Fowler Park, a crown jewel in Oconomowoc’s park system, was created in 1945, when two wealthy sisters donated land to the city. The grand house that once stood there, built by Dr. James Henshall in 1867, was razed in 1964, when the park shelter was constructed. The only part standing today is the coach house, which the Oconomowoc Rotary keeps as the Troop 12 Boy Scout house.
While the house was under construction, the local newspaper heralded it as “a masterpiece of architectural design.” The brick home, which Henshall named Sunnybank, had three bedrooms and a living room that ran the length of the building and a fireplace at each end.
The newspaper praised the setting, saying, “The location of the doctor’s house is not excelled for beauty. Let the reader, by moonlight or at sunset, visit his grounds, and if he is not amazed at the surpassing loveliness of the scene, he is less than human.”
Henshall, who would go on to become superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, sold the property to William Marston in 1879.
Upon Marston’s death in 1923, the city was offered the first right to purchase it and establish a park; it declined. Instead, the estate was sold to Frank Roemer, president of Roemer Drug Co. in Milwaukee. In 1944, he offered the property to the city for $25,000, otherwise planning to divide the land and sell the lots piecemeal.
Citizens of both opinions petitioned the city council and passed out handbills on street corners. The estate was opened for public inspection, and a vote was scheduled. The ensuing referendum, which received the most votes in the city’s history until that point, rejected the offer.
In stepped sisters Ida Binzel and Anna Binzel Theobald, heiresses to Oconomowoc’s Binzel Brewery. They purchased the property from Roemer in 1945 and donated the land to the city. The common council voted to raze the home in 1964 with minimal public outcry.