Feature Story on the Havilah Babcock House
This feature by Duke Behnke appeared in the "Post-Crescent" (Appleton/Fox Cities) on Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Book gives insight to stately Neenah home
A newly published book by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press profiles the Havilah Babcock house as one of the state's 20 most architecturally and historically significant homes.
The Babcock home, 537 E. Wisconsin Ave., is the only property in northeastern Wisconsin to make the cut for "Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes."
Others named in the 320-page book include the Frederick Pabst mansion in Milwaukee, Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot near Waukesha and Frank Lloyd Wright's Wingspread in Wind Point near Racine.
"It's pretty august company that we're in," said Peter Adams, who lives in the Babcock home with his wife, Patricia Mulvey.
Authors M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman and the Wisconsin Historical Society considered 1,500 homes before selecting the 20 that made the book.
Melanie Roth, marketing coordinator for Wisconsin Historical Society Press, said the houses were built between 1854 and 1939 and "are a mix of public museums you may have visited and private homes you've been hoping for an invitation to explore."
Eight of the homes are owner-occupied, but only the Babcock home is occupied by direct descendants of the builder. Adams is the great-grandson of Babcock, who gained his wealth as one of the founders of Kimberly-Clark Corp.
Connolly and Wasserman were unaware of the Babcock home until they began their research for the book. Now, they are among the home's biggest fans.
"It blew us away," Wasserman said. "It is a fantastic house."
The three-story, 5,646-square-foot Queen Anne mansion dates to 1883. It was designed by famed Oshkosh architect William Waters and decorated by Babcock himself.
The first floor has a reception hall, sitting room, parlor, library and dining room and draws its inspiration from the stately homes of England with walls covered in brocade, tapestry, imitation leather and bas- relief neoclassical garlands.
The reception hall features stenciled English oak leaves and stained-glass windows depicting a peacock and a pheasant, giving the area a masculine feel.
"He was a very personable person," Wasserman said of Babcock. "He put a lot of himself into this house."
Four generations of the Babcock-Adams family have lived in the house since Babcock died in 1905, and the beauty and authenticity have been immaculately preserved. The home has original Eastlake furniture in the rooms and clothes from the original occupants neatly folded in drawers.
"The house, while not a public museum, is remarkable as a period piece," the book says. "Guests do not have to use their imaginations to experience how the original Babcock family lived."
The Adams Family Trust currently owns the house. Wasserman and Connolly credit the Adams family for the care they have given the 127-year-old residence.
They note that the hand-painted ceilings throughout the first floor are still luminous, that the woodwork gleams and that the portieres at the doorways are intact.
"It is an incredible testimony to family homes," Connolly said.
"Wisconsin's Own" contains a sidebar about Hearthstone in Appleton, another Queen Anne home designed by Waters and built in 1882 for paper mill investor Henry Rogers.
Hearthstone was the first private residence in the United States to be lighted by hydroelectric power.
The authors categorized the Babcock home and Hearthstone under their "Rags to Riches" section of the book. Others in the section are the Pabst mansion, the Henry A. Salzer house in La Crosse and the Walter and Mabel Fromm house in Hamburg near Wausau.
The book says each of the men's fortunes enabled him to build a home that is a physical biography of his wealth.
"They knew these buildings would become more than family homes: they would tell an important chapter in the story of Wisconsin," the book says.
"Wisconsin's Own" was funded by the Jeffris Family Foundation of Janesville.