Area Home on State Historical Register

Smith, Amy. Daily Jefferson County Union, October 3, 2014.

Turning onto Koshkonong Mounds Road, one is sure to stumble upon what can only be the Albert and Mary Shekey House.

Listed on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places Aug. 15, the stately home now owned by Gary and Jill Gramley, is a true work of art with its traditional Queen Anne-style Victorian charm. The 2,700-square-foot residence built by the Shekey family in 1885 was purchased by Gary in 1971. Around 1988, he began an extensive renovation of its exterior, which led to an ongoing process of restoring their historic home.

The previous owners, Carol and Irene Spangler, who purchased the property in the late 1940s from a Methodist Episcopal?church, had covered the original siding with asphalt shingles in an effort to make the home more energy efficient. During the Spanglers' residency, the front entry vestibule was demolished in part and a new entry was constructed by enclosing the front porch.

Other major changes included construction of a screen porch on the west side of the house, two windows in the dining room and bathroom were enlarged, and the ceilings on most of the first floor were lowered in another effort to lower heating costs.

The Gramleys since have renovated all exterior alterations, starting first by removing the replacement siding and refinishing the original siding, reconstructing the front entry vestibule and restoring the back porch. The screened porch was reconstructed, and exterior doors and windows throughout the house were replaced in their original openings.

"We started actually with a leak upstairs," Gary said. "We had to find out where the leak was coming from, so we picked up some shingles and it went from one thing to the next. The wood that is now on this house is basically what it did look like, except it wasn't painted."

The couple noted that they found old pictures of the house to use as a guide when renovating the exterior of the home. Interior alterations also have been made since Gary purchased the home, including a kitchen remodeling and the refinishing of hardwood floors and, throughout the house, refinishing hardwood floors that had been covered with vinyl flooring.

Jill currently is working on refinishing the stairs, banister and second-floor hallways as one of her many winter projects.

"It's a work in progress," Jill said. "I'm just trying to make it into the country house it was intended to be.

"This is our recreation," she added.

In 2008, the Gramleys constructed a four-car garage with an upper-level loft apartment that their friends have titled the "Garage Mahal." Its design mimics many of the architectural features that makes the house so unique, including its clipped gable roof, decorative siding and trim, and ornamental brackets.

In addition to the four-bedroom house, the Gramleys own 11.8 acres of the original 103.5-acre farm, as well as an original threshing barn, which is the only remaining building left from the property's farming days.

The property once housed several outbuildings, including a milkhouse, two smaller barns, a chicken coop, and a wooden and stone silo.

The Gramleys' remaining acreage also is home to six Native American burial mounds.

The Gramleys' house was nominated for the historic registry during an architectural and historic intensive survey funded through a grant awarded to Jefferson County by the Wisconsin Historical Society. For a property to be eligible for the historic register, it must meet at least one of the four main criteria: event, person, design/construction or information potential. The Shekey house was nominated for its design and construction.

The county hired Legacy Architecture of Sheboygan to initiate the survey, which inventories all properties in an area that maintain a certain level of historical integrity - meaning they have not been structurally altered - or are historically significant. The firm surveyed four quadrants encompassing the towns within Jefferson County.

The results of the survey found that the Gramley house remains the sole example of Queen Anne-style architecture within the Town of Koshkonong and one of the most intact examples of the style throughout all of rural Jefferson County.

"You don't see that many farmhouses in the country with the kind of decoration this house does and most of them aren't as well maintained," Gary noted.

The Legacy Architecture report stated that in rural Jefferson County, there are only about 40 other previously identified Queen Anne-style houses recorded in the Wisconsin Historical Society's architecture and history inventory. However, the majority of these homes have been affected adversely by exterior modifications, making the Shekey House a unique and rare example of the style in the area

"The Albert and Mary Shekey house is now one of Jefferson County's most architecturally intact historic residencies," the report stated.

The Queen Anne-style of architecture was most popular during the years of 1890 to 1910, according to Bob Short, an architectural intern and historic preservation consultant at Legacy Architecture.

"The Shekey house is a somewhat early example of the style," Short said, noting that the house also has influences of the Second Empire style through the use of mansard roof forms at the porches and projecting bays.

Many of the house's most unique features are influenced, however, by the Queen Anne style, including its irregular site plan and shaping, steeply pitched roof with multiple gables, projecting bays, decorative ornaments, and use of wall surfaces as the primary decorative elements by using multiple siding materials, Short explained.

Restoration of historically significant homes can be expensive, so the Gramleys hope to benefit from tax credits and other incentives to maintain the property now that it is listed on the Wisconsin Historic Registry.

"It's a lot of money, and it's a lot of work, but the day that we went to the historical society when we were being nominated and saw the pictures of your house on this big screen being presented to the historical society and the comments we've heard from the people, it just was so rewarding," Jill said.

"You get all kinds of comments about how lovely the house is and all of that, but when you get this kind of recognition, that is the ultimate pay off for all the work we did," Gary added.

Jill said a lot of people think once you are on the historic registry, you cannot make any changes to the house, but there are no such defined rules of which she is aware.

Gary said owners mostly can make any changes to the interior as long as they do not alter the size or shape of features such as the windows or walls. He also said the registry's goal is to preserve the original architecture on the exterior of the home, which is what qualified their home for the recognition.

"We don't want to change the look of it," Jill said. "We want to maintain the beauty of it."

Their son, David, who has gained his parents' love of older homes, hopes to someday convert his childhood home into a bed and breakfast as a way to honor and preserve its historical charm and accuracy.

"He wants to make sure no one comes in and changes it," Jill said. "If we ever do sell this house, whoever buys it is going to have to sign off on a lot of requests," Gary added with a laugh.