Beaver Dam’s movers and shakers have all but disappeared in the century and decades following their deaths and those of their families, but two of them stare down at visitors to the Dodge County Historical Society Museum at 105 Park Ave.
There, inside the former Williams Free Library, stand two three-quarter height portraits of Henry B. and Martha Sherman, painted by accomplished artist John Antrobus in 1887. (Another painting, depicting Spring Brook Farm, is on loan to The Rogers — once a hotel and now apartments). Nearby is a sleigh, gleaming as if it was just removed from a showroom. All three items were donated to the museum in 2015, after the State Historical Society alerted the local museum that they were seeking a home.
“The Wisconsin Historical Society has hundreds of portraits that will never see the light of day, and they certainly have no room for a sleigh,” said DCHS curator Kurt Sampson. “They contacted us and we contacted the family. We told them we would be happy to have the items here, and after a little convincing they were happy to donate them to us.”
Some months later a large truck pulled up in front of the museum and Sampson was asked to unload it.
“The sleigh was in a huge crate, and both portraits (measuring five feet by eight feet and four feet by five feet) were in another large box,” Sampson said. “I called some of our board members and John Neumann at the parks department and we got together a bunch of guys to unload the truck. We managed to wrestle the sleigh crate onto the front lawn and Patrick Lutz pulled a crowbar and a hammer out of his sock and we pried off the top.”
The museum’s front doors had been replaced years earlier to allow the city’s first automobile to be moved inside. The sleigh also fit, along with the crate that held the portraits.
Henry B. Sherman, who was originally from Massachusetts, married Martha H. Ladd of Haverhill, New Hampshire, in 1854. The Sherman family, including Henry’s parents and brothers, came to Wisconsin some time later, and they all made their marks as prominent businessmen, county and state legislators and members of local fraternal organizations.
The sleigh’s voyage to the museum began more than a century ago, starting at Sherman’s beautiful home at Spring Brook Farm (northeast of Beaver Dam on Highway B). In publications of the day, the farm was described as being one of the most beautiful in the state, and Sherman was well known for his prize-winning short-horn cattle, sheep and Berkshire hogs. He is believed to be the first person to bring the Percheron horse to the state of Wisconsin.
“Henry B. Sherman was one of the most successful hotel managers in the country, working in establishments in Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. He established himself as an astute businessman, very enterprising and honest” reads a document on display near the sleigh. “He attended every agricultural fair held in Milwaukee for many years, exhibiting sometimes as many as 14 carloads of thoroughbred stock.”
Locally, Sherman managed the hotel in Minnesota Junction, “serving great food to railroad travelers.” He also managed a similar venture in Prairie du Chien, presumably traveling by rail to oversee that enterprise from his home in Burnett.
The sleigh was his pride and joy, so much so that he also had a painting done of himself riding in it behind two coal-black Percheron stallions, Henry and Prince. That painting is still in family hands and may one day join the other family treasures in Beaver Dam.
The sleigh was given to Martha Sherman’s nephew, William J. Chapman of South Wayne, Wisconsin, after Henry died at age 64 in 1894. His son, Jay William Chapman, used the sleigh in the 1920s to pick up his betrothed from the country school where she taught, and to take her back to her family home in South Wayne for the weekends.
William Chapman died in 1933 after the sleigh overturned and he was immobilized in the snow, catching pneumonia.
The donor, Betty Lou (Chapman) Teuscher, saw the sleigh in the rafters of the family’s lumber and coal shed when she was growing up, and hoped one day she could take it out for a ride. In the 1980s she purchased it at an estate sale at the family farm, where the sleigh was later stored. After extensive restoration the sleigh was shipped to her home at The Woodlands, Texas. There it was brought out for Christmas in the atrium of her church. Years later she had it sent to the Dodge County Historical Society, where it and the portraits are on permanent display. (Shipping costs were estimated at $5,000 and the portraits alone were valued at more than $38,000).
Guests are invited to see the items and to learn more about the family that helped Beaver Dam grow and flourish.
“The items are some of our most important treasures, and tell a fascinating story from the city’s past,” Sampson said.