1850’s "mirror mansion" built by identical twins Argalus Isaac and Augustus Ira Foote.
Speculated underground railroad site, Al Capone moonshine still
For years, this old place lie rotting away just a short trip through the woods from my home. I was in it when I was young and later in my teens. I knew it was there but didn’t think much of it. Sure I loved old houses – the workmanship and the history – but it wasn’t until crazy stories told to me captured my imagination. Stories of secret stairways, underground tunnels, and stories of moonshine and gangsters – then I was curious of the old, boarded up building. Were there tunnels? Was there, truly, rings in the basement walls and blood spattered upon them from some unfortunate incident? Were there bars on the basement windows? There was some truth to some of it, but how much? I headed to the library to seek information…. and the courthouse, many, many times
It was there I learned the story of twin brothers, born in 1817, who shared a deep brotherly love through out their life. It’s been said they had a double wedding, Argalus married Adelia, and Augustus married Anna, making a complete foresome of "AF" initials. So close they were, after moving from Massachusetts in the early 1850’s, they had constructed a home for two families. One side of the house was the mirror image of the other side just like the brothers themselves. It is said that they furnished their sides the same and that the interior decorating was of the highest quality. Things were good. The brothers farmed their 300 acres (and more) of virgin land and Argalus and Adelia started building their family with sons Andrew, William, and Frank. The place was the pride of the countryside… but fate intervened. Anna Foote died during childbirth just before Christmas, 1855. The little daughter, Mary, followed her mother a few months later. As you can imagine, Augustus was devestated. Suddenly things became unequal between the two. Contrary to what is written out there, the Foote brothers carried on with life despite what was planned to be. Augustus lived with his sister, Sara, and mother, Rebecca, until they both past away as well. Come 1870 census, Augustus no longer lived there. Too much personal tragedy probably drove him away. In his place lived farmhands and a domestic servant or two. Once Argalus’ wife past away in 1876, the decision was made to move away. Argalus’ three sons had grown and left as well. Everyone moved to Oshkosh and established the Foote Brothers Milling Co. Their home sat empty and became known as "Foote’s Folly."
The mansion was bought by a family who raised horses and soon there were stables of fine horses and a racetrack was set up behind the house. Some eleven years later, they moved on, and the place sat empty. The place changed hands numerous times until the present owner bought it in 1934. But just prior to that, the place was one of speculation and concern.
Stories of covered trucks coming and going through the night and gangsters living there had the town of Eureka concerned. Once a place of admiration, now it was a place to avoid. Rumors soon circulated of a machine gun, on a turret, being mounted in the cupola. There were ideas of who they were, and to this day, Al Capone’s name comes up. Their time passed there as well.
In 1935, a local women’s group held a Halloween tour at the huge place. People came from everywhere for their chance to see the house, something of a legend already. To this day, their names are written on the walls of that time as well as others. So much admiration….
A lot of damage and deterioration came into play after that. Numerous articles in papers were written about it, a few photos taken, but nothing to save it from ruin. The coils and boilers from the moonshine days were lying out by a shed back in the 60’s as evidence of it’s moonshine days.
Armed with my new found knowledge of the house, I had a entirely new sense of admiration for the place. It was the twins dream house. It was an enormous place and being there, I felt like I was in another era – another time. The structure is – was – quite a place to walk up to. Very massive and overwhelming, yet somewhat personally romantic with it’s remaining Italianate gingerbread. It was hauntingly beautiful and I was completely drawn to it…. To imagine what it looked like – to "see" it with all the shutters, windows, and massive front porch. Fantastic…
Investigating it further, I noticed the remains of a carriage loop in the front yard from all those years ago. Inside the 7000 sq ft house were sagging floors covered with falling plaster and busted lathe. Remains of peeling wall and ceiling papers clung to twelve foot ceilings, hand-grained woodwork, ceiling medallions with remains of chandeliers in each of the four parlors, etc. There were two kitchens linked to twin dining rooms graced by huge bay windows. Upstairs there were 9 bedrooms, each with built in show closets, located off a 80ft hallway. The three staircases were open but the spindles were long gone. A hidden flight of steps led to the cupola which was once encased in 16 double hung windows.
The fabled tunnel was no longer open, but found to be mortared shut in the basement and sealed off on the other end. I spoke to a man who tried to dig it out when he was a kid in the 40’s. What could be in there? I wonder to this day…. Did the Foote’s set a lantern out on the porch years ago for those runaway slaves to spot? Was it another spot along the way towards freedom in Canada? It may forever remain a mystery.
It was a place of broken dreams from another place in time. It became a place riddled with rumors and speculation – a legend in itself. Those who desired to save it, couldn’t find a way. A place admired by many but now it faces a fate of it’s own. Even the fact of being potentially eligible for National Registry status wasn’t enough.
The brothers lived out their lives together in New London, Wi, with Argalus’ son, Andrew. It is written in one of their obituaries that, I quote, "they were impossible to tell apart and shared everything through out life. Their minds were but one thought it seems and their pleasures and sorrows were shared together. Their pocketbooks were combined, and neither knew what a quarrel was.That they trusted each other in ways that few brothers ever could. Living into their early ’80s, before the time of Augustus’ passing it was said they were the oldest surviving twins in the United States." Augustus past away in 1901 and was laid to rest beside his wife and daughter who lives were tragically cut short so many years before, and Argalus, the following year. A short mile away, the family is buried together in a family plot marked by a tall, white spire. The brothers still together just like they had been all their lives.
Posted by dtrannyman on 2010-04-05 03:51:40
Tagged: , old , house , mansion , brick , abandoned , Foote , WI , Eureka , haunted , twin brothers , underground railroad , unique , wisconsin , family , gangster hideout , pre civil war , Al Capone , weird wisconsin , italianate , architecture , moonshine , folly , rural , decay , farmhouse , Argalus and Augustus Foote , symmetrical , omro wisconsin , pioneers , legend , landmark , Winnebago County , forgotten , tunnel , 1800’s , 19th century