Dighton B. Ellsworth
The Porter House was built in 1867 by Dighton B. Ellsworth (1822 - 1896). An Englishman and dry goods merchant, Ellsworth came to Decorah from New York in 1855. He first opened a general store in partnership with a Mr. A. A. Akin, but was able to pursue many different business interests during his time in Decorah. He did quite well for himself and was able to build this grand house to show his success. Ellsworth’s prosperity was representative of the economic growth in this region in the years following the Civil War.
Francis and Emma Young
In 1898, the house was sold to the Young family: Francis (1854 – 1921) and Emma (1857 - 1945). The Youngs were from Fort Atkinson, where "Frank" had made his fortune in hardware, farm machinery, and cattle buying. The family was also related to Fort Atkinson's Aaron Ransom Young--one of the first white settlers in Winneshiek County.
When the Youngs moved into the stately Italianate Villa at 401 West Broadway, they brought their 18-year-old daughter, Grace (1880 - 1964). Even after their daughter married, and her new husband moved in, Frank and Emma continued to live in the house until their respective deaths.
Adelbert and Grace Porter
Adelbert Field Porter (1879 - 1968), almost always known as "Bert," was born and raised in Decorah on West Broadway.
His father, George Porter, was a titan in the grain elevator business, serving as the President of three grain elevator companies (the Atlantic, Empire, and Minnekota) over the course of his career. Bert's mother, Adell Field Porter, died when he was very young. George remarried and moved to Minnesota. Bert stayed in Decorah to be brought up by his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Warren Field. The Fields lived at 404 West Broadway, just across the street from the house built by D. B. Ellsworth.
Bert was raised in the English tradition, and attended boarding schools as a child and young man in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. However, he would often come home in the summers to visit his grandparents. Over the course of these visits, he fell in love with the girl across the street: Grace Young.
Bert and Grace married in 1904, and Bert moved into the house with his new bride and her parents. Being the children of well-to-do families, both Bert and Grace inherited comfortable fortunes. The couple never needed to work for income.
Instead, Bert and Grace were free to pursue their travelling and creative interests. They filled their home with music, artwork, flowers, objects brought back from abroad, and natural history specimens for Bert's collection.
Bert and Grace continued to live at 401 West broadway--now called the "Porter House"--for the remainder of their lives. The couple never had any children.