Known as the B.G. Foat Bldg., built in 1897
(A recent tenant change has occurred here. Simple Rustic Design has replaced the Chamber of Commerce and they moved a block east to their new building . New photos coming soon after construction is cleared)
At the northeast end of the Fox River bridge in downtown Waterford, stands a cream-city brick building with a gray name stone that reads “B.G. Foat” – a curiosity for passers-by. The name depicted is for the village barber, Bert G. Foat, who built his shop in 1897. It is believed to be the second oldest continuously-owned family building in the village – Mealy Funeral Home being the oldest.
Family lineage shows that Bert Foat was a great grandson of Levi Barnes, one of the founders of Waterford. Barnes was a direct descendant of Lord Barnes who came over on the Mayflower. A direct lineage of the Foat family is summed up as: Levi Barnes/Hiram Barnes/Sally Ann Barnes (Daniel Foat)/Irving Foat/Bert Foat/Irving Foat/current Foat family ownership. Daniel Foat, a farmer, plasterer and bricklayer, was the son of Richard Foat whose family emigrated from England in 1836 and settled in Racine County in 18484– very early pioneers to the area.
Bert, born in 1869, trained as a barber. Various articles in the Waterford Post, state that he was very good at his profession and selfishly trained a number of local residents in his tonsorial parlor, including his son, Irving. In 1891, Bert opened his first shop in the building now occupied by Dubis Law Offices, known historically as State Bank of Waterford. Foat also offered a number of other items for sale as shown in the Waterford Post Ad from Dec. 21,1895.
As his business flourished, so did his love of flowers and music.1 In September, 1895, Foat bought the site from Palmer and Harden, then known as the “undeveloped 1/3 lot 9, block 3”2. At that time, the east end of the bridge was lower than it is today and the lot was subject to frequent flooding.
A “large, fire-proof two-story building of cream brick veneer”1 was opened in 1897 which would be the new barbershop for Foat. Bert’s son, Irving, took over the barbering duties while Bert developed the business. He now had space to open a general store and pursue other interests. Men’s furnishings were a natural addition while he had men captive for barbering.
A line of sporting goods was added, which lasted well into the 21st century, with the passing of Jim Foat.
A substantial livery business of Foat and Patrick was already established on Second Street with orders filled at an office on the first floor of the B.G. Foat building. The business was so brisk that it kept two men and the proprietors regularly busy day and night. They “provided “hacks” or closed carriages used for funerals, weddings, drummers and traveling men practicing their trade; strangers and visitors had to be picked up at the station seven miles distant; and the young fellows had to take their best girls out for a Sunday afternoon ride or to an evening dance”1 It lasted 14 years until the automobile business took over. The second floor was originally used as a dance hall, then the Modern Woodmen meeting hall, after which it was remodeled into offices and living rooms occupied by various doctors over time.
This building was one of a few in the east side business district that was not destroyed in the Great Fire of 1898. The Waterford Post reported that the Foats lost $500 in stock. Since it was only a year old and made of fire-resistant materials, it is said to have survived. After the fire, the street level was changed to get the bridge end out of the flood zone. This necessitated raising the building 6 feet 4 inches to be “on the level’ with the other businesses on the block.1
Music Boxes were all the rage of customers in the early 1900’s. Foat had a large RCA Victor Talking machine as a display item with the horn outside of the building. A special department was set up for the sale of pianos and various music boxes including the disc-and cylinder-type machines. Foat was also a pianist of more than ordinary ability and frequently played for the public. He was also a regular featured vocalist at local affairs – a man of many talents in this small community.
Flowers, another one of Bert’s passions, were sold off the back porch. They were grown in the family greenhouse just a few blocks away on Milwaukee Street, north of the corner of East Main Street and Milwaukee Road – currently the site of Roth Heating Co.. This is co-incidentally the location of Levi Barnes/Hiram Barnes original home.
Click HERE to read further interesting information about B.G. Foat’s businesses from Source Reference 1.
An authentic 14 foot – Indian birch bark canoe still hangs from the ceiling of the Foat building which used to be an attraction in the sporting goods department.
The sliding stairs is still mounted on the wall which was used to access merchandise high up on the wall shelves. The rail can be seen in the old photo below.
A remodeled brick facade was added in 2013. Today, the building houses SIMPLE RUSTIC DESIGN , a unique hands-on create and make decorative accent boards. Their motto: “Creating DIY projects with friends and family all while making memories to last a lifetime.” Stop in and gather information on their unique offerings while taking in the remnants of the past – still asking for attention. An apartment is upstairs.
Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
- Waterford Post, Stories of Waterford and Its Busy Life, 1923
- Racine County Register of Deeds, Vol. 97, p. 580 and Vol. 98, p. 170
- Pictures from Digital Archives of the Waterford Library
- The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin, 1879, p. 677