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Council weighs historic value of Lenroot House

The man who could've been the 30th President of the United States, U.S. Sen. Irvine Lenroot, built the home Brent and Ashley Fennessey own in Central Park.

810 E. Third Street
The home of Brent and Ashley Fennessey at 810 E. Third Street in Superior. The house is being considered for listing on the Municipal Register of Historic Places.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — The house built by the one man from Superior who could’ve been a U.S. President could soon be recognized on the Municipal Register of Historic Places as Lenroot House.

It’s a history that wasn’t known to Brent and Ashley Fennessey when they purchased their home at 810 E. Third St. in 2013.

It was the character of the house that drew them in.

“It’s got just a ton of character on the inside,” Councilor Brent Fennessey said. “It’s got ton of character on the outside — character you don’t see very often anymore.”

While the home had fallen into disrepair, they could envision the potential for the house.

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The house was constructed with a round tower and polygonal dormer that merge with the main gable of the house. With wide, bracketed overhanging eaves, the house was covered in a variety of shingles, which evolved out of the Queen Anne style. The rare style is best represented by the Lenroot House at 810 E. Third St., according to the 2019 Architectural and Historical Intensive Survey Report conducted by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

After the couple purchased the home, Fennessey said librarian, author and local historian Teddie Meronek reached out to him after writing an article about the Lenroots that she thought he would find interesting.

It launched Fennessey on a project to learn more about the home’s history.

“It’s been a fun process because it’s like we’ll find this little nugget of information and then there’s nothing for a couple of years then we’ll find another little piece,” Fennessey said. “Surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot out there that we’ve been able to put together. We still haven’t been able to find an original picture of it.”

Constructed kitty-corner from Fairlawn Mansion, he said they’ve even searched photographs of the museum that was home to Martin and Grace Pattison but have had no luck finding a glimpse of their home in the background.

“We did find a picture of the (Lenroot) family standing next to the house, but it’s a close-up picture and there’s not whole lot of the architecture that’s shown in that picture,” Fennessey said.

Irvine Lenroot, who built the home in the early 1890s, lived at the home with his wife, Clara (Clough) Lenroot and two daughters. He got his start in Wisconsin politics as an ally of Gov. Robert La Follette while serving in the state Assembly from 1901 to 1907.

In 1909, Lenroot took office in Washington, D.C., serving in the U.S. House of Representatives as Republican from Wisconsin’s 11th Congressional District. He served four succeeding terms until he resigned in 1918 after being elected to the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy left by the death of U.S. Sen. Paul Husting, who was killed in a hunting accident.

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“He was the only U.S. senator to come out of Superior,” Fennessey said.

But it was the 1920 Republican National Convention in Chicago that created one of the more interesting might-have-beens in American political history, according to a 1977 article in "The Wisconsin Magazine of History." After U.S. Sen. Warren G. Harding of Ohio was nominated as the presidential candidate, delegates ignored the advice of party leaders who believed the more progressive Lenroot would balance the ticket with the more conservative Harding. Instead, delegates elected Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge to be Harding’s running mate by a 4-1 margin.

Coolidge became the nation’s 30th president when Harding died in office in 1923.

Besides Lenroot, the house has had a long history of being owned by community leaders, Fennessey said. In 1913, the house was sold to Edward McMahon, owner of McMahon Co., followed by a 1938 sale to an Evening Telegram general manager Sidney Buchanan, Fennessey said.

In 1950, it was sold to Emerick Pohling, a district engineer for Ramapo Ajax, which manufactured brake shoes, he said. After sitting vacant for two years in the early 1950s, the home was sold to Richard Sell, a salesman for Howard & Sell, an Oldsmobile dealership, before it was sold to Robert Cole, also a salesman with Howard & Sell, who owned it for more than 50 years before the Fennessey family purchased the house.

Fennessey said he decided to seek a place on the Municipal Register of Historic Places to recognize and display the history of his home. He is also hoping for statewide recognition in the future.

According to a survey of Superior’s historic properties conducted by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2019, the house could be eligible for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Superior City Council will consider listing the property on the municipal registry following a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, in Room 201 of the Government Center.

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“Superior has a super-rich history,” Fennessey said. “I think it’s important that we highlight it whenever we can.”

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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