741 Main Street – Hammersley Block

The Hammersley Block is a two-story commercial vernacular building that shares party walls with both of its neighbors. It has a red brick front and is decorated with a pressed metal cornice that features dentils and a sawtooth motif. Above the second story openings are heavy label moldings that suggest the late Italianate style. Openings are filled with single-light sashes. The original storefront of this building was typical of the era: large show windows with transoms, iron columns, and a central entrance. In 1929, though, the building was given a “modern” copper and glass front that has been identified as being from the Brasco Manufacturing Company of Chicago.

The new storefront appears hi a catalog from the Brasco company published in 1927. It features a much deeper central entrance so that the display windows are considerably longer. The storefront has a thin copper framework and low copper aprons under the show windows so that the primary construction material is glass. Above the show windows at the front of the building there is a multi-light transom and between the long show windows there is an arched ceiling. The two entry doors flank a narrow showcase and the entire entrance is topped with a large fanlight. This beautiful storefront is in excellent condition.

The Hammersley Drug Store was one of the most prominent businesses in downtown Lake Geneva. The business began with W. H. Hammersley in 1865, who operated the drug store until 1905, only one year before his death. He was located in the old building on this site, which he replaced in 1885-86. Upon his death, his son, also William H., succeeded him in the drug store. In 1920, his sons, Seymour and Henry, entered the business and operated it until a fourth generation took over, operating the store until the 1980s.

“Forty Years in Business,” Lake Geneva News, 28 September 1905, p. 1; “W. H. Hammersley,” Lake Geneva Herald, 13 April 1906, p. 1; “W. H. Hammersley Associates His Sons With Him,” Lake Geneva News, 8 April 1920, p.l.

The second important and long-time drug store in Lake Geneva was the Hammersley Drug Store. W. H. Hammersley was a native of England who came to the United States hi 1844. He was in business in New York with his father, who imported china and crockery. He remained in this business until 1863, when he came to Lake Geneva. In 1865, he began his drug store business, also selling books and stationery in a small frame building. In 1885-86, Hammersley had a new brick block constructed for his store (741 Main St.) and the business remained in this location for almost 100 years. In 1906, Hammersley’s son, W. H. Jr. took over the business, then passed it on to his sons, Seymour and Henry, who had graduated from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin. During the mid and late twentieth century, a fourth generation of Hammersleys carried on the drug store, affiliating with the Walgreen chain. The Hammersley Drug Store stayed in operation into the 1970s.

The Hammersley Block is one of the best-preserved buildings in the historic district. It still retains its 1929 copper storefront and most of its historic second story details. The Hammersley Drug Store was one of the longest and most popular of Lake Geneva’s retail businesses, and W. H. Hammersley Sr. was a prominent member of the community. Because of its long-time association with the Hammersley Drug Store, the Hammersley Block is historically significant for commerce.


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