madison hospital and later went to the local hospital for treatment.  His illness dates back to an injury he suffered about ten or 12 years ago when he fell down from a tree while cutting away some branches.


He was born in Watertown December 21, 1863, a son of George Thomas and Anna Richards Thomas.  His mother lived until shortly before the city’s centennial celebration in 1936 and was at the time of her death the oldest living native born resident of the city. 


Mr. Thomas was a widower, his wife having been preceded him in death some years ago.


He was the last member of his immediate family and was well known in the community.  He served as supervisor on the Jefferson county board and was a member of the Masons. 


He was also identified with the Watertown Historical Society and served a term as its president.  He was greatly interested in local history and things associated with early Watertown.  In recent years he became widely known among visitors from other cities and states who called at his home to inspect the place.


The body was taken to the Schumtzler funeral home and will lie in state there Friday from 3 to 9 p.m.  On Saturday morning at 10 o’clock it will be taken to the Octagon house for the service in the afternoon. 


The Rev. C. W. Pinkney of the First Congregational church will officiate and the Masons will be in charge of the services at the grave in Oak Hill cemetery.   



Watertown Historical Society Campaign for 500 New Members Launched to Maintain this Community’s Famed Octagon House


Watertown’s famed Octagon House, about which so much has been written and said in recent years, is not going to be destroyed if the Watertown Historical Society can help it.  At the moment a campaign is under way by the organization to add 500 more members to its roll at $1 each, using the money to start a fund to begin maintaining the house which is one of the old landmarks of this area.


The present owner, grandson of the builder, is Harvey Richards of Chicago and he is said to be in sympathy with the idea and willing to do his share toward keeping the property intact. . . .  It is hoped as time goes on that other means will be found to keep the place in proper repair and to open it to the public for inspections, since many people from distant cities have shown considerable interest in the place.


The Octagon House was recently offered to the city by Mr. Richards but the plan was voted down in the city council and now it is up to private sources to save it and this will evidently be done, although the funds to place it in proper repair cannot all be raised at one time.  However, there is every indication that the place will be preserved and that as time goes on it will be repaired and kept in fit shape.


There are many individuals here who feel that the house should be preserved even if the city council could not see its way clear in the matter.  At present the house is unoccupied, since the death of William R. Thomas, another grandson of the builder, John Richards.


Members of the historical society have been assigned their part in getting new members and the officers and others who are backing the plan hope everyone interested in preserving this old landmark will do his or her part toward saving the 57-room house which enshrines the ghosts of a past era and stands as a relic of the past decades.


As the years go on, say members of the society, the old house will increase in value as a historical shrine and that future generations will be glad that somebody took a hand in attempting to save it, even if the present aldermen did not see eye to eye with those who believed in preserving this building.


So, if you are asked to join the society, do your part.  Everyone can help in his or her small way by contributing a dollar to provide the immediate funds necessary to get the preservation plan started.



A special meeting of the Watertown Historical Society has been called for Friday evening at 7:30 o’clock at the public library when a report is to be made by captains in charge of the membership campaign of the organization.  All members are asked to attend.


The meeting, officers said, is also open to all persons who have recently joined the club to help further the plans for maintaining the Octagon House.  A campaign to add 500 new members at one dollar each is now under sway.  The campaign has been on for little more than a week and those who have bought memberships since the campaign opened are asked to attend the meeting to hear the plans which are being formulated for opening the home and for placing it in repair to meet immediate needs.


Captains who have not yet disposed of all their memberships are asked to do so as soon as possible, but even if they have not disposed of all their cards by Friday night they are asked to be ready to report on the progress up to that time.


Anyone who is interested in the plans for the Octagon House or who has any suggestions to offer is welcome to attend the meetings.



The membership of the Watertown Historical Society is increasing daily, it was announced today by members of the organization.


Money derived from new memberships will make it possible to open the Octagon House as a museum and permit it to be open to the public as a place of historical interest.


The membership fee is one dollar a year.  The club hopes to obtain at least 750 new members.  Persons desiring to join are urged to contact any members of the society, or H. D. Gaebler, president, or Miss Gladys Mollart, secretary.


According to statistics compiled by the federal government, there are only seven other eight-sided houses in the United States, and the Watertown home is credited with being the finest of the eight.  The historical society, realizing the historical value of the home, is anxious to see it preserved and not destroyed.  If sufficient memberships are sold to make it possible it preserves the home, a custodian will be named to have charge of the house during the summer months.


The octagon home has been seen by hundreds of tourists from all parts of the United States.  All who have seen it, proclaim it to be a most interesting home- a home far more interested than a good many other houses that are being preserved for posterity all over the United States.  Many of those who have seen the home and who recently have heard of the charts to preserve it, feel that it would be a colossal mistake to permit the home to be destroyed.


Since the city has failed to accept the plan which Harvey Richards, owner, and a grandson of the builder, the late Hon. John Richards, presented, the Watertown Historical Society is endeavoring to raise sufficient funds to keep the home open, with the hope that some way can be found later on to make the necessary repairs.




Historical Society Takes Over Place for 1938; Exhibits Planned


The Watertown Historical Society has taken over use of the Octagon House for the balance of 1938, under terms of an agreement reached with its owner, Harvey Richards, Chicago, and will open it for a five month period this summer as an historical exhibit.  Details of the plan were worked out at a meeting of officers and the board of directors at a meeting this week.


It is planned to open the building the latter part of May, in time for Memorial Day and maintain daily visiting periods during the summer months.


Mrs. George C. Lewis, who was recently named custodian of the place, was due to confer in Chicago today with Mr. Richards.  G. H. Lehrkind, president of the society, has announced the appointment of Miss Jane Lord and Mrs. Lydia Wiggenhorn as assistant custodian.


A special committee, consisting of Mrs. Eli E. Fischer, chairman, and Alderman S. C. Northrop, Miss Ella Wilder, and Dr. O. E. Meyer, has been named to plan for the opening of the house and arrange for a series of activities to promote a plan which will have for its goal the permanent establishment of a museum at the house.


Plans are under way to arrange a number of historical exhibits at the home and it is likely that historical articles and objects will be borrowed to create the proper settings.


The city council last year voted down an offer from Mr. Richards to turn the property over as a historical museum, but now the historical group has started a plan which may eventually lead to acquisition of the place.



Acknowledgement and thanks to Kirsten Biefeld for keying in text of most of the articles.












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History of Watertown, Wisconsin