By ASHLEY MCCALLUM
EVANSVILLE, Wis. (AP) — Walter Shannon suggested 14 years ago that John M. Evans Hall in Evansville would make a great law office.
Shannon and Nancy Greve-Shannon had just started dating at the time, Greve-Shannon said.
It became an ongoing joke in their relationship; “One day when we own the hall,” they would say. Since then, the couple have married and turned their ongoing joke into reality.
Now, as long as everything goes according to plan, Shannon and Greve-Shannon will have the renovated hall opened at the end of April, Shannon told the Janesville Gazette. Rather than have one tenant, the building will serve three functions, providing space not only the Shannon Law Office but also rentable space for a business called Emma’s Table and meeting space for the Evansville Community Theatre group, Shannon said.
The Shannon family is the third to own the house since it was built in 1884 by John M. Evans, the first doctor in Evansville and the man for whom Evansville was named.
When Evans arrived in the area in 1846, the settlement was known as The Grove for its grove of Burr Oak trees, said Ruth Ann Montgomery, Evansville historian.
Soon after he settled in, an epidemic of ague — a disease similar to malaria — struck, Montgomery said. Evans cured as many people as he could, gaining the respect of his neighbors.
To honor him, residents decided first to lend his name to the local post office, Montgomery said. Then the village, when it was incorporated in 1855, was named Evansville.
Montgomery said Evans showed generosity throughout his life.
While working in the 13th Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, Montgomery said, Evans helped slaves get out of the war and find paid jobs in Evansville.
Evans lived in the home until he died in 1903, leaving it to his son John Evans Jr., Montgomery said. Nineteen years later, Evans Jr. sold it to the Masonic Lodge 19.
Shannon and Greve-Shannon took over ownership of the hall in 2016.
When they took over, they discovered the previous owners – the Masons – had kept a lot of the Evans family’s belongings in the house’s attic, Shannon said. Much of Evans’ own paperwork and medical equipment, in contrast, had been given to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Shannon said.
The house is like a time capsule. It stands on its original foundation. One of its walls is covered with paper dating to the time the Evans family lived there.
Shannon and Greve-Shannon have worked with experts to preserve as much of the structure as possible, Shannon said.
But some things had to be changed. Central heating and air conditioning, for instance, had to be added, Shannon said. The owners also had to displace a menagerie of woodland creatures that had gathered in the attic over the years, Shannon said.
Scott Brummond has helped the restoration with countless hours of work, most notably his attempts to preserve the house’s large panel windows.
So far the couple’s plans call for Shannon-Greve to run Emma’s Table, a community rental space available for events, she said. The name is a nod to Evans’ wife, Emma, who also was well-known in the community. The family also opened a haunted house in the hall to raise money for the owners of the Night Owl Tavern after a fire had scorched that restaurant beyond repair.
A young couple held a wedding ceremony in the hall in November, Greve-Shannon said.
The building was made entirely of bricks, with the exception of an addition built by the Masons, Montgomery said.
Shannon and the rest of the team believe each brick represents an act that had occurred in the heart of the hall.
“Each such act then moving on to touch so many local lives in a positive way,” Shannon said in an email to The Gazette. “This, in our view, is the truest measure of the old hall.”