537 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Havilah Babcock came to Wisconsin in 1846, and by 1849 his family had settled down in Neenah. His father was the contractor for the Neenah lock, where Havilah was employed at the young age of 12. Subsequently, he then worked as a box boy at a local dry goods store. After being promoted to clerk at the age of 16, he found much success in the business, partially because of his good looks. Dry goods stores at the time, which sold items such as cloth, buttons, and pins, were one of the first stores where women were customers, making Havilah’s charismatic behavior and handsome appearance a commodity. Havilah and his friend Alfred Kimberly recognized this asset, and, with their combined talents, they set up their own dry goods store in 1857. This store was based on the uncommon practice of equal partnership where both Havilah and Kimberly risked proportionate investments and gained equal profits.
Although Havilah was merely 19 years old, this business became very prosperous. During their endeavors, Havilah and Kimberly took part in founding what is now known as Associated Bank, and built the city’s largest flour mill, helping Neenah to become the second largest flour milling center in Wisconsin, only behind Milwaukee. The duo’s steadfast success prompted them to expand to larger markets. During this period, numerous paper manufacturers had experimented with business in Neenah, but few were profitable. With interest in this market, C.B. Clark approached Kimberly and Havilah because of their well established presence in the community. Eventually, after being joined by Franklyn C. Shattuck, they formed what is known as Kimberly Clark and Company, which served a broad expanse of consumers with high quality rag content newsprint. Havilah, although an equal partner, took the humble approach to this business, omitting his name from the title, and decided to invest most of his time in the dry goods store and flour mill. By 1878, Kimberly Clark and Company had expanded into Appleton, and to finance their share of the investment, Havilah and Kimberly had sold the dry goods store. With the sale Havilah took on an active role in the paper company as C.B. Clark took interest in pursuing a political career
Havilah now assumed more responsibility in the company, but he seeked a method to express himself artistically, much as he did in the dry goods store by dressing women in the latest fashion. After purchasing a plot of land on East Wisconsin Avenue in 1879, Havilah approached prominent Oshkosh architect William Waters to design the exterior of the Havilah-Babcock house. After the construction of the house from 1881 to 1883, Havilah moved into the residence with bare plaster walls and kerosine lamps. This was because of Havilah’s emphasis of quality products and his love for detail. He believed that if he put thought into decoration and bought the highest quality products that the house would last. Somewhere between 1888 and 1889 the interior of the house was completed. Havilah characterized himself often within the Havilah-Babcock house, as shown in the stained glass windows of the front hall, but his wife, Frances Kimberly, also presented herself within the building, especially by the large amount of space designated for entertaining. After Babcock’s death in 1905, his wife continued to live there. Eventually, Havilah’s children, Helen and Elizabeth, inherited the house. Then, the house continued to be passed down, first to Henry “Babcock” and Arva Adams, and finally to Peter Adams who lives there today with his wife Patricia Mulvey.
A link to "An American Downton Abbey", where Peter Adams recounts stories from the Havilah Babcock house and other houses on Wisconsin Avenue. This link also includes a complete list of families that have lived in the Havilah Babcock house.
Pictures Courtesy of Mr. Peter Adams, "An American Downton Abbey", and Paper Industry International Hall of Fame, Inc.