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The early days of Monroe’s historic downtown
back in the day matt figi

The following recollections of Norman Churchill were printed in the Monroe Evening Times on Thursday, April 26, 1900 when the American House was located on the southwest corner of the Monroe Square. Mr. Churchill recounted the history of this structure as he remembered it, making as correct an account as possible at that time. The building was being torn down at that time to make way for a “more modern and pretentious business block” to be built by F. F. White, now commonly referred to as the White Block.

Mr. Churchill remembers that, as a boy of 15 years of age, he sawed every stick of wood that went into that building and hauled it to town himself with the aid of a team of oxen. At this time E. T. Gardner and Martin Burt, who operated a sawmill seven and a half miles west of Monroe, employed Churchill. Even though he was still a boy, Churchill did a man’s work and drew a man’s pay. The two men took turns, each using the mill two times a week. Churchill was a sawyer for Gardner. While Burt ran the mill, Churchill hauled the lumber that was furnished for the building by Gardner. The sawmill was later converted to a barn after there was no longer an abundance of timber to be sawed. Churchill also helped to raise the building.

This sketch of the American House, which was located on the southwest corner of the square in Monroe from 1841 until 1900, came from the Green County plat map done by J. T. Dodge in 1861. It was later included in a publication of the 1861 plat book of Green County, which includes an index of the owners of rural property at that time as well as sketches of the street maps of the cities and villages.

The structure was built in the summer of 1841 by Demis Beach, who proposed to the county that, for the use of $400 for four years, he would build the building and give rooms on the second floor to the county for a court room as well as offices for the register of deeds, county clerk, and clerk of the court. This offer was made in the fall of 1840, immediately following the fire that destroyed the frame building that was almost completed for use as a Court House on the east end of the north side of the square. At that time, the county was left without a Court House and the county took advantage of the offer. The first term of court was held in this building in 1842.

An outside stairway on the north side led to the county rooms on the second floor. In the rear was a shoe shop; Beach moved his family into one end downstairs. In the front end there was a small store and the post office, where people from many miles around got their mail. 

It was during this time that Green County had its first murder trial. In 1843 a Mr. Vineyard was tried for shooting and killing a Mr. Arndt in the legislature at Madison. The trial was brought here from Madison on a change of venue and attracted very wide notice as well as the attendance of most of the prominent men in the state. Mr. Churchill remembers the occurrence distinctly as his folks boarded the jury that heard the case that became an important historic event of the early days of the state. Thomas Bragg and Christ Minert were the only jurors still living in 1900.

It was also in this building that the first Methodist society of Green County was organized and quarterly meetings were held in the courtroom.

The county used this building for some time after the four years had expired; they moved into the newly built brick Court House in the center of the square on January 1, 1845. This building had been built as a more suitable county headquarters. 

Beach sold his building in 1845 or 1846, after the county surrendered it, and then left for California during the opening of the gold craze. His wife died on the plains on the way out. 

Four or five different parties used the building as a hotel after that. Just before the war, Joe Gleissner bought it and fixed it up, building the porch and brick addition to the south. Gleissner traded it to Robert Allensworth, of Juda, and moved to Juda. After that, it was never used as a hotel again. It saw various changes to become a tavern at last.

It was while Allenworth owned the building in 1870 that someone tried to burn it down; this gave the firemen the first chance to use their new hand engine. Mr. Churchill had charge of the engine and the firemen worked four hours and ten minutes to save the building. It had two roofs that were burned off without a hole being made in the porch.

The building was one of the first two to be built on the square. There was some dispute whether it was built before or after the small building across the street north near Black’s livery, which stood where the McKey Block was later located. Mr. Churchill thought the buildings were built at the same time; they were the only two buildings on the square at that time. 

The square was new then. In 1839, a man named Reim had raised a big crop of oats where the square was later located. The lot for the Beach building was donated and, after the building was erected, the lot to the south was sold to Joseph Smith who became sheriff and was a brother-in-law of Peter Wells. He started to build, but traded the lot for a secondhand cook stove. By 1900, the land was worth from $50 to $60 per linear foot; the former court building had a frontage of fifty-six feet.

The Churchill family had arrived in Monroe on May 10, 1840. At that time there were only about five families in the town and less than 31,000 people in the state.

— Matt Figi is a Monroe resident and a local historian. His column will appear periodically on Saturdays in the Times. He can be reached at or at 608-325-6503.