201 8th St Baraboo, WI

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Gas Lighting in the Victorian Age

Gas-or Electric-or Both?  How homes were “lit” in the Victorian Age.

When weGas Lighting give tours of the Charles Ringling Home on 8th and Ash streets in Baraboo, we always like to point out the modern conveniences that were incorporated into Charles’ (and later Henry’s) state of the art home. This home had most, if not all of the features we now take for granted in the 21st century. Even though the home had indoor plumbing, indoor heating, electricity, an intercom system, a fire suppression system and an elevator, I’d like to focus on an earlier type of illumination that was built into the Ringling home—gas lighting.

When commercial gas became available in the early 19th century, a new way of lighting was available for the first time. Although municipal water and sewer service was also available at the time, it took many years to implement, and often residential and commercial gas service was available first.

The gas that was used to light spaces during the Gaslight era was coal gas. It was similar to natural gas, and was manufactured by heating coal in an oven that was sealed to keep oxygen out. The gas was purified, filtered and pressurized which was then piped to homes, businesses and even street lights!

In the late 19th and early 20th century, electricity gradually replaced gas as the source of lighting, and a period of dual-fuel (gas and electric) fixtures were developed over a period of about 20 years as part of the transition.

What were the requirements for installation of these unique hybrid fixtures?

Well, the most important one was that the actual lighted bowl had to be kept a safe distance away from any materials that it might ignite. The second reason was that the gas to the fixture was turned on and off with a valve, or valves, that were built into it. Because the flame had to be lit after the gas was turned on, the fixture had to be easy to reach — either from the floor or with the use of a small step-stool.  

The way you can tell the real from the fake, if you see any of these fixtures in a Victorian era home, will be as hanging fixtures or wall sconces. They will have open bowls, usually made of glass and hold the lighted mantle and a light bulb in separate holders. The open bowl was needed to allow the products of the combustion to escape and also directed most of the light upward.

We actually have one of these dual-fuel fixtures in the library of the Ringling Home that has survived and is hanging in its original location!

Next time you are in the area, please check our tour times, or better yet, reserve a room at this historic home! A full house tour is included with all reservations.


Source material from “The Spruce” by Bill Lewis, 02/15/2017


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.

Early Ringling House 1901

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 weCarlIsenbergre 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.


Greenhouse in Charles Ringling Estate in Baraboo, WI

Greenhouse in Charles Ringling Estate in Baraboo, WI

The Charles Ringling Estate was pretty high tech in it’s time, it was made to be a self sustaining estate.   It had a barn with a chicken coop, carriage house for carriages and horses, an underground cistern system that collected water from the gutters of all the buildings, and a green house.  Now this cistern system fed water to the fire suppression system in the house, the outdoor fountain, the horses in the barn, and the plants in the greenhouse.  Yesterday, as we were cleaning out the greenhouse, we found out how high tech this estate was for its time.  The greenhouse was heated by a radiator system.   Not only was the greenhouse heated, but the tables that held the plants were heated from below so the plants would survive the cold wisconsin winters!   As history buffs, these things just amaze us! Hope you enjoy us sharing this with you!

"Radiant" heated greenhouse tables.

“Radiant” heated greenhouse tables.


Start of radiator lines inside the Charles Ringling Estates Greenhouse in Baraboo, WI.


End of radiator lines in the greenhouse

Phox Video

Check out this new video, done by the Grand Marshals of the coming Circus Parade this Saturday in Baraboo:   Baraboo’s own folk music group PHOX!     All video work was done in the Ringling House Bed & Breakfast!

We LOVE the video, very creative!  Thank you PHOX, Jordan Jensen, Zach Johnston, Michael Doyle Olson & Nanci Caflish!

The story of the seven brothers…Ringling History


Music Room Mirror



Stuart Koehler, Richard Bennett, Joe Colossa installing original Ringling gilded mirror.


Original Ringling Furniture in Music Room.

Original Ringling Furniture in Music Room.

We received a very special gift today.  The gilded mirror that originally went over the fireplace mantle in the music room at the Ringling House Bed & Breakfast, had been on display at the Al Ringling Mansion here in Baraboo, WI.   Joe Colossa has generously loaned  the mirror to us from the Ringling family collection so it could be displayed again in its original home.  To confirm our thoughts that this mirror belongs here, were the holes in the fireplace mantle for the dowel fittings in the mirror – a perfect fit!

Shown from left to right are the guys working to get it up above the mantle, Stuart Koehler, Richard Bennett, and Joe Colossa.

Doesn’t it look great in front of the Ringlings Steinway Grand, on loan from the Ringling family collection?

Thank you so much Joe and Rich!


First Customers Today!

So today, our first customers arrived, as wide eyed as we did when we first did our walk through with the house!  We have  been working really hard to get the bedrooms ready for our guests, and the work paid off today with some excited and happy customers.   We have a big evolving vision for this place, and want to make enhancements to this place every year!

It gives us a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment to share this house and the history behind it with others.  I hope you can come and stay sometime!

Julie & Stu


Open July 10th!

Our tentative open date was June 15th, which has come and gone.   Oh boy, what a journey!    We will have three rooms open on July 10th, with finishing touches being put on the newly added bathrooms in the other three rooms.  We are looking to get one bathroom done a week so we will be open for a full house by the big circus parade weekend on July 25th!  Book your stay now!

The outside of the house is being painted is being painted by Culvers painting, who by the way, is doing a fantastic job.   The house is getting back to it’s former glory!   We will be posting some before and after photos when the work is finished.

We are so looking forward to sharing this great house with our guests in the near future!


B & B factoids

So, you have never stayed at a B&B and your co-workers are telling you that they had such a wonderful time at a special B&B in Wisconsin last weekend. This sounds interesting but you have no idea of what to expect and you have a few questions. Well, everyone has questions and fortunately we have answers!

Here are some of the questions that innkeepers hear frequently and their answers. If you have more questions, don’t be shy! Every innkeeper that I know wants to make sure that you pick the perfect B&B for your perfect visit each and every time that you visit us. So email us or pick up the phone and call. We would love to answer your questions.

I’ve never stayed at a B&B. What is it like?
Well, each B&B is a little different from every other B&B but what you will find the same at all is owner/innkeepers who want to make sure that your stay with them is comfortable, relaxing, and just what you expected it would be. The following questions may answer some of your more specific concerns.
Do I need reservations? How far in advance do I need to make a reservation?
While it may be possible to just walk in to some properties and get a room, it is a very good idea to make a reservation. Many properties have but a few guest rooms and innkeepers pride themselves on being fully prepared for your visit. If you are seeking lodging for a special event or your vacation, I would recommend making your reservation as soon as you have determined the dates.
What do I do if I need to cancel my reservation?
Please call the innkeeper as soon as you find out that you need to cancel. Each property has their own policies regarding cancellations and you should be aware of the policy when you make your reservation. Most properties have their policy stated in their brochures and on their websites.
How should I act while I’m at a B&B?
Relax, enjoy yourself. But remember that others may be trying to do the same thing so please abide by any rules that the innkeeper has established for guests. The rules are there for the safety and comfort of all.
Am I actually staying in someone’s house? Can I come and go whenever I want or is there a curfew?
The B&B may very well be the home of the innkeeper but WBBA standards, that your innkeepers must meet or surpass, assure your privacy, security, safety and comfort. If you are coming or going during normal quiet hours, please be mindful that there may be others sleeping and ask your innkeeper about access to locked entry doors during these times.
I’m allergic to cats and scented things like potpourri really bother me. Should I just stay away from B&B’s?
You and your allergies will be right at home at many WBBA member properties. Just use the search feature to find a property that is “Pet Free” and ask the innkeeper about scented products used at the Inn. You will find many properties where you can” breathe easy”.
My medication needs refrigeration. Do B&B’s provide that?
Let your innkeeper know of this need when you make your reservation. Some properties have refrigerators in the room. Some will find other ways to accommodate your need. Many properties are also happy to provide you with breakfast that will accommodate any food allergy or dietary restrictions that you may have.
What time is breakfast served?
This varies from one Inn to another. It is best to inquire when you make your reservation especially if you have an early tee-time or a business meeting to attend. One thing is certain; you won’t want to be late for the most unique part of “Bed and Breakfast”.
Can I bring my kids? They can just sleep on the floor.
Every property has established policies about children on the property. Many welcome children at any time, some welcome children under certain circumstances and others simply are not suitable for children. Do check the search criteria list to find a property that matches your need. Our state licensing regulations require that each guest, including children, is provided with an approved bed.
What is the difference between a B&B and a Country Inn?
In times past, a B&B was a private home that provided a bed and a breakfast to travelers and a Country Inn or Inn was a more commercial enterprise that frequently provided other meals to overnight guests as well as to the local public. Today the terms are pretty much used interchangeably, so it is best to inquire about the extent of the food service at the property you are selecting, if this is an issue for you.
Do I need to bring my own towels?
Don’t laugh! We get this question all the time. No, it is not like summer camp. We provide you with plenty of towels, sheets, blankets, drinking water, even soap! And ever so much more, especially the personal attention of innkeepers who really do care about you as a guest and want to make sure that your visit meets your definition of “Bliss”.

(from Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association)

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