A piece of Port history set in stones

Descendants of couple who used Lake Michigan beach stones to build Port’s iconic Pebble House more than 150 years ago make a nostalgic visit to city

FOR KANSAS residents (from left) Lloyd Boger, his daughter Renee Owen and wife Gerry Boger, a trip to Port Washington last week was a pilgrimage of sorts. In 1848, Lloyd’s great-great-grandparents Edward and Elizabeth Dodge built the Pebble House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and today serves as the city’s Visitor Center, from rocks they collected on the shore of Lake Michigan. Photo by Sam Arendt

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By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

When Lloyd Boger was young, he said, his great-grandmother Jennie would tell him stories of her childhood — among them, the tale of how she and her parents Edward and Elizabeth Dodge collected rocks on the shore of Lake Michigan in Port Washington and then used them to create their house

Boger, his wife Gerry, and daughter and son-in-law Renee and Craig Owen made a pilgrimage of sorts last week, traveling from their Kansas homes to Port Washington to visit that house — the Pebble House, aka the Port Washington Visitors Center.

The family brought along some private treasures, a journal that Edward kept and a family Bible.

 “I think what affected me the most was carrying that Bible back into the Pebble House where it had been all those years ago,” Boger said. “The nostalgia’s pretty high today.”

His daughter said that just touching the rocks her ancestors had collected along the shoreline made an impact on her.

“Touching the rocks, knowing they had done the same thing 150-plus years ago ... that was amazing,” Renee Owen said.

The Pebble House, considered one of the finest examples of beach stone construction in Wisconsin, was built by Edward and Elizabeth Dodge, who moved from New York to Port in 1848. 

Every day, the couple would go to the lakeshore and collect stones of different sizes and colors and bring them to the site of their home on the south bank of Sauk Creek.

After being sorted by size and color, the couple and area stonemasons would incorporate them into the outer walls of the two-story house.

The walls for the 1-1/2-story house are 20 inches thick, built on an inner rubble stone wall structure. The inner wall was built up several feet before the facing was created.

A wooden framework was built on the outside of the wall and a plank set horizontally. After the course of stones was laid, the plank was raised for the next wall, but every few feet, the wall had to be allowed to dry or the pressure from subsequent layers would cause the round stones below to slip out.

 The rock pattern incorporates two courses of black basalt rocks, then a row of pink and grey granite, then two more courses of bluff, pink and white flints and quartzites.

“From what we were told, they were building like that in New York,” Boger said.

Edward, who was a blacksmith by trade, later became a trustee in what was then the Village of Port Washington.

The couple later moved to Great Bend, Kan., Edward going first with Elizabeth and the rest of the family traveling by horse and wagon through dangerous country, Boger said. 

“What really puzzles me is why anyone would leave this paradise for the flatlands of Kansas,” he said.

As Edward traveled from Port to Kansas, Boger said, he stopped to water his horse and a man he knew from Port Washington stepped out of the house, saying “E.J., you may as well eat since you’re here.”

While the Dodges left Port, the Pebble House remained. In March 1930, it was purchased by the Milwaukee Railway and Light Co. — today We Energies — as it prepared to build its power plant.

The company, which used the Pebble House as its gatehouse, moved the building about 125 feet in 1935 when the creek was dredged to create the harbor. 

The house was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for its unique pebble construction — Owen has the framed original document at her home — and it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 8, 1975.

Wisconsin Electric, a successor to Milwaukee Railway and Light Co., offered the Pebble House to the City of Port Washington in 1982. The city assumed ownership and in 1985 moved the house from the power plant to its current location at 126 E. Grand Ave.

The building has since been used as home to the Chamber of Commerce and the city’s tourist information center.

The Boger family’s trip to Port Washington was spurred by Owen’s love of genealogy, her father said.

Owen said her interest in genealogy was sparked when she inherited the journal and Bible from her grandmother.

“I started reading it and I was hooked,” she said.

 Her grandmother had also written her a letter about the family history, noting that one of her last long trips was to Port Washington to visit the Pebble House, Owen said.

And as she researched her family’s history, she began dreaming about someday making a trip to Port Washington to see the Pebble House. Her husband arranged the trip as a Christmas gift last year.

As they drove to Port from their home in Great Bend, Kan., Owen said she read aloud from Edward Dodge’s journal.

One of her favorite entries, she said, recounted Christmas 1885.

“All of my family is at home,” Edward wrote. “We opened a bottle of champagne I took off the wreck of the Toledo in Port Washington, Wis., in November 1856. Thirty-two years ago and it has been in my possession ever since.”

Elizabeth Dodge visited Port Washington after the family moved to Kansas, according to her husband’s journal, Owen said, noting Edward wrote in 1887 that he was “lonely as a loon” because his wife was in Port.

Near the end of the journal, in a July 20, 1887, entry, Edward states, “I think it is time for me to quit farming and return to Wisconsin.”

He never did, Owen said, but several generations of the family have come to visit.

The roughly 16-hour car ride also left family members pondering a simple question — “How did they do that with a horse and wagon?” Boger said.

 The trip gave the family valuable insight into their ancestors and a new appreciation of its history.  

“This trip validated the stories she (his great-grandmother) told me,” Boger said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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