Delavan's first European resident was Allen Perkins who built a log cabin just west of the eventual downtown area. The community was really settled by two brothers, Samuel and Henry Phoenix, who came from New England. Their goal was to set up a community based on temperance, sobriety and religion. They were also abolitionists and wanted a colony that would also be a safe haven for escaped slaves. The city was named for E.C. Delavan, a temperance leader from New York who never set foot in the city that bears his name.
A Baptist church was founded in 1839 that promoted temperance and abolition. Temperance was such an issue that deeds in Delavan carried a covenant that prohibited the ownership or consumption of alcoholic beverages on the property. (The law was struck down in 1849.)
Israel Stowell was one of the transplanted temperance supporters and he built a hotel in 1839, meant to be a stagecoach overnght stop. The hotel catered to Baptists, Yankees and those who did not indulge in the use of alcohol. If you weren't in one of those categories, you were turned away.
The temperance movement came to a close in Delavan in the mid 1840s. In 1847, Edmund and Jerimiah Mabie selected Delavan as the winter quarters for their U.S. Olympic Circus, the largest traveling show in the country at the time. After the collapse of the temperance movement, the Temperance House changed hands numerous times and at one point, in a strange twist of irony, it was a tavern. Its last commercial use was as a used book store. One can see shelves of books remaining inside the building.
The owner of the books (most of the bookstore inventory has been removed to reduce the load on the house's framework) the closed bookstore and the building itself is 87 years old. He is donating the house to the Delavan Historical Society.
The Israel Stowell Temperance House is in tough shape. It was condemned and was scheduled for demolition on July 1, 2010. As of this writing, the house still stands. A banner attached to the front pleads for help to save the historic structure. It is the oldest building in Delavan and according to the Wisconsin Historical Society, is the last temperance house in the state.
The demolition order was extended and recently has been lifted. On July 27, 2010, a consultant inspected the property to examine the possibility of saving the structure. Members of the city government have speculated the restoration of the house in order to use it as a resource center for historical research and possibly to house the offices of the historical society.
The results of the study are due approximately October 1.