In the past, Rob Churchill passed through the community in which his great-grandparents once lived but never had the opportunity to stay.
“I was always on my way somewhere else,” he said.
This time, he was able to spend a few days there, including two nights in the house that was his great-grandparent’s home.
Rob and his wife Diane arrived in Waupaca on July 19, which ironically was the fifth anniversary of when Mike and Kerri Thiel opened Apple Tree Lane Bed and Breakfast in the former Churchill house.
Charles Judson Churchill and his wife Ann Elizabeth (Walker) Churchill lived in the large Victorian home in the late 1880s and early 1890s. They raised their six children – Lucy, Fred, Herbert, Ned, Lloyd and Richard – there.
Charles was born in New York in 1846. His parents, Elijah W. and Eliza Churchill, moved to Wisconsin in 1852, settling on a farm in the town of Waupaca.
Charles attended Waupaca High School, graduating in 1866. He then continued his education at Eastman Commercial College in Chicago for a year before returing to Waupaca and securing a position at Gill’s Landing on the Wolf River near Weyauwega.
In 1868, Charles and Ann were married, and the following year, he was elected clerk of the circuit court. He held the position for 12 consecutive years.
In 1874, he found a way to add to his fortune – by copying real estate records. When he later sold the abstracts, he found himself with a nice sum of money. He added real estate and loaning to his business in 1879, and his duties as clerk of court resulted in his desire to study law.
He was admitted to the Bar at Waupaca in 1881 and centered his attention on real-estate law. Charles also served on the Waupaca School Board for 12 years, including as president.
He was also one of the incorporators of the Waupaca Electric Light Association. He served as the organization’s secretary. In 1888, Charles purchased a half interest in the Waupaca Planing Mill, and in 1891, he organized the Waupaca County National Bank with a capital of $50,000. The funds were from several stockholders, including himself.
He was chosen the first president of that institution.
During the financial crisis of 1910, Charles was forced to liquidate his shares of stock in First National Bank and to resign his position as president when the bank was sold to the Old National Bank of Waupaca that same year.
Several years before that, two of his sons had gone to Oregon where they became involved in the lumber industry.
One of them – Richard – is Rob’s grandfather.
Soon, Charles and Ann moved there as well.
“I was always curious about his moving to Oregon,” Rob said.
Rob and Diane visited the Holly History & Genealogy Center during their visit to Waupaca, and it was there that Rob learned about how the 1910 financial crisis had affected his great-grandfather.
“I suspect they packed up their entire house, including maps and correspondence and shipped it all to Oregon,” Rob said.
He said Charles was a terrific businessman, which is a similarity that Rob noticed in his late father, Guerdon.
Rob’s father was born in California, as were Rob and his siblings.
Rob’s recent visit to Waupaca was his third time here.
“I never came back until the late 1970s or early 1980s,” he said. “When I first came, I brought some Churchill family photographs. I talked to several historians in town.”
One woman told him where the house was, as he had never been to it before. Rob also learned that his great-grandparents had a summer house on Rainbow Lake, called Tamarack Lodge.
Until the Thiels purchased the property, the home had only been owned by four different families.
Rob suspects his great-grandfather had the home built in the early 1880s, because there are signs of accommodations for someone in a wheelchair.
Charles was 5 years old when he had polio.
“It created issues all his life,” Rob said. “When he became elderly, he was in a wheelchair all the time. At the turn of the century, they had lots of accommodations for him here. He didn’t consider it a life-long disability in making a living or in using his mind to create business opportunities.”
Rob’s great-grandmother loved to entertain and also loved her flower gardens. They had a greenhouse, and she had various artists paint on dishes flowers that matched those in her yard. Rob has many of those dishes.
Mike and Kerri Thiel have a wall of history in the home and were thrilled to meet Rob and Diane.
“It’s fascinating to bring the history of the house to our bed and breakfast guests,” Kerri said.
Mike wondered if the 1910 financial crisis stripped Charles of his fortune.
Rob said that in the middle of the Depression, Charles gave each of his children $5,000 – a hefty sum at that time.
“He was always in business. I don’t know if he ever retired. He was in real estate, insurance. My father was the same way,” Rob said.
Rob and Diane’s stop in Waupaca was a side trip for them.
“I suggested when we left our home in Sacramento that Diane has lived in different parts of the world but had never been to Wisconsin,” Rob said. They were heading to Michigan to attend the funeral of Diane’s 94-year-old aunt.
“Where is it?” Diane asked of Waupaca.
Rob and Diane were married last Dec. 24, and she has been learning about the Churchill family history, thanks to the number of photographs hanging in their home.
He told her about the farm in Waupaca and said, “Why not see if we could spend a couple days there?”
Rob made arrangements with Kerri.
It was easy for them to find their way.
“Diane and I want to personally thank the board of supervisors and the city council for advocating for the name of “Churchill” on the freeway, because it made it so easy to find it,” Rob said, as he and Diane smiled.
Their time in Waupaca included a visit to downtown Waupaca where they purchased homemade fudge at Main Street Marketplace. Rob remembered the store from a previous trip. They also had a tour of the Chain O’ Lakes.
As they prepared to head to T.W. Martin’s Public House for dinner, the Churchills and the Thiels talked of future opportunties to visit each other. Rob thinks he and Diane should return to Waupaca some fall or winter.
“It really has been fun. “It’s almost kind of like a deja vu kind of thing. You have a connection to a place you’ve never been to before. It’s not just the house. It’s the whole community,” Rob said. “We’ve had a great time here.”