HOUSE HISTORY: The Lovejoy Mansion at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue

Lovejoy Mansion when it was the YWCA, c. 1981

The controver-sial renovations being made to the Lovejoy mansion at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue, detailed in The Janesville Gazette’s April 26, 2009 article, offer an opportunity to show how much material Hedberg Public Library has about this house, its architect, owners, and occupants. It also demonstrates the Reference Department’s ability to help researchers with “house history,” particularly when the house has been of historical interest for some time.

220 St. Lawrence Avenue around 1881.

THE FIRST OWNER: Allen P. Lovejoy (1825-1904) built the 10,000 square-foot mansion at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue shortly after his 1880 marriage to Julia Stowe. Born in Maine, Lovejoy began his working life as a teacher and a carpenter. He moved to Janesville in 1850 where he worked as a contractor and builder. He established a lumberyard in Janesville in 1859 and began investing in pine lands and sawmills in 1868, becoming one of the Midwest’s most important lumber barons. He was also involved in the Harris Manufacturing Company, the Janesville Machine Company—the largest agricultural implement factory in Rock County--and the Janesville Cotton Mill. A bank director as well, Lovejoy’s political career included being the mayor of Janesville for one year and also a state legislator for a couple of years.

HIS WIFE: Julia Stow Lovejoy (1849-1953) was a fascinating person in her own right. A thirty-year-old school teacher when she married Allen P. Lovejoy (who was 55 at the time), she became the first president of the Rock County Women’s Suffrage League, founded in February 1912. She was involved in the establishment of the first kindergarten in Janesville, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and Janesville’s first hospital. She also served for several years on the Janesville Public Library board. She celebrated her 100th birthday in December 1949, by which time she was referred to as “Janesville’s First Lady.”

THEIR ARCHITECT: The architect who designed the Lovejoy mansion was James Douglas. A Milwaukee architect, Douglas was born in Scotland in 1823. Forming a partnership with his brother, Alexander, as “J. A. Douglas, Architects and Builders,” he started out as a designer of churches, but later turned to domestic architecture. The Lovejoy mansion was described in a 1980 Janesville Gazette article as representing the “Late Picturesque” or "Queen Anne" style: “The cream brick veneer over a balloon frame includes protruding wings and steep-gabled roofs. Corner upstairs windows are hooded with overhangs. Decorative ‘bargeboards’ have crosses and curves punched into them, while brackets of the first story, wrap-around veranda have dot-encircled holes. Local quarry stone was used for the foundation below ground, with dressed Milwaukee stone above ground. It has several fireplaces, hardwood floors, fine quality wood moldings, plaster and glass.” Red oak, walnut and butternut are some of the woods used in the house but were painted over by the time the YWCA moved in. Door knobs and hinges were made of solid brass. Corn husks provided insulation in the walls. Because of Allen Lovejoy’s background as a carpenter, he is said to have sat on a camp stool, overlooking the work being done on his house to ensure that everything was built to his specifications.

SECOND OWNER: After Mrs. Lovejoy’s death in 1953, Joseph A. Craig bought the Lovejoy mansion but never lived in it. As soon as he bought it, he presented it to the YWCA. A prominent figure in Janesville business and philanthropic circles, Craig was responsible for the development of the General Motors Assembly Plant in Janesville. A manager of the Janesville Machine Company, he persuaded General Motors to acquire his company to establish GM’s Samson Tractor Company division. In 1919, GM built a large, new factory to produce tractors. When tractors failed to sell well, GM converted the factory to a Chevrolet automobile and Fisher body assembly plant.

THIRD OWNER: The YWCA occupied 220 St. Lawrence Avenue from 1954 until May 2001, when its new building was opened at 1735 S. Washington Street. According to the Janesville Gazette (21 May 2001, 1A), the YWCA put its building at 220 St. Lawrence Avenue on the market for $247,900 by Lee Sather & Associates, “who offered to sell the building for no commission.” YWCA staff reported that it was difficult to leave such a beautiful building.

NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES STATUS: In 1980, while the building still belonged to the YWCA, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was nominated for that status by the YWCA and the Rock County Historical Society. The local paper pointed out that being on the National Register of Historic Places meant that “any restoration, preservation or stabilization project involving the structure is now eligible for matching federal grants.”

FOURTH OWNER: In 2002, a religious group, the Ekklasia Foundation, bought the
Lovejoy mansion from the YWCA for $190,000. Brad Goodrich represented the Foundation, according to the Janesville Gazette (25 July 2002, 1B). What the future holds for this mansion
is not clear, but its past can be traced pretty easily.

How to find the history of your house: The Janesville Gazette for 27 Oct 2002, 1E (a copy of which is in Hedberg Public Library's Janesville Room in a binder, 720.9775 HISTO) has an excellent article on resources for doing house histories in Janesville. The Reference Department staff is always willing to help.