Jacob; his mother, Jane; daughter, Mary Louise Van Orden French, & her first baby, William
Jacob Van Orden was born August 13, 1856 in Neosho, Wisconsin. His father, Lucas Schuyler Van Orden was born in the Catskills of upstate New York in 1820. He was of a long lineage of good Dutch stock that had come to the Americas in the 1600s. Feeling the urge to come West and seek new business opportunities, Lucas Van Orden settled in Wisconsin in the mid 1840s as a bachelor. Perhaps first planning on settling in Milwaukee where his sister’s family was located he soon found out about land in DodgeCounty from his brother-in-law.
In 1847 Lucas Van Orden laid out a plat for a small village named Neosho centered around a dam and mill. Van Orden was an industrious entrepreneur although often beset by misfortunes such as flood and fire. Besides getting a mill up and running, he also opened the first general store in the area. Van Orden was also engaged in the community being everything from postmaster and notary public to Register of Deeds.
In November of 1855 he married Jane Struthers who was born in Ohio and who perhaps had come to teach school in the Wisconsin frontier.
The couple’s only child, Jacob Van Orden, was born the following summer. Jacob might have grown up to take over his father’s businesses and prosper in DodgeCounty if fate had not intervened with the death of his father in 1858. Jacob was not yet two years old when his mother was widowed at age 22. She would never remarry and lived to see the age of flight.
Jane Van Orden’s financial picture is unknown after the death of her husband. She continued to live in Neosho and probably ran some of Lucas’ enterprises. She was able to educate her son and eventually send him to RiponCollege in 1871. Jacob attended for a three years before coming to Baraboo in 1874 presumably with his mother, Jane. Jane’s brother, James Struthers, owned part of a store in Baraboo and no doubt employed his nephew.
In 1874 Baraboo was just starting to realize the economic boom that would follow the arrival of the railroad which had finally made it to Baraboo in 1871. In the decade between 1870 and 1880 Baraboo doubled in population and financing much of the boom was the Sauk County Bank. The bank had begun in 1857 and in 1867 built a handsome new brick building on the corner of Oak and Third. The Lang & Struther’s store was built in an “L” shape around the bank and would later be consumed by the bank in its many expansions. The original Sauk County Bank had been bought out by First National Bank in 1873 before later being christened the Bank of Baraboo and later Baraboo National.
Jacob Van Orden probably started out working part time at the bank doing errands and odd jobs. It is said that he even swept out the bank in the morning. It was not long however before Jacob was promoted to bookkeeper. Van Orden climbed the ladder quickly and in 1876 at the age of 20 was promoted to assistant cashier. Only two years later he became cashier. This title today perhaps conjures images of the clerk at the local convenience store but in banking it is quite different. A banking dictionary defines cashier as:
“Bank officer responsible for custody of the bank's earning assets, and whose signature is required on official bank checks, called Cashier's Checks and all official correspondence.”
In 1880, only six years after he started at the bank, the Sauk County Democrat, in a review of downtown businesses, gushed about Van Orden’s sterling qualities stating he was, “accommodating, polite and affable and is universally popular with everybody. The rich and the poor all receive at his hands the same courteous treatment, and there seems to be an anticipation of the wants and desires of the customers, and a disposition to supply the wants or demands.”The paper also declared that the bank was in a “flourishing condition” and that it was “indispensable to the community.”
1880 was also the year that Jacob Van Orden married his college sweetheart, Martha Atwood, from Waupun. After the couple’s wedding in January they would live in new house that Jacob had built the year before. The modest home was designed by a local builder and housed the newly wed couple and Jacob’s mother.
The house would later be enlarged to accommodate a growing family. The first Van Orden child to arrive was Lucas Schuyler Van Orden II who was born in December of 1881. Two years later a sister arrived. Mary Louise Van Orden.
Grandmother Van Orden built her own cottage next door in 1897 when the children hit their teen years.
Besides being integral in the affairs of the bank which was ever growing, Jacob Van Orden, like his father, was also engaged in the community. When the village of Baraboo incorporated as a city in 1882 Van Orden was one of the first nine members of the city council. He posed for a picture 38 years later with the two other surviving members. In 1887 Van Orden was elected mayor of Baraboo, a position which he held for two years. Imagine holding down a full time job such as cashier at the bank and being mayor.After his stint as mayor, Van Orden later became a member of the school board, a position which he held for about twenty-five years. Van Orden was also very active in his church, Trinity Episcopal.
This year will mark the 125th anniversary of the advent of the Ringling Brothers Circus. On May 19, 1884 the brothers held their first tented circus performance in Baraboo. The following year the Bank of Baraboo would lend the boys $100 to help with spring opening expenses. Their relationship with the bank and Jacob Van Orden in particular would last for the next 33 years.
For the first fifteen years of the circus the Ringling Brothers plowed nearly all of the profits back into the growth of the operation. By the turn of the century they were wealthy enough to build houses for themselves and their families. Four of the brothers bought lots in town in 1899. Charles hired famous Milwaukee architects Ferry and Clas to design a grand home on Eighth Avenue. Al., Alf. T. and Gus also built new homes by the end of 1900.
In 1902 conditions at the Van Orden house on Fourth Avenue just weren’t acceptable anymore. Though the house had been remodeled in 1899 it was too small and out of date to convey the social standing that the Van Ordens now found themselves in. The house was sold to Otto Schadde who moved it a mile across town to the corner of Fifth and Wheeler where it still stands today.
The Van Ordens rented the house across the street and for the next year and a half watched a new grand house take the place of their old one.
Ferry and Clas of Milwaukee were called upon to design the structure. One of the partners, Alfred Clas, was a native of SaukCity and had designed several houses in town besides the Charles Ringling residence.At the time the Van Orden mansion was being constructed the firm was also supervising the WisconsinBuilding at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Their design won a gold medal.
In 1915, Jacob Van Orden finally became president of the bank he had worked at for over forty years. He had managed the bank through financial panics, reorganizations and sudden deaths and would get the bank through the trying times of World War I. The loss of the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1918 however would be one of the hardest hits on the local economy. Van Ordens abilities got the bank through the changing economy. By 1923 Van Orden was ready to expand the bank and did so by taking over and remodeling the store fronts to the west and south.A new façade of limestone designed by Alfred Clas homogenized everything. Though the bank has been expanded since this façade is still the lasting legacy of Jacob Van Orden and his time at the helm of the bank
Jacob Van Orden died in November of 1927. His son Lucas Schuyler Van Orden became president of the bank after his death and guided the bank through the depression years until his untimely death in 1936 at the age of 55. For sixty-two years a Van Orden had been a part of the bank.
The Van Orden mansion was the home of Jacob’s widow, Martha Van Orden, until her death in 1934. The home was then occupied by son, Lucas Schuyler, his wife, Florence and their young son, Lucas Schuyler the third.
In 1936 Lucas the second died and after a few years Florence no longer had the need for nor desire to maintain such a large home. She sold it to the SCHS in 1938 for $9,000. $1,000 less than it had cost to build 35 years earlier.
It has now been a museum twice as long as it was a house but very little has been done to change it. The house is now the largest artifact of the SCHS.
The Van Ordens had long been supporters of the SCHS. Jacob Van Orden even paid for the marker at the new ManMoundPark.
Researched and written by Paul Wolter, Sauk County Historical Society President