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  • Writer's pictureCheyenne Antell

Jules Iverson - Builder, Park Namesake, and Watchsmith?

Today’s residents of Stevens Point will know the name “Jules Iverson” mainly due to his contributions to buildings, parks, and land management efforts. He was a prolific builder, regularly purchasing empty plots of land and building 3 to 4 houses on them in succession.  Newspapers called him a “savior” for those looking for housing in the area. While many college students and young families in Stevens Point today will mention how difficult it is to find housing, the plight was much worse when Jules Iverson arrived. 

A portrait photograph of Jules Iverson, undated.

Iverson, a native of Denmark, came to Stevens Point in the mid-1870s. He arrived along with a wave of those pushing westward, first into Wisconsin, and then all the way to the west coast. In 1860, the first Portage County census was recorded, and estimated the population to be about 7,600. By 1880 the census recorded a population reaching 17,731, and in 1890 the census listed 24,798 residents. Portage County was booming, and a noticeable flux of college students also moved to the Stevens Point area to attend the Stevens Point Normal School (now known as UWSP) after it opened in 1894. 

Housing was tight, and Jules Iverson capitalized by building, maintaining, and renting out as many houses and apartments as possible. He made quite a bit of money from this venture which he was able to donate back to the community. Notably he donated money for veteran families, donated to local children’s groups like the boy and girl scouts, and eventually donated 60 acres of connected property to be turned into Iverson park. At the time of his death he owned over 70 parcels of land and had over 100 tenants on his properties. His constant construction of buildings in Stevens Point for both homes and businesses contributed to the success of the Main Street business front, and he was invested in the local railroad and the health of that industry as well. 

Central City Jewelry House Advertisement, Stevens Point Journal, 1887.

However, we easily forget that Jules Iverson did not plan to become a land and building management mogul. Iverson moved north from Chicago in the mid 1870s, leaving his parents and siblings behind, and sought a new life along the Wisconsin River. He never married, in part due to his deep involvement in our local community. But signs point to Iverson originally planning to be a business owner. When he arrived he immediately purchased land and built a two story building on Main Street. He operated the Central City Jewelry House on the first floor of this building and rented the second floor to a dentist. Iverson used the local Stevens Point Journal as a way to advertise for the Jewelry House, particularly around Christmas. He advertised watches, jewelry, musical instruments, eyeglasses, sewing machines, clocks, silver tableware, and repair services. Unlike the classic general store, Iverson’s business was a sign of doing well for oneself and their family. A usable watch could be purchased from many locations, but one from a jeweler would be ornate and refined. His watch sale and repair business did so well that in 1899 Iverson became the watch inspector for the Wisconsin Central Railroad. That year it became standard for all railroaders to get a particular model of new watch, which had an additional mechanism inside meant to decrease timing errors. Luckily for Iverson he not only got to inspect the watches of railroad engineers and conductors as they came through Stevens Point, he could also sell them the newest models when theirs were found lacking. Almost a decade later, in 1907, Iverson was still taking out advertisements for new watches. Iverson rarely made news for himself in the paper, and did not travel much, so his whereabouts were rarely added to the “local news” columns. He ran the Central City Jewelry House until 1913 when he sold the shop to another jeweler from Rhinelander, Ferdinand Herzy. After 1913 Iverson was written about in connection to his land purchases, building developments, and donations, until he passed away in 1939. 

We do not have photos inside of the Central City Jewelry House. However, we can guess what items and styles of jewelry would have been sold there based on the popular fashions at the time. Personalization of items was very stylish, especially personalization of watches and jewelry. Engravings were very popular and could save a man from theft if his items were too identifiable. The Portage County Historical Society has the metal engraver that Iverson used, which you can see in this article. This engraver would have sat on a counter or table, a traced design would have been placed over the metal, and Iverson would have carefully followed his own design. 

Jules Iverson's engraving machine.

Iverson’s shop existed during two key eras of jewelry; the “grand” era and the “aesthetic” era. In the grand era jewelry was sentimental, very personalized, and opulent. This era ran from 1860-1885, but we can assume that because Iverson was importing items from larger cities, this era likely lasted longer in Stevens Point. Identifiable items from this time are mourning jewelry that include hair from the deceased, engraved lockets with personal photos or writing inside, and a variety of deeply colored stones. Near the end of this period electric bulbs became more mainstream and diamonds lept into fashion for their clear brilliance in the bright indoor lights. Iverson likely engraved many lockets, pocket watches, and brooches. 

The second era of jewelry style, the “aesthetic” era, was a softer, gentler style of jewelry. Clear, light, pastel stones and diamonds were much more popular than the deep garnets and sapphires of the past. Jewelry was lighter, easier to wear, and less likely to get in the way as women wore it during the day. Stud earrings come into fashion here, as do smaller versions of the grand rings and brooches that were popular during the past. Iverson would still have used his engraver for watches and for sentimental items like wedding rings, but his business was turning more towards sales of instruments and pianos. His was one of the main businesses to offer player pianos and upright pianos to the general public, and to have these items on the sales floor instead of only orderable through a catalog greatly increased his sales. However, he sold all of his inventory along with his shop in 1913. 

Store Closing Advertisement, Stevens Point Journal, 1913.

Jules Iverson left a strong impression on the Stevens Point community. His commitment to local businesses and families was deeply integral for the growth our community was experiencing. He sacrificed his original business plans, his family, and his time for the good of his town, never officially retiring. As you ride the Green Circle this summer and pass through Iverson Park, or as you shop downtown, look around and marvel at the city that Iverson helped to build.

The main gates to Iverson Park, late 1930s.


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