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Grout Houses of Ripon

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c. 1850–c. 1858. 610 Liberty St., 522 and 515 Ransom St., 119 Tygert St., and 512 Woodside Ave.
  • Woodruff House (Photograph by Paul J. Jakubovich, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Ripon traces its beginnings to the establishment of Ceresco, a utopian community in the western part of the present-day city. Ceresco was based on the ideas of French philosopher Charles Fourier and his American disciple, Albert Brisbane, who hoped to reorganize society into “phalanxes”—communities of equal numbers of men and women, each performing the social and economic role for which he or she was best suited. Fourier believed this arrangement would ensure efficient production in agriculture, industry, and even literature, science, and the arts, thereby producing perfect social harmony. The Wisconsin Phalanx organized in 1844 and built in Ceresco communal kitchen, dining, and recreational facilities; two apartment buildings; a school; blacksmith and joiner shops; and a post office. But by 1850, the settlers proved unable to live communally. The demise of Ceresco coincided with the arrival of businessmen who established the city of Ripon on adjacent land.

A number of Ripon’s early settlers built with a new material known as grout, a crude form of concrete. Indeed, Ripon experienced a grout fad in the early 1850s. First introduced to Wisconsin by Joseph Goodrich of Rock County (see RO21), grout was made of burnt limestone mixed with water, gravel, sand, and rubble. Local stonemason Marcellus Pedrick constructed a number of Ripon’s grout houses, including the Catlin-Dart House (1854; 522 Ransom Street) made of grout blocks mimicking dressed stone. The L-shaped Italianate building is a two-story cube, covered by a hipped roof with deep eaves, arched brick lintels above the tall narrow windows, and a porch with scroll-sawn brackets. When Pedrick built his own house in 1858 at 515 Ransom (now the Ripon Historical Society Museum), he also chose the Italianate style. He formed the walls with fifteen-inch-thick grout blocks, whose yellow color resembles the local limestone used for many of Ripon’s Italianate buildings. A hipped roof has wide eaves supported on scroll brackets, and pedimented wooden lintels and sills frame the tall narrow windows. The elaborate Queen Anne porch was added later.

The Richard and Phoebe Catlin House (1857; 512 Woodside Avenue) is unusual among Ripon’s grout-block residences, in that the blocks imitate brick rather than stone. Pairs of scrolled brackets with pendants support a low-pitched hipped roof, crowned by a hipped belvedere. The two-story, Italianate house has an octagonal bay extending from one side. A paneled frieze at the eaves and a one-story, full-width porch with squared columns and a spindle balustrade lend formality.

Jacob Woodruff, a former Ceresco settlement member, constructed his small two-story octagon house (610 Liberty Street) after 1850 on land that had belonged to the phalanx. Octagonal design had been popularized by social philosopher and phrenologist Orson Fowler, who was also a proponent of grout. The widow’s walk above the low-pitched hipped roof is gone, and the one-story front porch was added in 1900. Woodruff, a blacksmith and blackberry farmer, was an abolitionist who helped found Wisconsin’s Republican Party in 1854, two years before the rise of the national party.

The house for prominent miller Henry Henton (1857; 119 Tygert Street) is an Italianate building that was later refashioned in the Second Empire mode by the substitution of a mansard for the original low-hipped roof. Scalloped moldings with C-shaped brackets support the broad overhangs of the roof, with its concave sides and round-arched dormers. A one-story full-width porch with classical columns and a spindle balustrade was probably added late in the nineteenth century.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


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Marsha Weisiger et al., "Grout Houses of Ripon", [Ripon, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 233-233.

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