History of Wade House

Wade House, 1858

Ambrotype of the Wade House circa 1858

Wades Establish Village in Frontier Territory

In 1844 Sylvanus and Betsey Wade and their family settled in what was to become Greenbush. At that time Wisconsin was a frontier territory. The land between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan was a wilderness of virtually uninterrupted forest. Years later, Betsey Wade would tell her children that the forest was so dense that, even on a clear night, she "could hold in her apron all the stars she could see."

The Wades were the first permanent settlers in Greenbush. They came to the remote area not to carve a single homestead out of the wilderness, but to establish a village on the developing frontier.

Sylvanus and Betsey Wade selected the location for their village carefully. They chose a place halfway between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac along a well-used stagecoach trail. The Mullet River crossed the trail, offering a promising source of water power. The Wades purchased several sections of land around a potential mill site as well.

Wisconsin became a state in 1848. At that time Greenbush was a booming little village with two stores, a school, a sawmill, a wagon shop, a blacksmith and a doctor. The trail between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac had been improved by the territorial government. There were plans for further improvements by building a plank road.

Sylvanus Wade sold most of his land to enterprising settlers. They, like him, were willing to stake their futures on the little community. The Wades kept a tavern in their log house. As the years passed and business grew, they twice expanded the structure.

By 1848 Wades' "Half Way House" was a regular stop for the stagecoach lines operating between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac. The Wades planned to build a new large and elegant inn to serve the growing traffic. It would also lend an aura of establishment and civilization to the growing village of Greenbush.

Wade House Stagecoach Hotel Opens, 1850

The new Wade House stagecoach hotel opened to the public in 1850. It was built of locally harvested and sawn lumber. Its three-story, Greek Revival style reflected the architectural fashion of the "civilized" East. To travelers, Wade House represented the prosperity and progress of the young village. The hotel was the scene of cotillions, business meetings, political caucuses and circuit court sessions. The taproom buzzed with debates of issues as mundane as last year's crops and as heady as secession and the abolition of slavery.

Construction of the Sheboygan and Fond du Lac Plank Road began in 1851. This seemed to ensure that the Wades' village and inn would continue to flourish.

Heyday Wanes, New Railroad Bypasses Greenbush, 1860s

The Wade House stagecoach hotel heyday lasted little more than a decade. In the early 1860s the railroad became the main transportation artery between the port of Sheboygan and the interior of the state. It bypassed Greenbush entirely, establishing a terminal two miles north in Glenbeulah. By the mid 1860s the growth and prosperity of Greenbush had stalled. The village became a sleepy rural hamlet. For the next 80 years three generations of Wades lived in the building and it continued to function as a hotel until around 1910.

Restoration Plans Falter and the Hotel Deteriorates, 1940s

In 1941 the hotel was sold by Sylvanus' grandson, William Wade, to family friend Mary Dorst for $5,200. Mrs. Dorst planned to restore Wade House to its original 19th-century splendor and use the many Wade furnishings still within the house. Unfortunately, by 1949 Mrs. Dorst no longer had the funds to continue the repairs necessary to maintain or restore the building.

Kohler Family Restores Wade House, 1950s

By 1950, 100 years after its construction, Wade House was dilapidated but stood in a basically unaltered condition. Marie Christine Kohler and her sister-in-law, Ruth De Young Kohler, were soon going to bring Wade House's rich history back to life. It was the vision of Marie Kohler, daughter of Kohler Company founder John Michael Kohler, to restore the historic stagecoach hotel to its 1850s heyday.

Portrait of Ruth de Young Kohler

Ruth de Young Kohler

Unfortunately, Marie Kohler passed away before she could set her vision in motion. Ruth De Young Kohler enthusiastically took up her sister-in-law's cause. The Kohler family and the Kohler Foundation purchased Wade House in 1950 and began a top-to-bottom restoration.

The foundation also acquired and restored the circa-1855 residence of Charles Robinson, son-in-law of Wade House founder, Sylvanus Wade. The house's first floor was opened as a series of period rooms. A blacksmith shop, framed with early timbers, was also reconstructed near the original location of the Henry Dockstader smithy that once fronted on the Plank Road near the Wade House.

Property Deeded to the Wisconsin Historical Society

Ruth De Young Kohler personally directed the restoration and sought to deed the property to the Wisconsin Historical Society upon completion. Amid great fanfare, complete with an appearance by poet Carl Sandburg, Wade House opened to the public on June 6, 1953, as the Society's second historic site. Sadly, Mrs. Kohler did not live to see the fruit of her labors. She passed away three months before the grand opening.

Wade House Historic Site Expansions

In 1963 the Wisconsin Legislature voted to create a permanent home for the carriage collection of Wesley W. Jung, grandson of a Sheboygan carriage maker, at the Wade House site. In 1968 the Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum opened to the public.

Restoration continued in 1999 when the Kohler Trust for Preservation pledged a $1.8 million gift to rebuild the Herrling Sawmill on its original site. The mill, which had stood in Greenbush throughout the second half of the 19th century, opened to the public on June 16, 2001.

New Award-Winning Visitor Center and Carriage Museum

Wade House Visitor Center, 2013.

Wade House Visitor Center, 2013.
Source: Uihlein Wilson Architects

In one of the more transformative moments in the site's history, a new 38,000-square-foot Visitor Center and Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum opened to the public on June 8, 2013, 60 years to the week from the opening of Wade House historic site. This LEED-certified structure with direct access from Highway 23, offers engaging orientation exhibits, dining, shopping, meeting and facility rentals spaces, together with a state-of-the-art, multi-faceted reinstallation of the site's horse-drawn vehicle collection.

In 2014 the new structure was awarded two American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Technology Awards (1st place at the local ASHRAE level and 2nd place at the regional ASHRAE level). The ASHRAE Technology Awards recognize outstanding achievements by members who have successfully applied innovative building design in the areas of occupant comfort, indoor air quality and energy conservation.

The primary funders for this public-private initiative were the state of Wisconsin, the Kohler Trust for Preservation, and the Mark Jung family. Horse-drawn transportation or a beautiful, wooded walking trail connect the new facility to the site's historic core.


Label