A former owner is said to make his after-life home here.
Tom and I first stopped by for a visit during our June of 2007 road trip. Though it was closed, it is surely is an imposing, solid, four story Queen Ann grand old lady with upscale gray stone / brick with wooden decoration & trim, steep roofing style and huge brick fireplace chimneys; all the proper Victorian architecture, including the porch which winds around the structure.
From one source I found, the historic structures website, states “The porches and verandas have elaborately-carved wood spindles and panels which reflect the even higher quality of the wood detailing throughout the interior of the house.”
We came back again in 2016 and we took the tour of the first and second floor and basement. So glad we did! Got to admire the craftsmanship and to really learn how the well-to-do lived in the late 19th Century.
Hearthstone Historic House Museum is truly a beautifully restored, Queen Ann style house museum that has all of the original craftsmanship that was so lovingly created so long ago. Everything the visitor sees is from the era that it was built and first occupied; the years that the Rodgers family lived there. Taking the tour of the wonderful art, architecture, innovation, history and cultural aspects was a great way to spend an hour!
This restored 1882 Victorian Hearthstone House has a lovely late 1890’s decor, including “intricate woodwork, stunning fireplaces and exquisite glass windows. A visitor reports on Trip Advisor; “The Rodgers house is decorated and furnished with fine Victorian decorative arts including stained-glass Tiffany lampshades, rosewood furniture, art-glass, and oriental rugs. We really loved the beautiful woodwork, wood carvings, floors, staircases and tile so nicely preserved.”
Other Victorian decorative touches, include such treasures as the restored, multi-colored parlor ceiling. The third floor was not open for the tour, as it is probably office and storage space, and perhaps the man=cave of the resident male spirit.
Taking the tour was such a treat for Tom and I who love historical house museums. The docents told us many fascinating facts about what we were looking at during each stop along the way. As electricity was such a brand new invention, the first owner, Henry J Rodgers had his electric fixtures and lights also piped for gas as a back-up system; just in case electricity didn’t work out.
Other interesting items were an 1878 silver service by the Racine Silver-Plate Company and the Rodger family’s wind-up phonograph. A visitor reported, “We got to hear a phonograph play and could ask about any piece we saw in the place.”
The dining room has a gorgeous view of the Fox River. It was set up with 1878 dining china as if the family had just left for a before dinner walk. Woodwork was glorious as well as the other decor and furniture present for viewing.
The basement is a delight if the visitor enjoys interactive activities; such as learning how electricity is made, etc. Children and adults alike love to try the hands-on displays.
A variety of displays are changed monthly; offering visitors interesting information and items to peruse and study. A big favorite is the Victorian Christmas display which is up during the holiday seasons. This display is still up part of January, in case you missed it in December.
Another favorite event happens throughout the month of October for the last few years, except 2020 because of COVID. During October of 2019, the museum had on display “a collection of Victorian mourning artifacts including hair jewelry, death photographs, other “momento mori”, mourning dresses, and related clothing.”
This went along with their meet and greet of thespians dressed up as either a Victorian Serial Killer or his or her victim. These characters were part of a 50 minute presentation; “the third installment of a program that explored the beginnings of murder investigations as seen through the eyes of police detectives, victims, and the perpetrators who stalked them!”
In 1882, Henry J. Rodgers who was an industrialist mover and shaker in Appleton had made his fortune establishing the Vulcan Paper Plant, the Appleton Paper and Pulp Mill and a hydroelectric station located on the banks of the nearby Fox River river, and did a lot to economically develop Appleton, Wisconsin. Rodgers later joined three other men to establish Appleton Edison Light Company so the whole town could also enjoy having electricity in their homes and businesses!
The story of Hearthstone Mansion began when Henry Rodgers moved his family to Wisconsin from Baltimore. His wife was not keen on moving west because she still longed for the social life and the comfort and beauty that she was used to having in the established city, Baltimore.
Henry J Rodgers, who loved his wife, decided to build a forever family home here with all the bells and whistles that could be added to their home; to both satisfy his wife and to showcase the fruits of his labors.
Henry J Rodgers found the best people to create his dream home. He hired well known, foremost architect in the Fox River Valley, William Waters of Oshkosh, Wisconsin who created this glorious home, which took three years to build. All the woodwork inside and outside was done by the best woodcarver, a European craftsman: Henry Van Strom. Strom used Wisconsin white oak, cherry and bird’s-eye maple throughout the inside and outside of the house; making it truly beautiful and worthy for a successful industrialist and his family.
Added touches were truly wonderful. The original nine fireplaces that were in the house all had Minton tile that depicted scenes from various “literary works.” I bet they were chosen because they were the favorites of Mrs. Rodgers. The Foyer fireplace displayed scenes from Shakespeare’s stage plays, the library fireplace honored the novels of Sir Walter Scott, the living room celebrated Longfellow’s Evangeline feeding of the bluebirds, and in the master bedroom the fireplace illustrated the scenes from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.
The reader of this story may wonder how Rodger’s house was the first one in the world to receive electrical power. The story goes that Henry Rodgers was friends with H. E. Jacobs who happened to work for Thomas Edison himself. Jacobs must of done a great sales job and convinced Rodger to give it a whirl. Being a mover and a shaker himself, he took the plunge with Edison’s new invention, electricity; a safer alternative to gas-run lamps, chandeliers and other commonly used items of convenience.
Rodgers bought a generator from Edison himself to try it out in his own forever home. Rodgers and three others formed the Appleton Edison Light Company, after Rodger’s house was successfully lighted by electricity. The hydrogen electric plant located on the banks of the Fox River, not only provided electricity for his paper plant but also for his glorious Victorian; becoming the first home in the world to have electricity from a centrally located hydroelectric station, which used Thomas Edison’s newly designed system. All the people in Appleton were able to have electricity in their homes too.
The Hearthstone Historic House Museum has the original electrical hardware, electroliers and light switches; making it a very authentic house museum of the era. “The original electrical insulators were in the form of wooden cleats which were nailed to the rafters. Porcelain tubing was run through the joists to carry wiring. The wiring itself was insulated and silk-wrapped. Toggle switches turned the lights on and off. These were hand-made of brass and can still be found in seven places in the house.”
The next owner of Hearthstone Mansion was another prominent Appleton citizen, Albert W. Priest was also a mover and a shaker in finance in the Fox River Valley. He was responsible for boosting the industrial growth here with his many companies that employed a lot of folks. He was a life long member of the Elks Club and provided the funds for the Soldiers Monument in Soldier Square, in memory of his brother and other men who died in the Civil War. He was a generous man, giving a boatload of money to the Baptist Church where he attended and strongly supported Lawrence College.
From 1900-1930, A.W. Priest enjoyed living here in Hearthstone Mansion until he died at the ripe old age of 82.. He considered this mansion his forever home. Because it was during the early days of the Great Depression, the house wasn’t moving on the real estate market, so this property was rented out to John Carter Badenoch, who opened up a restaurant called the Hearthstone Tea Room. It stayed open until 1938 when it was closed; standing empty for two years.
The name of Hearthstone stuck to this Victorian Mansion.
Finally in 1940, Frederick H. Hoffman bought this property from the Priest Estate, much to the relief of Priest’s descendants. Frederick and his family loved this home and stayed here for twenty years.
In 1960, The Mares Family bought this grand old Lady in need of some restoration and TLC. They were up for the job! They did an extensive restoration and renovation program which included “cleaning the exterior brick, installing a new roof, replacement of a few porch posts and rails with custom-made duplicates, and a complete re-wiring of the house.”
The Mares Family also considered Hearthstone Mansion their forever home, and enjoyed living here until 1986, taking really good care of this historic home.
The Friends of Hearthstone, INC were the next owners who spent two years restoring the home as it existed in 1882. The Hearthstone Historic House Museum was ready for visitors in 1988; for the enjoyment and education of the public.
The mission and promise of Friends of Hearthstone, Inc. is “to restore and preserve Hearthstone, a Victorian landmark house, and to re-create a historical experience based on its Thomas A. Edison heritage for the cultural enjoyment and educational benefit of the public.”
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
People who really love their forever home in this life, often can’t bear to leave it and decide to stay.
Joselyn Castle, NE (The Joselyn family have gathered once again to enjoy their home and watch the living’s activities).
Moss Mansion, MT (Spirit of Preston Moss has decided to reside in the family’s forever house, even claiming his old bedroom).
Loveland Castle, OH (Spirit of Harry Andrews has decided to stay in his masterpiece that he built all by himself).
Hearthstone Historical House Museum, WI (Spirit of A.W. Priest apparently can’t leave just yet because he adores his forever home).
Sometimes spirits don’t quite trust the living and keep an eye on the help to be sure they are doing their jobs correctly.
Curtis House Inn, CT (Spirit of Anthony Stoddard former home owner keeps a stern eye from his painting on the job performance of the employees).
Martha Washington House Museum, VA (Spirit of Martha Washington keeps an eye on the docents as she enjoys her home, much like it was when she was alive).
Olde Pink House, GA (Spirit of James Habersham Jr. still watches the employees as they do their jobs here, and even appears to new people who have just started in a job).
Hearthstone Historical House Museum, WI (Used to supervising folks at his businesses, the spirit of Albert Priest can’t help himself and keeps an eye on the docents and probably supervises any repairs done).
The spirit of A.W. Priest is said to be the former owner who has chosen to spend his after-life here.
An Unseen Presence
Staff and others have heard unusual sounds, like someone sneezing when no one living did the sneezing.
Visitors and Guests have felt an unseen presence watching them as they tour the home.
When we were on the tour, I got that dizzy feeling from an unseen presence on the stairs that lead up the third floor attic.
Radiates His Feelings
Volunteers often feel the disapproval of an unseen presence, watching them intently.
At other times, they must feel his approval.
His presence is so strong, that the docents and other volunteers treat him like the ultimate spectral manager.
When the office manager opens up the museum for the day, she always says, “Good Morning, Mr. Priest,” upon entering the mansion.
Visitors and guests who are sensitive can feel his unseen presence, both physically and emotionally.
They have heard sounds made by this unseen spirit person.
While no hard evidence has been caught by paranormal investigators, someone must of contacted this spirit and found out who he was, like a medium.
Or, perhaps he was seen by someone and was identified as being A. W. Priest.
Most Probably So!
Despite the denials of the docents, this spirit apparently still loves his home and can’t leave it probably because it is his forever home and perhaps doesn’t quite trust the living to do a great job showing his home to the public. He falls back to what he did to be such a success; manage the workers and keep a sharp eye on the volunteers.
He must really enjoy the Christmas Season decor and the other monthly programs and displays offered the public.
625 West Prospect Avenue
Appleton, WI 54911
The Hearthstone Historic House Museum is located across from the Fox River, between a main drag S. Memorial Drive (47) and S. State Street, in an area which once housed the well-to-do in Appleton.
- Trip Advisor website
- The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations
By Chad Lewis & Terry Fisk
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr