The Houses that George Built—an Isenberg Retrospect
A few years ago, Margie Isenberg Abel stopped in Baraboo on a trip through Wisconsin, and that trip piqued her interest about her family’s links to Sauk County history. She knew of local kin Jim Isenberg (who is a second cousin), and wanted to learn more. With help from author Jerry Apps, a local Ringling historian, Abel contacted relatives of George Isenberg in Germany. She learned that three of seven Isenberg brothers left the family carpentry business to come to America. Two of the brothers, George and Carl, started Isenberg Brothers in Sauk City before moving to Baraboo. Here they built several landmark structures that, despite being built more than a century ago, remain vibrant institutions.
Then about 2 years ago, The Isenberg great-granddaughters returned for a week to Baraboo, intent on researching the indelible imprint the Isenberg buildings left on Baraboo. They came from Kansas and New Hampshire to see the Baraboo Library, the Al. Ringling Mansion, St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Ringling House Bed & Breakfast and the Van Orden Mansion – all built by their Isenberg ancestors.
“They were unbelievable mansions for that time,” said Margie Isenberg Abel, the chief family researcher.
They compared notes with Executive Director Paul Wolter of the Sauk County Historical Society, about the construction company run by their great-grandfather and his brother George.
“They were, bar none, the premier builders of Sauk County,” Wolter said.
There were seven sons and three daughters in the Isenberg family. George, being the youngest son, was educated in Germany, and as a youth was apprenticed to the trade of carpenter. In 1885, he immigrated to the United States, and once arriving in Sauk County, he eventually took up residence in Baraboo, where he lived without interruption-although in the interest of his business affairs, he resided for short periods at other places. For three or four years he was employed as a carpenter by his brother Karl, with whom he eventually formed a partnership, and the firm of Isenberg Brothers grew to be one of the leading contracting and building concerns in this part of the state. During this time the brothers erected many of the largest buildings in Baraboo, including all the Ringling buildings, and in 1912 George Isenberg went to Florida, where he erected the winter home for Charles and Edith Ringling.
Margie Isenberg Abel of Kansas, Ann Isenberg of New Hampshire and Carol Isenberg Dillon of Kansas, sitting on the stirs of the Van Orden Mansion, one the homes constructed by Carl and George Isenberg.
Thanks to Ben Bromley of the Baraboo news Republic and the Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society for Information in the preparation of this piece.