Historical Connection – Charles and Emma Stribley
September 6, 2022
By Alexandria Edwards, Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator
Charles and Emma Stribley were close acquaintances of the Edison family, and they made a lasting impact in many cities through their charitable work. Mr. Stribley was born near Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1868 and moved to Madison to study telegraphy. After relocating, Charles worked as a night operator at the old Lake Shore Railroad Company in Appleton. In 1889, Mr. Stribley left the Lake Shore Company and opened a new telegraph station at Kimberly; however, he was fascinated by paper mills, so he stepped away from his career as a telegrapher and accepted a job at the Kimberly Mill.
In Appleton, Charles met Emma Lehman, the daughter of a well-known local family, and the couple was married on June 22, 1892, at her parent’s home. Following their marriage, Stribley became a scaler for the Appleton Pulp Wood Supply company until 1897, when he was offered a bookkeeping position at the Thilmany Pulp and Paper Company. The couple continued to live in Appleton when Charles started at the paper company, so he often traveled to work by train, which left the station at 6:30 a.m. and returned at 9:45 p.m.
Mr. Stribley made great efforts to know every employee by their first name and always checked on the entire plant to make sure everything was okay at the end of the day. Throughout his time at the company, he was very valuable in growing the business by focusing on sales and developing new products. Through his hard work and dedication, Stribley took on more responsibilities and was made manager of the company two years later. Some of Stribley’s notable contributions to the paper industry included a perfected process of making wax paper and water marking checks. In 1901, Stribley was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors and stayed with the company until he passed away in 1941.
The following year, the Stribley family moved to Kaukauna and designed a home with the help of the Van Ryn and DeGelleke architects. The three-story, red brick home was built along the Fox River facing Wisconsin Avenue and was considered one of the largest, most elegant residential structures in Kaukauna. Several rooms in the mansion were finished in mahogany; however, the second story was designed with oak and birch, and the third-floor ballroom featured California redwood. The interior was filled with many fine materials and furnishings, including oriental rugs and antique oak chairs. Among the interior decorations, the famed “Lion Table” with a rectangular top containing a mosaic of colored wood and legs shaped into a lion’s head that Stribley purchased in Germany stood out. Other unique features in this early twentieth century house included a central vacuum, an intercom telephone line, and closets with automatic lights that turned on when the door was opened.
When Charles and Emma were not working, they spent time socializing with individuals in the community and were members of many organizations. Mrs. Stribley was a leader in the Red Cross during World War I and was passionate about teaching individuals about gardening. She frequently hosted garden teas at her home, as well as dinners at the Conway Hotel in Appleton. She also participated in the annual Fargo’s Furniture Store Flower Show and usually won prizes for her floral displays. Charles belonged to hunting, fishing, and other clubs in Kaukauna, where he made efforts to improve the community, such as donating land for the Outagamie County Teachers College.
Not only did the Stribleys spend their free time giving back to the community, but they were both avid trapshooters, and were part of the Kaukuana Gun Club, the Northeastern Wisconsin Trapshooting League, as well as other clubs in Florida. The couple entered many shooting matches in Wisconsin and often placed at the top in competitions. In 1925, the couple placed well in a trapshooting event at Lake Park in Milwaukee with Charles scoring 92 hits out of 100, and Emma 80 out of 100. The Kaukauana Times reported, “KAW Marksmen Rest in Honor. Place in loop. Winning squad were Mrs. C.W. Stribley, Joseph Jansen, Clem Hilgenberg, and C.W. Stribley.” The following year, Emma set a record at Sheboygan when she scored 98 out of 100. Throughout the winter months, they continued entering tournaments in Florida and Emma won the Ladies’ Florida State Trapshooting championship with a score of 98 out of 100 in 1927, 1928, and 1930.
After dedicating numerous hours to the war efforts, the Stribleys decided to take a vacation to Fort Myers in 1918 after seeing a fishing advertisement in a sportsman’s magazine. They liked the area so much that after staying at the Bradford Hotel a couple times, they decided to build a home there, adjacent to Henry Ford’s estate. The large Mediterranean-style house was 5,044 square feet and completed in 1926. Inside, the villa contained five bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms, a kitchen, dining, and a large living room, plus a four-car airconditioned garage. The property faced the Caloosahatchee River and the grounds totaled roughly five acres, featuring a plethora of grapefruit and orange trees.
Throughout their visits, Mrs. Stribley took an active role in garden beautification projects with her close friend and neighbor, Mina Edison. On one special occasion, the Fort Myers Branch of the National Plant, Flower and Fruit Guild held their fifth annual flower show at the downtown exhibition hall. Visitors had the opportunity to see many rare and beautiful flowers on display, remarking that the show was worthy of being held in a much larger city and the collection of Florida flowers was especially fine. Mrs. Thomas A. Edison exhibited various designs of place cards and cups fashioned out of shells that were so intricate a magnifying glass had to be used to appreciate the details. Mina shared that her arrangements would be used at an upcoming dinner party, marking the 15th wedding anniversary of Mrs. Edison’s son, Charles and his wife Carolyn.
Along with shows, Emma Stribley conducted garden group education classes throughout Fort Myers and taught members of the community about nature. She also served as president of the local Music Club, created to demonstrate the positive impacts that music can have on daily life and bring the community together. The Club hosted numerous musicales throughout the town, including one at the Seminole Lodge, attended by 150 members and their guests. Many people reported the setting of the tropical gardens throughout the Edison’s estate added to the performances.
In 1922, Henry Ford decided to buy additional land adjacent to his property from the Stribleys to add to his winter estate. With the addition, Mr. Ford’s property extended 300 feet along the Caloosahatchee River. After selling this part of the property to Ford, Mr. Stribley purchased a little portion of Harvie Heitman’s Fort Myers home and drafted plans for a new seawall. A unique feature of this improvement was a 40 x 50-foot boat basin that extended into the Stribley’s property.
Several years later in 1929, the Stibleys were on the reception committee that welcomed President-elect, Herbert Hoover, his wife, and son to Thomas Edison’s Fort Myers estate to celebrate Edison’s birthday. During the celebration, the group toured the City of Fort Myers in a procession of cars, stopping at each of the city’s schools. The American Legion trumpet and drum corps played Hoover’s favorite march as he passed their station at the corner of First and Broadway Street. Following the conclusion of the parade, the party returned to Edison’s home, where they held a birthday luncheon. A major feature of the celebration was a large pound cake with white icing topped with a single candle.
The couple continued to spend the rest of their life vacationing in Fort Myers and the ownership of the house was transferred to Mr. Stribleys sister-in-law, Nathalie Matthes, until her death. The villa was later sold and placed on the National Register of Historic Homes as the Casa Rio Villa in 1996. In 2001, John A. Carbona, AveXis founder and biotechnology executive purchased the home.
When you visit Edison and Ford Winter Estates, be sure to stroll the historic district around the site for an unforgettable experience that you will remember for years to come.