At 9 East Rockwell Street in the small town of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, stands the modest, white Greek Revival style house where Joseph Philbrick Webster lived from 1857 until his death in 1875, at the age of 56.
Webster’s compositions were eclectic, including music for ballads, religious hymns, nationalistic drama, and a cantata – a vocal composition intended for musical accompaniment and a choir. He penned most of his more than 1,000 songs in his Elkhorn home, and some of his classics are still well-known today. “Lorena”, for example, was heard and immortalized in the classic film Gone With the Wind.
Joseph Webster, a precocious musical talent, was a businessman, music teacher, and piano tuner, who moved his family to Racine, Wisconsin, in 1856 and eventually settled in Elkhorn one year later. The prolific Webster composed “Lorena” in 1857, an antebellum melody with Northern roots and considered to be the most popular song of the American Civil War era. “Lorena” was based on Webster’s fond recollection of an Ohio girl named Ella Blocksom. In 1860, he composed “I’ll Twine ‘Mid the Ringlets“, which later found fame under the titled “Wildwood Flower”. In 1868, he wrote one of the most enduring and recognizable Christian hymns in American history: “In the Sweet By and By.”
Webster’s family continued to live in the house until 1951. After the last Webster descendant passed away, the house was sold to the Walworth County to serve as a museum. The Webster House is loaded with vintage pieces that belonged to Webster and his family. The Music Room displays Webster’s splendid compositions, notes, and song books, as well as his treasured rosewood piano and numerous other 19th-century period instruments.
Directly behind the Webster House stands an 1850 hand-hewn oak beam barn, with the carriage of General John W. Boyd inside, as well as other artifacts related to the Boyd Family’s achievements. Webster is interred at the Hazel Ridge Cemetery in Elkhorn, where his epitaph announces, “Joseph P. Webster. In the Sweet By and By We Shall Meet“.
The Webster House is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now the center of the Walworth County Historical Society.
The Webster House is located at 9 East Rockwell Street, Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on the corner of Rockwell and South Washington Street, one block from Highway 67.