T.B. Scott Mansion: A long and haunted history
TINA L. SCOTT
Legend says that before white men came to the area we now know as the City of Merrill, native American tribes, including the Chippewa and a tribe French traders called the Squiteo-eau-Sippi, inhabited the area. It is said the Indian chief of this latter tribe welcomed white lumbermen when they came north along the Wisconsin River. The chief had a beautiful daughter … some say she was an Indian princess … whose beauty enthralled the white men. The white men called her Jenny. Some versions say one of the white men fell in love with her and she died in childbirth having his baby. Another version says that an epidemic of influenza spread through the early lumber settlement, and Jenny fell ill and died. In both stories, the Indian chief blamed the white men for his daughter’s death.
Jenny was buried on the hill we now call “Holy Cross Hill” where the T.B. Scott Mansion currently stands. As the Indian chief stood before his daughter’s grave, stricken with grief, he dedicated the hill to Jenny’s memory and cursed any white man who would dare to violate it.
The lumber industry grew in the area and the settlement came to be known as Jenny Bull Falls and later, just Jenny. Many say the town was named for the beautiful Indian princess.
In time, the community grew and T.B. Scott and his family settled in the area in 1880, the railroad came to Merrill, and in 1883, the town was incorporated and named after S.S. Merrill, the division superintendent of the railroad. T.B. Scott (who was born in Scotland and came to the U.S. at age 10) became Merrill’s first Mayor.
In 1884, Mayor T.B. Scott selected Holy Cross Hill as the site of his future home, then employed a Milwaukee architect to design it, and began construction. When he died suddenly in 1886 at the age of 57, the house was not yet completed, although his family was living there. His widow, Anna, encouraged their son, Walter, to continue with the project, and the siding and roof were completed. Anna Scott died in New York City awaiting surgery in 1887 and was buried beside her husband.
One by one, many of the people associated with the Mansion met an untimely demise.
To tell the complete history of everyone who ever owned or lived in the Mansion in this article would require writing a short book, as Dolores Chilsen Mielke did.
But here are a few highlights of how the property changed hands over the years and the stories of some of the people associated with the Mansion:
• In 1902, Walter Scott, son of T.B. and Anna Scott, went to Chicago to see an architect on business, he got into an argument with the architect, and the architect stabbed him to death with a letter opener.
• In 1893, a wealthy Chicago businessman purchased the Mansion and ordered French plate glass windows and expensive mantels for the property. Some of his purchases were never installed. Another wealthy family purchased the Mansion, intending to use it for a summer home. They hired workmen to install all of the beautiful doors and windows, mantels, imported mirrors and other fancy decor. But they lost their wealth in a California gold mine fraud and mortgaged the house to a Chicago saloon keeper.
• In 1899, the saloon keeper foreclosed the mortgage, and the wealthy man went insane and died in an asylum. Meanwhile, the saloon keeper was stabbed in the back at the train station in Chicago while waiting for the train to Merrill one evening and died.. This was reportedly a mob hit.
• The property was sold at public auction on August 31, 1900. The owners then sold or leased the Mansion to a corporation formed to create a Lawyers Home, a place for elderly indigent lawyers. Charles Gibson was the General Manager and had his office in the Mansion. One day he left his office for an appointment downtown and simply disappeared without a trace.
• Around 1901 or so, Peter Loysen rented the Scott Mansion and the Mansion was finally completed so that it could be used as a real home. He lived there with his wife and niece, raised a family, and they took in boarders.
• In 1906-1907, a midwife named Mrs. Mary Fehlhaber bought the house and 39 acres of riverfront property, intending to turn the Mansion into a hospital one day. She and her husband, Herman, moved into the home in 1906 and were the first owners to actually live in the Mansion since it was built. Mary took in boarders and there are many interesting stories about them. One day while out in a buggy to attend a birth, Mary had a massive stroke and died in 1911.
• Multiple owners used the Mansion as a boarding house. One of the most interesting boarders, who at one time was also a caretaker on the property, was a man they called one-armed Popcorn Dan. Originally from England, he saved up enough money to return to his native England for a visit. He delayed his return home to the U.S. so he could book passage on the Titanic for its maiden voyage, sailing from England. Of course, as we all know, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912. Popcorn Dan was listed among the missing.
• Mary’s daughter, Pauline Freiberg, lived in the property with her aging father (who died in 1919); her husband, Albert; and their two children, Walter and Alvin, who are the only two children known to have actually been raised in the home. During that timeframe, in 1918, Robert Freiberg, the only child known to have been born at the Mansion, was born to Pauline’s nephew and his wife who lived with them for a time. Pauline ultimately sold the T.B. Scott Mansion to the City of Merrill for $8,500.
• From 1919 to 1923 the Mansion stood empty. Then the City gave the property to the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross with the condition that they establish a hospital. They did just that. Holy Cross Hospital opened in November 1926.
• Over the next 64 years, fancy chandeliers and other ornamentation in the Mansion were removed by the Sisters who favored simplicity and modesty, as befitting a convent; walls were removed to make a chapel; water, electricity, and steam heat were added; and the building was remodeled and an addition added, to create apartments and even a classroom for the Holy Cross High School which started in the convent parlor at the Mansion. The building was used as provincial headquarters for the Holy Cross Sisters; as a novitiate; as apartments/residence for the Sisters, chaplains, the hospital engineer; and as dorms for students attending Holy Cross Junior College, before it was partially restored as an historic mansion in the 1970’s, and limited tours of the building became available.
• On January 31, 1990, the T.B. Scott Mansion was sold to Good Samaritan Health Center with the understanding they would not sell or demolish it.
While the Sisters moved into the Mansion for a time in 1997, renting the property until their new building was completed, the Mansion has remained unoccupied and largely unused ever since.
*T.B. Scott Mansion by Dolores Chilsen Mielke, published in 1989 and revised in 1993, is available from the Merill Historical Society for $2.50 if you would like to purchase a copy.