The House of seven gables

The property at 316 South Farmer Street is the former home of “The House of Seven Gables,” which was moved from St. Marie to Princeton in the 1800s.

As my history of early Princeton slowly winds its way through the production process, I have taken the time to chase a couple of “loose ends” that have nagged me for months.

The first was the location of “The House of Seven Gables.”

The first place I remember reading about the house was “The Trail of the Serpent,” written by Robert Gard and Elaine Reetz and published in 1973 by Wisconsin House Ltd.

While discussing the village of St. Marie, Reetz wrote, “The showplace of St. Marie had been a many-gabled house called fittingly (and somewhat unimaginatively) The House of Seven Gables. It took forty yoke of oxen and three teams of horses to draw it to Princeton from St. Marie. Two pieces of timber, two feet by forty feet, were used as runners. Teachers closed the school that day.”

I did not find any reference to the house in the early Princeton Republics that I read from 1867-1937, but I might have missed it; plus, there are several months of papers missing from the files available on microfilm.

The first newspaper reference I found to The House of Seven Gables came from the Princeton Times, which began publishing in 1935.

Princeton Times, April 30, 1936: “The Raasch house on Farmer Street, known to many as the ‘House of Seven Gables,’ was originally one of St. Marie’s finest residences, and many years ago was hauled to Princeton on skids in the wintertime. Forty yoke of oxen and seven teams of horses furnished the motive power. Schools were closed in some districts so that the children could view what must have been an interesting spectacle.”

The article narrowed the search to Farmer Street. I originally thought the house might have been relocated to the southeast corner of Water and Farmer streets, or perhaps northeast corner of Harvard and Farmer streets, but Harry Hobart set me straight.

Hobart, founder of the Times and in 1937 the Princeton Times-Republic, understood the importance of local history. During his tenure, the newspaper often related stories of early Princeton, usually in the “Seen and Heard Around Town” column.

One of the Seen and Heard columns in 1940 updated readers on the historic house.

Princeton Times-Republic, May 23, 1940 – “One of Princeton’s old landmarks, ‘The House of Seven Gables,’ on Farmer Street is being razed to make room for a new home to be built by Bob Semro. Originally built at St. Marie, the house was hauled to Princeton by twenty yoke of oxen some seventy years ago. Schools were closed so the children would witness the moving. The house has been vacant in recent years, and when the attic was opened up, hundreds of bats were released.”

A neighbor told the newspaper it was thousands of bats rather than hundreds.

The article provided another clue to the house’s location. We now knew the property was owned by the Raasch family in 1936 and the Bob Semro family in 1940. I knew the family that lived next door to my grandparents, Anton and Julia Novak, who built the home at 322 Farmer Street in 1953, was named Semro, so I decided to start my search there.

I got lucky. Documents in the register of deeds office in Green Lake confirmed the location – lot 6, block N (now 316 South Farmer Street).

The property was part of the 160 acres that Nelson Parsons, who joined Princeton founder Royal Treat here in fall 1848, purchased from the state Board of Public Works in 1849 and became part of the (Henry) Treat and Parsons Addition a few years later.

The lot passed through many hands before Ferdinand Raasch purchased it in November 1922. The Raasch family sold to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Semro in April 1940.

The only image I have found of the original house (see below, large house in middle of block) comes from the 1892 illustrated map of Princeton; it is difficult to read, even enlarged as much as shown here, but the illustration shows the home’s multiple gables.

Semro’s new home somewhat followed the footprint of the front of the house (see below) but dramatically changed the rear.

Having resolved where the home was located, the next question was, who moved it to Princeton?

Again, the deeds helped narrow the search. Lots 3-6 were sold together in multiple transactions, ending in September 1875 when the group was sold by the Dodge County Mutual Insurance Company to Gardner and Mary Green.

Gardner Green owned a lumberyard and multiple stores on Water Street. He was a builder and at one time owned thirteen houses in Princeton. He and his brother, David, in the 1860s moved a building from St. Marie to the bank of the Fox River for their grain elevator, which Gardner moved to the street (617 West Water) and converted into stores in the 1880s. Reetz claimed in “The Trail of the Serpent” that Green moved buildings from St. Marie by barge into the 1880s, though that has not been confirmed.

The Greens held onto Lot 6 until 1897.

St. Marie was practically deserted by 1897, so Green emerges as the person who most likely moved the House of Seven Gables from St. Marie to Princeton, most likely in the 1870s.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on Sept. 1, 2020, after finding another reference to what I believe was “The House of Seven Gables.” It would prove my theory in the preceding paragraph incorrect! Please continue reading …

Although this next article does not use the House of Seven Gables name, It involves a house moved from St. Marie that passes into the hands of Gardner Green in 1887 and is moved to his lot across from the brewery, seemingly the same location as the House of Seven Gables.

Princeton Republic, Nov. 10, 1887 – “The house that has so long been known as the (A.G.) Hopkins house on the corner of Farmer and Main streets, has been sold by Gus. Teske to Gard. Green and at this writing is being moved by Tim Paull up Farmer Street to block N, where it will be fixed up and again made ready for a dwelling. It will stand opposite the brewery. The house was originally built at St, Marie some 36 years ago and was once occupied by Dr. Holly while standing in that ‘Deserted Village.’ It was subsequently moved to Princeton and for years stood on the corner of Farmer and Main streets, as above mentioned. It was finally moved last spring from its foundation to make room for the substantial residence erected by Gus. Teske, and is now moving to a resting place on block N. The old house is still a solid structure and looks as if it was good for half a century yet.”

Records at the register of deeds office reveal that Hopkins purchased lots 6 and 7 in Block 16 of the Rosebrook addition in 1872 from Oliver Rupell for $500 (Deeds, Volume 28, Page 454). Hopkins’ heirs sold the lots to Teske for $650 in 1883 (Deeds, Volume 44, Page 616).

Another clue that The House of Seven Gables could have been relocated first to Farmer and Main is the map of historic Princeton that Laverne Marshall did for the Princeton quasquicentennial booklet in 1973, which indicated a building at the northeast corner of Farmer and Main streets had been moved here from St. Marie.

So, my revised theory is that the House of Seven Gables moved from St. Marie to Farmer and Main in Princeton before being relocated to 316 South Farmer Street, which we can say with certainty was the final resting place of the former St. Marie “showplace,” in 1887.

Following the Greens, the property passed to Emily Viel, then Robert Smith, E.R. Smith, Andrew Schultz, Katie and T.J. Paull, and finally W.W. Whittemore, who sold it to Raasch.

Next: I want to identify the property where young Harvey Whittemore was murdered in 1883.

One comment

  1. Wow! Interesting to see a photo of part of my childhood. Robbery and Augusta Semro were my grandparents. They had one child, Norman, who was my father. I spent many happy days at my grandparents’ home. The upstairs was an apartment for rent. For many years, one of the lady teachers from St. John Lutheran School lived there. And, doors anybody remember punschkas? Yeast raised donuts filled with jelly or my favorite, prune?

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