By: Jamie Kratz-Gullickson
The property at 839 Madison Street in Beaver Dam has a history as diverse and rich as our city itself. Originally home to the Potawatomi, the geology of the location provided a perfect vantage point over Beaver Dam Lake for early settlement and became the site of an effigy mound (now lost) to the tribe. Legend claims the mound held a Ho-Chunk chief that surrendered his life in penance, along with the two Potawatomi he killed. While just a legend, this sacrifice story symbolically sets the tone for the compassionate and selfless use of 839 Madison Street for centuries.
Decades later, as European immigrants settled into the newly formed city of Beaver Dam, several Catholic churches were built across the city to accommodate the religious needs of the developing community. In 1875, St. Michael’s Church was built at 839 Madison Street and became host to a Polish congregation. Its completion meant that families could gather together to experience Mass, the foundation of their religious experience, in their native Polish. During a time of transition into the melting pot of America, this sense of community must certainly have provided grounding and a sense of security. For over 25 years, the small original building served as a cornerstone for local Polish families.
In 1903, outgrowing their original home while choosing to remain on the hilltop property, the Polish congregation broke ground on a new building at 839 Madison Street. Six families of master craftspeople labored 18 months to build the grand structure of St. Michael’s Church. Parish families sponsored the enormous expense to create the immense stained glass windows placed with dedications that still detail their family names. The religious depictions of each window not only contributed to the beauty of the building, but also offered yet another way to share important stories and moral lessons within the community.
And so it served, for nearly 100 years, hosting Mass first in Polish, then in English, and most recently in Spanish to meet the needs of the evolving parishioners. Embracing community needs beyond Mass, the buildings at 839 Madison Street also provided educational spaces and shelter for the homeless over the years. In 2007, when the local parishes merged, St. Michaels became vacant with an uncertain future.
Fast forward to 2009. Two thousand miles away on the west coast, Jim and Jimmie browse internet postings for a potential Bed and Breakfast property near Columbus. After stumbling across the online listing for the rectory building next to St. Michaels at 839 Madison Street, they hop a red eye flight across country to tour the building over the weekend on no more than a gut feeling. They were in awe. Reminiscing about the first walk through, their eyes light up like a parent sharing a favorite story about their child. They can vividly recall the textures of the woodwork, the feeling of opulence in the building. An offer for the rectory was on the table before their return flight. As a parting thought, it was mentioned by the listing agent that the beautiful church next door was also for sale. By the end of 2010, they owned both buildings and were on the precipice of an enormous business venture.
St. Michaels Church itself quickly became the new focus, temporarily setting aside the B&B for new visions of a one-stop wedding venue. Jim and Jimmie refer to themselves as caretakers, not owners. They dreamed of a renovation that would maintain the history, aesthetics and selfless purpose of the building. Rearranging their lives for this mission included relocating their personal and professional lives, months of commuting to California for work commitments and diving head first into endless renovations. No easy task, and not one that could be undertaken without passion. Gutting the basement and creating a beautiful, fresh reception hall was the first step in developing what we now know as The Chapel of the Archangels.
Their first wedding was held in the summer of 2011 and nearly 100 couples have shared their vows in the unique space. A bed and breakfast in the rectory is still in the works. What resonates as most important to Jim and Jimmie is staying true to the community purpose of the site and so they regularly host events and fundraisers for local non-profits including Kiwanis, PAVE, Relay for Life and others, free of charge. As caretakers, they continue the mission the property seemed to always have in mind: A community gathering place, a place of warmth, acceptance and compassion.