The Charter House, Ableman, Wisconsin
September 25, 1924
By Mrs. Eva Alexander
This is the very last of the recollections of early days in Ableman and, as in all of the others, two houses loom above all the rest like giants among pygmies. One was the old Ableman home, the center towards which my thoughts always flew whenever they drifted that way, for there lived the colonel’s second wife, the most motherly and loyal woman I knew and one who held my most entire love and respect from first to last. That house was not in the center of the village but the only one on the east side of the river until you came to that of Major Williams, the first farm house to the east. This was really a farm house also and had a very large barn and barnyard and garden. The other was the Charter House, a great parallelogram of a house standing broadside to the wide, open space between it and Narrow’s Creek, with no houses between except the mill on the Creek bank and Mr. Stein’s dwelling house and store. The latter always gave me the impression of being built in the middle of the road, but was not, because, when other houses came to be built along the bank of the creek in after years it lined up with the rest or nearly so. At this time all of the vast, open space between the Charter House and the creek, the river and the rise of land to the west where the road from the bridge over the river climbed the hill and went past the little log school house and the few small houses clustered there out into the country beyond, was included in the great milliard which was a very busy place some days, crowded with the many teams and men loading and unloading at the mill and going here and there wherever their business called them.
The Charter House, was about two stories and a half high, facing this mill-yard and extending back quite a distance, the road crossing the eastern side of the mill yard and on toward the south on the west bank of the Baraboo River, to the barns and out buildings back of it.
The front entrance was somewhat to the east of the center of the front and had a platform and steps extending from the door to the ground. I cannot remember the length of this platform or porch whether the whole length of the front or just a little wider than the entrance, but any way furnishing seating capacity for loafers, youngsters or others as the case might be.
This door opened into a wide hall extending straight through to a large dining room in the rear, the kitchens being back of that. On the west side of this central hall the stairs ascended to the upper stories and a door opened into the three or four large rooms occupied by the family keeping the hotel and one of these was used as a parlor for guests of the house. Across the wide hall in the northeast corner of the building was the office and, I believe, between this and the dining room was a small room used for whatever purpose desired.
I have always thought, though I don’t remember if any one ever told me so or not, that Col. Ableman built the Charter House to board and lodge the workmen in his mill and what other work he employed them for, and also hoping to reap a large income from it as a hotel when the hoped for railroad brought the flood of business into the valley. The railroad went through but for some reason it never brought the wealth he hoped for. Col. Ableman was one of the principal workers for the railroad and that famous public meeting we have heard so much of was called to meet at the Charter House for that purpose and was ably reported by Gen. Starks.
The charter for the “Baraboo Valley Air Line” was signed at the Charter House, I believe, and there was a grand feast on that occasion and the hotel received its name thereby. I believe that from the building of the hotel until the property left the Colonel’s hands, his brother-in-law and son-in-law, Edward Watson, was landlord; he was all of the time I knew about the place. I have heard from friends living in Ableman that there were many parties, dances, etc., held in the Charter House at different times during that period, some of them decidedly lively, but that the high jinks came from outside and not from the residents of Ableman. This I do not know, I never went to but one. I happened to be there at Col. Ableman’s at that time and attended that one but know of nothing objectionable happening then except that at supper one of the waiters had the misfortune to spill a plate of oyster soup over a young man’s new velvet suit which, I suppose, was quite objectionable to that young man and rather embarrassing to the waiter.
After the Colonel lost the property, I was away from home for some time and knew nothing of happenings there so I cannot tell much about that time. A Mr. McDonald had the Charter House first either as owner or renter, and after him came Dr. Schadde and Reece. Some where in between, Edward Watson came in again for a while. Reece was the landlord when the Charter House was burned. Colonel Ableman died in the Charter House in that little room between the office and the dining room and it must have been while Edward Watson was in the last time for his wife was the Colonel’s daughter.
Mrs. Watson must have had her mother’s furniture which was brought from Albany when they came west to make their home in this new land and, Mrs. Ableman at least, must have left a home of wealth and refinement for Mrs. Watson’s own rooms in the Charter House were furnished beautifully with very rich, dark, old fashioned, black haircloth furniture and she had several large oil paintings, family portraits, which looked to me, as I remember them, very well done. Well! The old Ableman home and the Charter House were both burned long ago and the members of the family are all dead and their bright hopes died also; but like a Phoenix; Ableman has arisen from the ashes of their hopes into some thing like what the Colonel hoped for, a very pretty little village that has filled the valley and even climbed the hills in places. Will it ever entirely fulfill his vision and become altogether the place he hoped for?
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