Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record

134-136 S MAIN ST

Architecture and History Inventory
134-136 S MAIN ST | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Historic Name:Thomas Driver and Sons Manufacturing Company - mill
Other Name:Olson Auto Supply
Reference Number:26703
Location (Address):134-136 S MAIN ST
Unincorporated Community:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
Year Built:1884
Survey Date:1990
Historic Use:mill
Architectural Style:Astylistic Utilitarian Building
Structural System:
Wall Material:Brick
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished Date:
National/State Register Listing Name: Thomas Driver and Sons Manufacturing Company
National Register Listing Date:7/14/2004 12:00:00 AM
State Register Listing Date:4/16/2004 12:00:00 AM
National Register Multiple Property Name:
Additional Information:A 'site file' exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Historic Preservation.

STILTED SEGMENTAL ARCHED WINDOWS. DENTICULATED CORNICE. Driver came to Racine in 1851 and was employed at Lucas Bradley's woodworking mills, which had been established in the 1840s. In 1856, Driver bought out Bradley's partner and rented Bradley's interest. In 1867, Driver established the business as his own, but fire destroyed the business in 1870. Driver immediately rebuilt and by 1872 owned the largest manufacturing facilities in Racine. The firm was incorporated as T. Driver and Sons Manufacturing Co. in April 1884. Driver was a widely respected leading citizen of Racine.

"Considerable confusion surrounds the origin and history of this building on the northwest corner of Main and Second Streets, which has had many names, suffered three fires and been rebuilt seven times since its foundation in 1867. Next door to it on Second Street is the Thomas Driver and Sons facility, established in 1870, which was originally separate but always matched in style.

The first mill was established by John P. Jones & Co. as the Steam Star Mill, which is marked "closed" in the 1874 Sanborn map. The building was acquired in 1876 by Phillip Adam Herzog and John H. Roberts, when it became known as the Racine Star Mills. After the disastrous seven-block fire of 1882, which took out the Star Mills along with forty-four other buildings, the mill was completely rebuilt as the Star Roller Mills with a new office at 136 Main Street (later to become 112-116 Main Street). The 1882 building is the "commercial Italianate" building we see today. Roberts sold out of the business in 1893 to start a new mill at Fifteenth Street and the Junction in competition with Herzog, who continued running the Racine Star Roller Mills (still also known as the Star Roller Mills, and as the Herzog Mill) until it hit "dull times" and closed in 1895. He seems to have lost it to the bank at that point, and it was acquired by Henry J. Miller and future mayor David Janes. Miller and Janes remodeled and reopened the facility as the Belle City Milling Co. but within three years they shut it down for repairs, and then decided to "close its books." At that point, they discovered that one one their distributing agents had embezzled over $3,000. Everything was sold off and Henry Miller announced his formal separation from the company in Racine Daily Journal, July 25, 1900. A new buyer appeared in W. H. Hopkins of Chicago, and he and Miller both took out mortgages that went unserviced while the taxes on the plant went unpaid, and the lenders foreclosed.

The mill was next bought by H. C. Williams & Sons of Kentucky, who set about bringing the plant and machinery into condition, laid the foundation of a northern extension and built a railroad switch track all within a single year. The mill reopened triumphantly in 1901 only to suffer a disastrous fire two years later with a loss of $45,000 and apparently no insurance. The mill stood vacant again and by 1906 the Driver plant had been extended to join it and businesses began to lease parts of the old mill. Of these, perhaps the most interesting was the Nels R Lindorff Art Glass Works, which remained in the southern half until Lindorff built a new factory further down Main Street.

August J. Scheckler appears to have acquired the building by 1907, leased it to the Wisconsin Cereal Food Company, of which he was Vice President, and announced its new product, "Coffe-O" (which may mean "milkless coffee"), in 1908. Other businesses leasing parts of the building long-term included the William H. Kranz Wholesale Paper Company, which remained in the northern half (now 112-116 Main Street) until the 1950s, and the Annunciator Advertising Company. The Western Publishing Company was using it as a warehouse from the 1920s to the 1950s, followed by the Asdahl and Nelson Company in the 1960s, and the Olson Auto Company in the 1970s.

The present owners, Gorman and Company (Oregon, Wisconsin), who also transformed the Mitchell Wagon Lofts, saw its potential as an apartment complex and started the conversion in 2001. The following year a wall collapsed as the foundations were being strengthened, and another looked unstable. Gorman took it in stride and completed the renovation to give he building new life and produce a very attractive landmark at the head of South Main Street." --Pippin Michelli "Preservation Racine News" Summer 2018, Volume 12
Bibliographic References:Illustrated Atlas of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin, Chicago: H.O. Brown and Co. Pub., 1887. 1887 insurance map. Racine Daily Journal 5/6/1882.
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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