April 28, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: Racine's oldest business

Compiled by Gerald Karwowski, Oak Clearing Farm and Museum

What's the oldest business in Racine?

It's a question easier and more difficult than you'd imagine. The easy part is CNH. J.I. Case was building his threshers in Rochester in 1842, and those inventions became the international behemoth that's still in Racine today.

Around the same time Allen Porter was building cabinets and coffins in the village of Racine. His craftsmanship would grow into Porter's furniture, a fixture in Downtown Racine for decades until just this week, when the furniture story closed down.

The second tier of businesses appears to be W.H. Pugh and D.P. Wigley. Pugh traces its roots back to 1850 in the coal business, while David P. Wigley purchased one of the oldest flour and feed businesses in the city in 1893.

Wigley bought Kent & Smith flour and feed, whose start date is seemingly lost to history. Interestingly, the D.P. Wigley site at Wisconsin Avenue and Third Street was known as "Mill Corner" and had grain-related businesses early in Racine's history.

Two other businesses that have been around for much our city's history include Knight-Barry Title Group, founded in 1854 by, Albert Knight, one of Racine County's first clerks and treasurers, and The Journal Times, which first started publishing in 1856.

While these businesses are among the oldest in Racine, it's hard to say if they are the absolute oldest. Most businesses started with different names and were bought and sold as different companies over time. Unraveling the tangle of past business transactions is a real challenge for historians. It also means there could, or should, be older businesses on this list.

Additions or corrections? Add them in the comments.

(Photos-right) The Pugh Marina building, including a marker that reads "Rebuilt 1886." It was the original Racine Water Company pumping station, which was built in 1886.


  1. That D.P. Wigley building is a very imposing historical building from the west side. I get grass seed and most of my lawn supplies there. It's like walking back 100 years. History just pours out of the walls.

  2. It get all my garden supplies at D.P. Wigley. The place is so kool. You get that feel of a old general store or feed mill of the past.

  3. And they carry Pacific Sand's line of true green cleaning products!

  4. Wigley might be the longest surviving business in the same location, since 1898 I think

  5. I would not count CNH. Now maybe if it was still called JI Case maybe. The owners aren't even American. What a shame. Maybe they could see it back to the people of Racine when they split into two different divisions? That would be nice.

  6. Would like to see Pugh's developing a RIVER WALK along that north side and use their three old historic buildings --- now that the Fergus deal went sour.

    The city should revisit the idea of a Museum at the Walker site. They canned it because of greed!

    Mayor Dickert -- build our destination museum on the lakefront -- Give people a reason to visit Racine again. The plans were all done. We just need a visionary to push them. Think of the asset to have hundreds of thousands of people visiting Racine again!!

  7. Please!!!! We do not need another Museum added to our already too big Govt. responsibility. If you have a museum plan I suggest you buy the land. Build the new Museum yourself and then charge a fee to visit it. YOU will make money on all of the "Hundreds of Thousands" of visitors! But just in case your mistaken, or over exaggerating the visitor numbers..at least you won't leave your fellow taxpayers holding the Bag for your bad idea. Same deal applies to the KRM If you build it..pay for it yourself! If it loses money that's YOUR problem not your fellow tax payers!

  8. I noticed the sign on the end of the building the other day In an ancient photo someone posted. I was amazed. I didn't know this.

    An aside. Tearing the fire station down for the JT, was nearly a big a travesty as tearing down the Venetian Theatre was. Backward cities. They exist all over the state. I live In one. If you need an empty business lot, we have MANY In Mauston.