A piece of Wisconsin History
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Six white wooden pillars stretch for two stories in front of a 115-year-old white manor along the river in Wisconsin Rapids; its steps have supported the weights of Susan B. Anthony and Louis Armstrong.
Wisconsin Rapids ‘White House’ transports visitors back in time
by: CAITLIN SHUDA
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Editor’s note: This is part of a regular Daily Tribune series focusing on the people and places that have left a mark on the Wisconsin Rapids area’s history.
The Arpin family originally built the home that has seen 10 owners in the last century. The Arpins were a prominent local family and often hosted guests. While documentation has been lost, stories about some Arpin guests have been passed along with the deed from one owner to the next. Current owner, Patrick Goodness, shared some of the house’s history with a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter.
One story says Susan B. Anthony spoke at a neighboring church in Wisconsin Rapids in the late 1800s to early 1900s, then returned to town years later and stayed at the manor as a guest of the Arpin family.
Another story tells the tale of Louis Armstrong traveling from Chicago to Minneapolis. Wisconsin Rapids is roughly halfway between the two cities, and the story says Armstrong chose to stop in Wisconsin Rapids because it was known to be progressive in terms of race relations and had attractions like a speakeasy, taverns, movies and more. During his visit, Armstrong supposedly stayed as a guest of the Arpin family in the “White House.”
Goodness said he wanted to share the history of the home with others who were like he was as a child — familiar with the house, but curious about the inside and the stories of the last 115 years. Goodness decided to give others an opportunity to spend the night in the house. He received the proper license at the end of April, and the home is now listed on airbnb.com and booking.com.
“We wanted to put together a program to allow people to spend one night, a week or a month in the house, and step back in time and appreciate the history of what that era was.” Goodness said.
Goodness said the house sleeps six people comfortably. Four bedrooms are available for overnight guests, or small gatherings could rent space for an event.
“People can experience in small groups the beauty and splendor of a bygone era,” Goodness said.
Small holiday parties, retirement parties, wedding or baby showers or gatherings could be held at the historic White House.
People can stay at the house for $350 a night. Goodness said the money goes back into paying utilities, cleaning and continuing to preserve the history of the home.
“This house is one that should be preserved,” Goodness said. “We want to continue to care for this house for generations to come.”
History of the ‘White House’
John and Clarice Arpin lived in the house next door, now known as Le Chateau-The Manor Bed & Breakfast. In 1902, they built what is now known as the White House for their son, Daniel. The Arpin family founded a lumber mill, and their homes along the river were designed to display wealth and success of the family and showcase their ability to get lumber from all over the world.
The home was built in a Jacobean manor-style and features a different type of wood in each room, emphasizing the family lumber business. The parlor highlights birch, the library is done in maple, and the billiards room has teak wood. The dining room features 18th century Brazilian mahogany with Belgian tapestry that winds around the room, Goodness said.
The White House was also the first house in the area with indoor plumbing installed when it was built. Floors were equipped with a bell system and pull-cords that alerted servants where the Arpin family members were at all times.
The house was also built with a clear distinction between family and servant space. In the front 75 percent of the home, the wood is dark and the door handles are brass. Toward the back of the house, the boundaries are marked on one side of the door dark, and the other side light-colored wood and lead handles. The remaining portion of the house has lighter wood, signifying where the servants stayed.
Daniel Arpin lived in the house when it was built in 1902. In 1927, it became the Baker Mortuary, which was renamed in 1967 to the Baker Wilkinson Mortuary. The home served as a mortuary for 64 years, and that’s when Goodness first remembers riding his bike past the house and creating stories with his friends about what was inside.
In December 1991, Joseph and Andrea Kreeger purchased the house, and Goodness finally had an opportunity to see the rooms and history that stood behind those tall, white columns.
“I met Joe Kreeger and he offered to give me a tour,” Goodness said. “I was so impressed. To go inside was to travel back in time.”
In December 2007, Patrick and Terri Goodness bought the house.
“We are proud of the history in our area, and we are continuing (to preserve the house) as an extension of family and city pride,” Goodness said. “It became our family home in Wisconsin Rapids.”
The Goodness family has done work to restore and preserve the history of the home, but Goodness said many of the previous owners also worked to honor the rich history of the house.