Racine boasted one of Wisconsin’s earliest and most important Czech communities, home to Czech-language newspapers, churches, and societies. Czechs began flocking to the area after the 1848 abolition of serfdom in Bohemia. Mostly farmers and skilled tradesmen, these immigrants were vocal dissidents against the Austrian Hapsburg rulers and Catholic clergymen who then controlled Bohemia. No Czech newcomer fought harder for Bohemian nationalism or worked more tirelessly abroad or in the United States for the dignity of immigrants and workers than Karel Jonas. Coming to Racine in 1863 to edit the influential Czech-language newspaper Slavie (The Slav), he emerged as the leader of Czechs in America. He published a pioneering Czech-English dictionary and sought other ways to acculturate his fellow immigrants. Elected to public office, he championed child labor laws and promoted a state agency to protect workers’ interests. He later served as lieutenant governor, United States ambassador to Prague, and, briefly, consul to St. Petersburg. A statue of Jonas, designed by Mario Korbel and erected at the intersection of High Street and Douglas Avenue in 1912, honors his accomplishments.
Soon after his election to the legislature in 1877, Jonas built this Italianate residence with bracketed eaves and segmental-arched hood moldings on Racine’s north side in the heart of the heavily Czech Fourth Ward. After he sold it in 1894, the new owner, merchant Peter Stoffel, added a then-fashionable two-story bay, rounding the southeast corner and filling the inside angle of the original ell. A pedimented entrance portico in a classicizing form, then in vogue, juts from the base of the bay, while a turret with a conical roof rises at the corner.