167-year-old Jo Daviess County business grew out of fortune in gold

Hoskins Building Center

Founded: 1854 as Wm. Hoskins & Company, Apple River, Ill.

Owners: Eric and Pam Wheelwright

Employees: Six

Address: 107 E. Myrtle St., Elizabeth, Ill.

Phone: 815-858-2444

Hours: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Kitchen showroom hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

ELIZABETH, Ill. — A Jo Daviess County building supply business boasts a golden past.

The namesake of Elizabeth’s Hoskins Building Center, William Hoskins, built the business 167 years ago after striking it rich.

“He came from Cornwall, England, in 1847, and in 1849 he went out to California and the Gold Rush,” Pam Wheelwright said. “It was the money he made in the Gold Rush that started the business.”

Wheelwright and her husband, Eric, both 51, have owned the firm since 2002.

“It’s part of the community,” said Eric, who worked at the business for 13 years before purchasing it with Pam.

The business founder, Hoskins entered the lumber yard field as Wm. Hoskins & Co. in 1854 in Apple River and established the Elizabeth location in 1888. Hoskins’ business expanded to include locations in Galena and Cuba City, Wis.

Now, the Elizabeth location is the sole remaining outpost of Hoskins’ original local chain.

John Eversoll, 83, of Elizabeth, worked as a carpenter for decades and did business with four sets of the business’ owners — including members of the original family.

“I’ve been coming there since I was 8 years old,” Eversoll said. “My dad was a carpenter.”

Eversoll followed his dad into that line of work and retired at age 65.

“(Carpentry) is all I ever did,” he said. “I couldn’t do (my job) without Hoskins. It’s a fabulous place. You know you’re going to get service and quality.”

Eversoll remembers when railroad tracks abutted the Hoskins’ property in Elizabeth.

“They got the lumber by train, so they always had a summer supply,” he said.

A 1941 newspaper article explains that materials from Hoskins were used to build many of the historic homes in Galena.

“Several floods and fires were experienced which caused great losses, but these seemed only to strengthen the pioneer spirit that was inaugurated when the business was founded,” according to the newspaper report.

Eric began working at Hoskins in 1989.

“It was three days before my 19th birthday,” he said.

Thirteen years later, Eric’s boss offered to sell the firm to the Wheelwrights.

“The owner that I worked for was ready to sell and he approached us first,” Eric said. “We had a seller and he had a buyer. That’s just how it worked.”

Eric already knew the business, so the transition to ownership went fairly smoothly.

“It would have been different if I hadn’t been here so long,” he said. “I was (already) handling all of the customer and contractor contacts. I had known everybody for a long time.”

The Wheelwrights never considered changing the company’s name.

“Hoskins has been in business since 1854. It’s a recognizable name,” Pam said. “Our last name doesn’t mean anything to anyone.”

To stress the point, Pam recalled her experience while receiving a vaccination.

“It’s funny — when I went to get my COVID shot the lady wrote down my name as ‘Pam Hoskins,’” she said.

The Wheelwrights made several improvements to the lumber yard in their 19 years of ownership — most notably the establishment of a kitchen remodeling showroom across the street.

“We used to have a very small kitchen display (at the lumber yard),” Pam said.

Pam took an interest in kitchen remodeling when she joined the firm in 2002 and that portion of the business took off. The Wheelwrights bought a former plumbing supply shop across Myrtle Street from the lumber yard in 2005 and converted the building into a kitchen remodeling showroom in 2006.

“We just couldn’t show anything over there (at the lumber yard),” Eric said. “This (showroom) was far and away our biggest project.”

The Wheelwrights made one addition to address a community need.

“We lost our hardware store (in Elizabeth) at the end of 2011, and by March (2012) we broke ground to build a hardware store,” Pam said.

“We were not going to let the town go without a hardware store and we’re the logical ones (to sell hardware),” Eric said. “It added 3,000 items to our inventory.”

The Wheelwrights have added several storage buildings to the center’s footprint.

“You enjoy being a part of people doing an important thing in their lives — remodeling their home, remodeling their kitchen, whatever it is,” Pam said.

Eversoll said he purchased supplies from Hoskins for decades.

“The service is above what you could get from a large place,” he said. “It’s like dealing with your family.”

The Wheelwrights have two adult daughters who have embarked on their own careers, so Hoskins lacks a familial line of succession when Eric and Pam decide to retire.

“We’ll deal with it when the time comes,” Eric said. “It will be interesting because these days the life of an independent lumber yard is not easy.”