Since the Israel Stowell Temperance House has gained publicity from newspaper articles that have appeared in the Sunday Shopper, Janesville Gazette, Delavan Enterprise, the Wisconsin State Journal, and USA Today, people have been asking what Temperance means, and how it got its name.
Temperance, according to the dictionary, means restraint in the use of, or abstinence from, alcoholic liquors. In this case, it would be safe to say it was total abstinence.
Delavan was created as a temperance colony by Samuel and Henry Phoenix. They were extremist temperance followers and their plan was to move west into the wilderness and begin a temperance colony. It was intended that no one within their newly formed colony would possess or consume the demon alcohol, and there were covenants in property deeds attesting to this.
In early 1840, the Phoenix’s contracted Israel Stowell to build and maintain a Temperance House in Delavan. Stowell didn’t have much capitol, so the Phoenix’s gave him terms and that would give him the opportunity to eventually own the property. The wood for the building came from the Phoenix Mill, which was started in 1839, and they sold him windows, nails and other trimming from their store at fair prices.
The Phoenix Bros. spelled out some precise details about the building that they would let Stowell construct. It would be 34ft by 27ft, two stories high in the front and it would be painted white, and operated as a strict temperance house. After three years, Stowell could purchase the lots for $50.
The Temperance House became an important meeting place in Delavan. In 1842 the fist government meeting was held there and William Ayres Bartlett was elected the fist Chairman. (Ayres was a half-brother of Samuel & Henry Phoenix) and Stowell was elected constable.
Samuel Phoenix died in September of 1840, and his brother Henry died about 1 1/2 years later. They had been such a driving force behind the temperance colony, that it was impossible for anyone to take their place. Many residents remained active in the movement, but it opened the door to new settlers who didn’t share the same ideals.
Israel Stowell didn’t pick up on the option to purchase the lots and he moved to Darien and took up farming. It passed through several proprietors and in the late 1840’s a Mr. Harkness contracted a cabinetmaker, who was a member of the temperance society to build him barroom fixtures, and alcohol entered the building.
The building has been know as both the Israel Stowell Temperance House and the Stowell Tavern. In early years the word tavern did not infer the serving of alcohol; a tavern was an inn or gathering place. (There is a reference to the Stowell Tavern in a Janesville newspaper as early as 1860.)
Stowell’s name has remained attached to the building for well over 100 years even though he operated his inn only a few years.
With Delavan’s birth as a temperance colony, the Israel Stowell Temperance House being the oldest building in Delavan, and the last known surviving Temperance House in the state of Wisconsin—this building needs to be saved. The Temperance House opened its doors over 170 years ago on June 1, 1840.