Future of historic Janesville home is uncertain

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Marcia Nelesen
September 27, 2014

JANESVILLE--Fewer than a half dozen structures with mansard roofs remain in Janesville, and one that appears to be in good, original condition is in danger of being demolished.

The city recently gave anyone interested in the home three weeks notice to save it.

In April, city staff said they would likely move the pre-Civil War home at 327 Milton Ave. that is in the way of the planned new fire station. At the time, Gale Price of the community development department was searching for appropriate lots.

The city recently backed off its plan to move the home and instead in a Sept. 15 news release invited anyone interested in buying and moving any of the 12 homes in the way of the new fire station to submit bids to the city by Friday, Oct. 3.

Houses that don't generate bids will be torn down. That is how the city handled similar situations in the past, Price said.

The home at 327 Milton Ave. is in the Conrad Cottages Historic District, but that affords it no protection from a wrecking ball.

The Conrad Cottage District includes four cream brick houses across from the 327 Milton Ave. home built as rental properties by Charles Conrad, a grocer. The district has seven house, making it the city's smallest.

Now, it will get even smaller.

The state historical society has told Janesville it would like to see the home preserved.

Price said city staff originally had assumed the state would require the home be moved to a historically correct location. But the state told staff it should not limit any possible opportunities to rescue the home.

“The state's position is the house just needs to be relocated,” Price said.

“If nobody steps forward, they have not indicated they are going to require us to relocate the house,” Price said.

Price is hopeful a private party can be found.

Price was asked whether city money, such as federal block grants, could be used to move the house. The city regularly buys homes, rehabs and then sells them to reduce blight.

That question was raised among staff, but Price said he didn't know the status of that discussion.

Tom Skinner, a Janesville resident who renovated his own 1844 farmhouse and is a member of the Rock County Historic Association, recently toured the home at 327 Milton Ave. and praised its original condition and architecture.

Skinner received an estimate of $14,000 to $15,000 to move the house. The city would give the owner $8,000, which is what the city would spend to demolish it.

“I'd love to see a young family buy that structure,” Skinner said.

Skinner cited two lots that would be perfect for the house. One is for sale on Main Street across from the Janesville Performing Arts Center. Another open lot is at the corner of Jackman and Court streets in the Courthouse Hill Historic District.

Skinner believes the home would best be kept among others of similar architecture.

The Second Empire style house was built in 1860 and has seven rooms, including three bedrooms and two full baths for a total of 1,906 square feet.

The home was built and owned by John C. Jenkins. He operated Dow, Jenkins and Co., a Main Street company that advertised thermo-water cures, Price said. The Zeininger family lived there from 1877 to 1939.

The Jenkins home has a stone foundation, mansard roof, dormers and arched windows. The porch has decorated thin columns.

In the front hall, a graceful banister leads upstairs. An original fireplace with tiles is the focal point in the living room. The wood floors throughout most of the house are original and are likely pine, maple and walnut.

The windows include the original wavy glass and what looks like two original light fixtures.

The trench that was dug in the basement to bring in water and sewer is still evident.

Price said the home is historically significant because of its Second Empire style and mansard roof, the design, trim, soffit and frieze.

“There's a lot of detail,” Price said. “You don't see that today.”

Skinner, who is from New England, said history is important there.

“If you'd talk about taking down a historic building there, you'd get run out of town,” he said.

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