YORKVILLE, Wis. — Michael and Dawn Hourigan didn't dub their home the Yorkville Mansion.
As they were renovating their bedroom, they found on some boards in the wall the name "J.F. Moyle" in large looping cursive with "Yorkville Mansion" written underneath. J.F. stood for John Foxwell Moyle, who, with some help, built the Yorkville Mansion in 1883 for his family.
While they've done some work on the house over the years, flourishing careers and a growing family prevented them from doing a full restoration.
Over the past 2 1/2 half years, as their sons entered high school and college, they've made a bigger push to restore the mansion to its former glory. And they're being cheered on by almost 500 followers on their Facebook page, where they've tracked their progress since 2015.
T.F. Moyle had inherited the profitable family business, The Wisconsin Nursery. He was also involved in other business ventures, such as the Yorkville-Mount Pleasant Mutual Fire Insurance Company. Moyle may have also had a hand in other area historic buildings, such as the nearby Methodist church and the 4-H center, the former Yorkville School.
"Our builder was quite the go-getter," Michael said to The Journal Times. "He made a good career for himself and really didn't spare much expense when he built the house."
The house is built in the Italianate style, a version of Classical architecture popular in the 19th century. Between the meticulous woodwork, spacious rooms and cupula at the top, Moyle went all-in on the house.
"This was a showpiece kind of house," said Dawn. "With all the elements they put on the outside, all the decorative elements, everything was meant to look really nice."
Michael was raised in nearby Raymond, and Dawn grew up literally down the street from the mansion, but neither has any childhood memories of the place. The family that owned it the longest, the Naffzigers, ran a small dairy; Michael said his family used to buy dairy products from them. But neither recalls visiting the house or going inside until they were adults.
In 1996, a year after they got married, they were looking to buy a house. They looked at one in Burlington, then saw a sign outside the mansion saying it was for sale. They decided to stop by and take a look.
"We loved the architectural style of it and knew we wanted to bring it back to that style of what it used to be," said Dawn. "All the elements were here. We just needed to bring it out."
They made an offer and that was that.
The first several steps involved just making the house livable — installing hot water, a pressure tank and furnace and replacing the roof. While they've remained faithful to the original style on the exterior, they've taken some liberties with the interior, upgrading the wiring, plumbing and insulation.
They made the house liveable just in time for their first child. Ever since, they've made their way, room by room, moving furniture into nooks and crannies and hallways until the project is done. Due to budget constraints, the Hourigans haven't been able to hire professionals, so a lot of the restoration work falls on them.
"One of the nice things about the house being in the disrepair is that was we always said 'we can't make it worse,'" said Michael. "There's nothing we can do that would make this house in worse shape."
Dawn said that on the bad construction days, she'd sometimes think about that house in Burlington.
"It really would have been a fraction of the work of this place," she said. "It (the mansion) was a wreck. At the time we didn't even realize how much of a wreck it was until we moved in."
Between the time, energy and financial cost, Dawn and Micheal quickly admit that this kind of project is not for everyone. They frequently wonder if it's even for them.
"We start a project, get geared up and then about halfway through, we're ready to quit everything," said Dawn. "We don't want to sugarcoat it. We've wanted to sell this house many times over, but then we get to the end and we see the results and we're just like, 'Dammit, now we have to keep going.' Because the results are just so exciting for us, and we're really pleased with how it's gone."
But there have been some fun discoveries along the way. As they tore down walls, surprises kept popping up — carved wooden children's toy swords and guns, medicine bottles and drawings and notes from Moyle. To pay it forward, they have left their own notes and surprises for whoever is next.
Their goal has been to stay as close to the original construction as possible, stripping down the layers of paint and plaster to get to the original woodwork.
During the recent push to upgrade the exterior, they talked to a lot of contractors before finding Pete Nicolazzi of Carpenter and Smith in Wheatland and Bob Swantz of Burlington, who understood what they were trying to do and how they wanted it done.
They've found other supporters along the way. One day they were working on the house when they noticed a large group of people standing in the road and walking through the cemetery. They invited them inside and learned they were descendants of the Moyles, in town from Minnesota for a family reunion, and they'd wanted to see their ancestor's house.
Months later, the descendants mailed them a family photo album with old photographs of the house.
"Just the trust that they sent us a photo album like that." said Dawn. "The family has been super gracious about sending stuff our way."
A Facebook page, which Michael said was set up on a whim to keep family and neighbors updated on their progress, has grown to almost 500 followers. Some have even stopped by the house to see how things are moving along, which gives them a morale boost.
"Every time we want to give up, somebody stops by and talks to us or we get a good result and it just keeps you going," said Dawn.
There will be more updates to come. They still have to finish the interior, re-do the kitchen and do some landscaping. Once that's done, they'll tackle the barn out back. But they're in no hurry.
"We intend to live here as long as humanly possible," said Michael. "It's a labor of love."
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Journal Times.