If These Walls Could Talk

Posted on May 1, 2022 by Grace Olson

Area Architecture Speaks to Rich History

Architecture is a large part of the narrative in discussing history—a way to understand trends and priorities of the time. It’s a direct link to putting ourselves in the mindset of people of the past, and allows us to explore their tastes and literal capabilities.

Once you dive into the style of the times, the personal stories between the walls naturally provide context and personality. It’s impossible to discuss one without a mention of the other.

Diving into the architectural history of area homes (now museums) and landmarks allows us to hear what our local history has to say.


Hearthstone Historic House Museum

We can thank the humble two-by-four for one of the most stunning and impressively preserved pieces of history in Appleton.

“In the 1870s, when we have the invention of the two-by-four… and the ability to make wire nails instead of cut nails… everybody is saying ‘What can we do with that?’” George Schroeder, Executive Director of Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton, explains.  

The answer is almost immeasurable.

Evolving from building with bulky ten-by-ten beams to balloon framing (the use of long, vertical two-by-fours) allowed for intricate turns and thus limitless creativity not seen before. 

“At this time, there’s this explosion of architectural creativity,” Schroeder says. “You get renaissance revival, you get Egyptian revival, Greek revival. You’ve got this profusion of architecture styles. There’s immense creativity.”

Originally built for Henry and Cremora Rogers in 1882, the now Hearthstone Historic House Museum is an example of Queen Anne style, designed by well-known and nationally regarded architect William Waters. 

Hearthstone boasts many of the style’s hallmarks, including a tall, vertical profile, wrap-around veranda, a transverse gable and long roof line running across the front of the house’s facade. Different-sized dormers and an array of archways exude Queen Anne style’s characteristically eclectic exterior that relies on asymmetry to create visual interest. 

“It’s about variation on a theme,” Schroeder explains. “You’re combining these rather dissimilar shapes to create something beautiful. All of these combinations come together to give your eye a sort of architectural interest.

“This is, maybe, the best example of Queen Anne style architecture in the state. It in many regards is the harbinger of all of this architectural creativity that you see across America.”

Hearthstone celebrates its 140th anniversary in September. Over those more than a dozen decades the city it calls home has transformed, yet little about the house has changed.

“It is really quite incredible the beautiful condition of this home. We owe it to the five families that lived here,” Schroeder says. “They had a reverence for this house that is expressed best by seeing the house. No one painted the woodwork white! This is the original finish. No one replaced the lights, these are all the original lights from 140 years ago.

“The outside is all about asymmetry, but the inside is all about symmetry. You don’t see it when you’re outside. It’s this surprise inside. Henry and Cremora don’t miss a beat. It’s all about impressing guests from the get-go… there’s such care put into this home.”

Hearthstone recently completed a 3-year, $300,000 renovation of the exterior of the home that included the rebuilding of five 25-foot historic chimneys, cleaning and rebuilding the brick, a new roof and the restoration of all of the millwork.

“The artisans that we had working on the exterior were just amazing,” Schroder says. “It’s the first time since 1889, I believe, that the entire exterior has been renewed at the same time. That’s pretty spectacular.

“There’s nothing better than experiencing history because that really makes it real. It makes it relevant,” Schroeder says.

Visit for regularly updated events and tour information. 


Charles A. Grignon Mansion

Evolution is as much a part of history as anything, and the Charles A. Grignon Mansion held a prominent place amongst great change in the Fox Valley. 

“The Grignon Mansion and the family that resided here represents transition from, connections to and knowledge of local tribes, a past rooted to the French fur-trapping community, ties to the government, eastern education and European tastes and style,” Cassidy Mickelson, Grignon Mansion Executive Director, explains.

Built in 1837 by Charles A. Grignon for his bride, Mary Elizabeth Meade, the Greek Revival style home was known as “The Mansion in the Woods.”

“Not only is the home a rare, early example of Greek Revival style, it is also one of the first wood framed buildings in the region,” Mickelson says. “Prior to the Mansion, log cabins were the primary home design in the area.”

In fact, she explains, The Grignon Mansion is one of only 40 identified extant Greek Revival buildings in Wisconsin constructed before 1840.

“The preservation, restoration and reconstruction treatment efforts during the late 1930s and early 1940s saved the Grignon Mansion. This was done during a period of renewed interest in historic sites across the United States. The Grignon Mansion was one of the first buildings in Wisconsin, besides Pendarvis in Mineral Point, to be purposely restored to preserve its historical and architectural significance as an artifact of Americana.”

Mickelson explains the increased interest in classical Greek culture at the turn of the nineteenth century played a large role in Greek Revival style, along with a move away from British influences after the War of 1812.

“The style is characterized by an adaptation from a Greek temple and usually includes symmetry, columns, large porches and a low-sloped pediment roof. The Grignon Mansion has symmetrical Doric columns, and large double hung windows on the front of the house, which gives the feeling of looking at a Greek temple.

“One of my favorite features in the house is the hand-carved cherry guardrail that connects the first floor, second floor and attic,” Mickelson details. “Decorative woodwork in the house would have been transported from the east coast to the area and the handrail encompasses the Greek Revival style, east coast influence and is still a main component of the Grignon Mansion today.” 

Another not to be glossed over aspect of the home is the front porch.

“Standing there, it is overwhelming to imagine the changes the space and land has gone through over the centuries,” Mickelson says. “Starting as a land that was home to indigenous tribes and then to the fur trading area and continuing to the change from trade to milling and industry, it is clear the Grignon Mansion represents the ever-changing landscape of the Fox River Valley.”

The Grignon Mansion will undergo its largest renovation since the 1980s this summer. The renovation includes repair of the porches, second floor balcony and areas of wood rot around the building. 

Visit to find a full schedule of events and book reservations for guided tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 


The Grand Oshkosh

The Grand Oshkosh—formerly known as the The Grand Opera House—has been named and identified as many things in its storied past. It has also been advocated for far more than once by its beloved community. 

When it was built in 1883, local architect William Waters was in high demand, having designed over 100 buildings in Oshkosh, including the public library and museum. He was chosen to design the new opera house in which theatergoers experienced lavish and modern Queen Anne style.

The original Victorian design encompassed a hand-painted drop curtain, elaborately detailed wall and ceiling artistry of local artist J. Frank Waldo. Roman influences, evident in the huge curved ceiling beams and columns rising up on either side of the proscenium, combined with the Queen Anne style in the auditorium. Over time, improvements included modern heating and ventilation, lighting and plumbing systems. 

When The Grand Oshkosh evolved into a modern movie theater in 1950 (then called the Grand Theater), the building’s entrance was moved from the center of the façade to the corner of Market Street and High Ave. and nearly eight feet of the stage apron was removed to make room for additional seats. 

The most recent restoration in 2010 focused on comfort, and also preservation of the glory of The Grand Oshkosh.

“The Grand is a living, breathing, fully-functional step back into the 1880s,” Joseph Ferlo, Director of The Grand Oshkosh, says. “It’s absolutely vital to preserve that ‘feel,’ even as we add more modern improvements and amenities. 

“I have been director (since 2004 and) through the 2010 renovation, which required careful restoration of the beautiful ceiling; the creation of The Grand Lounge, the design and install of the Suite Seats, and the design and install of the Marquee, Blade Sign and Message Center. Each step has required us to ask, ‘How might things have been improved in the late 19th century, if modern conveniences, technology and amenities were available at that time?’

“For comfort, audiences love the Suite Seats, a renovated area of the balcony level, which features extra wide seats and legroom, and, on occasion, in-seat beverage service. The Grand Lounge, above the main lobby and adjacent to the Suite Seats and balcony, features a full-service refreshment center.”

The Grand has a current seating capacity of 550 that re-creates the warm, intimate atmosphere of a European-style theater while showcasing some of the best talent today. The opera house hosts nearly 100 public performances each year including national touring artists; educational programs; performances by the Oshkosh Community Players, Hysterical Productions and Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra; as well as performances by four area high schools, regional arts groups, performances presented by independent promoters, business meetings and weddings. The theater’s impact is felt not only in Oshkosh, but also in surrounding communities.

Visit to plan your visit, buy tickets to upcoming performances and more.

Pull quote:

“There’s nothing better than experiencing history because that really makes it real. It makes it relevant.” —George Schroeder, Executive Director of Hearthstone Historic House Museum  

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