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The Rogers House - Searching for the missing mansion on Third Street South in Wisconsin Rapids

- Draft -

Third Street South in Wisconsin Rapids is the location of a string of mansions that once were the homes of the leading citizens of this city.  Perhaps the most noteworthy is the former Witter House that now serves as the headquarters of the South Wood County Historical Museum.

The former Witter House on the right adjoining former _______ House on the left circa 1912.

The South Wood County Historical Museum as seen at present.

Missing from the mix today is one of the showpieces of the street and the city.   Those who remember it at all vaguely recall it as the American Legion Clubhouse (1949 - 1964). It was in this form that I encountered it as a child in the  late 1950's. (My parents rented it twice, in 1958 and 1959, to serve as the site of the wedding receptions for my two older sisters. )

Driving by the location today we see the Imperial House Apartments. This building was built in 1965 on the site of the destroyed mansion.

The Imperial House Apartments

This complex, while functional, is very different from the mansion that once stood on the site.  It raises the questions: Who built the original house and when did they build it?  What role did they play in the city?  What did it look like?  Who was its architect?  How was it arranged internally? Who else owned it besides the original builders?  When and why was it destroyed?

Finding the answers to these and other question has proven to be a tantilizing quest.

To begin with the location number of the Third Street address changed three times in the twentieth century.  ( In 1918 it was 981, in 1929 it was 940 and since 1962 it has been 570.)   Thus searching for legal documents such as deeds in the courthouse requires knowkledge of the specific time period involved.

Compounding the problem online searches of the name of the city has also changed three times as well. (Grand Rapids and Centrailia to 1900, both as Grand Rapids from 1900 to 1920, and finally both as Wisconsin Rapids from 1920 to the present.)

Never-the-less the location itself is still recognizable on street maps.  The Sanborn maps of the street developed for insurance purposes and roughly outlining the homes for fire access provide a clue to ownership by year.

The Sanborn Map of 1919 shows the outline of the house as built.

Who built the house and when was it built?

The Sanborn maps indicates that R.M. Rogers was the owner of the property in 1919.  (The outline of the house provided coincides with my memory of the house that I encountered in the late 1950's.)

The house was built in 1915 according to an article in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. (An earlier frame house may have stood on the property but was sold to Riverview Hospital where it was moved to provide housing for nursing staff.)

Riverview Hospital circa 1922.  The white frame house on the left of the red brick hospital was purchased from R. M. Rogers and moved to the
Riverview location to provide houding for the nursing staff. Taylor Photo Collection McMillan Library.


Further searching shows that R. M. Rogers stood for Roye Mortimer Rogers.  Rogers was born in Adrian, Michigan on July 16, 1871 and came to Wisconsin Rapids in the fall of 1914 to become associated with E.W. Ellis, 1250 third street south, serving as secretary treasurer and then president of the Stange Ellis Lumber Company before it closed in 1924.  His wife, Millie Stange Rogers, born in 1882,  was a sister of Mrs. Ellis.

The Rogers were married in 1907 and adopted two boys, brothers aged 3 and 5 years old, from the Sparta Orphanage in 1918.   The oldest was Robert M. Rogers (1913-1993) and the younger one was John S. "Jack" Rogers (1916-1936).


Photo of Robert "Bob" Rogers from the Lincoln High School yearbook of 1931.

What role did the Rogers play in the city?

Mr.  Rogers previously owned a lumber company in Michigan and his wife was the daughter of August H. Stange, the founder of world-class Stange Lumber Company in Merrill, Wisconsin.  His brother-in-law was president of the Stange Ellis Lumber Company in Wisconsin Rapids. Stange Lumber moved operations to Oregon in the mid 1920's when the lumber supply in Wisconsin became depleted and is now part of Boise Cascade.  Associated with the first major industry that resided in Central Wisconsin, the Rogers were leading citizens and were extremely well off. They ultimately owned a home in Beverly Hills and maintained a residence in New York City at the same time that had their main home in Wisconsin Rapids.

The Rogers entertained in their home regulary.  Society columns in the local newspaper indicated that they traveled extensively in the United States, Europe and the world.  They spent winters in Beverly Hills.  Mrs. Rogers also served as president of the Tuesday Club in Rapids. They were members of the Episcopal Church, St. John the Evangelist.

Both of their sons graduated from Lincoln High School. The younger of the two, Jack, was tragically killed in an auto accident in Plover, Wisconsin when he was twenty years old and about to enter his second year at Marquette University in pre-medicine.

The Rogers owned the house until 1944, however they moved permanently to California in mid 1941.  Mr. Rogers died in 1949. Mrs. Rogers died in 1961.

A photo of the widowed Mrs. Rogers taken at the opening of the LaGrande Country Club in Oregan, October, 1949.  Millie, Mrs. Rogers is on the right.


What did the house look like?

Photo by Daily Tribune staff photographer, 1949.
(Better image pending.)

This Daily Tribune photo from 1949 is the first semi-clear image that I've been able to locate of the Rogers House. The architecture reflects the period in which it was built.  Not a colonal or Federal revival, it seems to incorporate elements of the craftsman style with a touch of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The first floor has a wide terrace in front and is made of brick. The second floor and raised attic appear to be shingled.   It was an imposing home without pretense.

Who was the architect?

Still to be determined.

How was it arranged internally?

The Rogers Houses was designed both as a family home and for large scale entertaining.   The following are layouts are my memory of what I first encountered there in 1958 at age eleven.  The room designations reference their original uses.  I recall the details as it was the most impressive house I'd ever seen up to that point.  And the layout still serves as a standard by which I judge all other large homes that I have visited since then.

The first floor contained a vestibule with entry to the basement on the right.  This was followed by a formal foyer with a grand staircase to the left.  (The foyer and the staircase were wood paneled in quarter-sawn oak as I recall.)

To the left was a library/music room with grasscloth wall covering and fine wood moldings as trim. To the right was what had been the spacious living room.  It was abutted by a large sun room on the end.  I recall that the walls of the sun room were painted with Chinese paintings and the rattan furniture, that I took to be original to the house, had an oriental motif.

Forward of the foyer was  what had been a formal dining room, also panelled in oak. (On touring the house before renting it the custodian told my mother that while in use as a residence the dining room had tapistries on the walls and contained an abondance of fine silver.)  And just beyond the dining room was a much smaller eating area that probably served as a breakfast room or family dining room.  A fountain lined one of the side walls.

                                                                                                    (As recalled by the author.)

As the American Legion Clubhouse between 1949 and 1964,  the second floor housed the ladies room and lounge.  All of  the other former bedrooms served the American Legion as offices and were kept locked except during business hours.

Second floor layout pending.

The basement contained a very large entertainment area featuring a bar and large socialiizing and dancing foor.  Men's rooms were on the left in former servants quarters.  The upper left area was a utility area that I did not explore in 1958.

(As recalled by the author.)

Who owned the house?

1915-1944 Roye M. Rogers

A feature during the reidence of the Rogers was a high level pipe organ in the "spacious music room" installed by the Hook and Hastlings Co, of Boston when the house was built in 1915. it was moved by the Rogers to thir California home in Beverly Hills when they left Wisconsin in 1941.  (Gerald Meyer, The Daily Tribune, November 27, 1992.)   Also moved to California along with many furnishngs were two antique ceramic lions that framed the entrance terrace to the house.

1944-1949 Otto A. Backus

1949-1964 - American Legion Post # 9.

The American Legion Post 9 openned their clubhouse just before Christmas in 1949.  It was both the headquarters for their social events and housed offices for  their activites.  In addition they rented out the facility for weddings and even held boxing matchs in the downstair bar,

These photos taken during rental use for weddings in the 1950's provide tantiliing glimpses of the house.

A closer look at the horizontal terrace in front of the house.

Photo of the front of the Rogers House as the American Legion Clubhouse.
Wedding party of Carol Cwiklo Torresani, June 7, 1958.
(Better image pending.)

The photo inside the former Rogers House Dining Room.   Note the beautiful quarter sawn oak paneling.

Taken in October 1959,  .
The photo commemorates the 25th wedding anniversary of Frank and Stella Cwiklo.

When and why was it destroyed?

References and aknowledgements

Lori Brost, administrator, South Wood County Historical Museum.

Dave Engel, historian and past president, South Wood County Historical Museum.

Andy Barnett, McMillan Public Library.