Wisconsin: Other Historic Sites Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A list of important historic sites in Wisconsin.

Administration Building and Research Tower, S. C. Johnson Company

Location: Racine, Racine County

Relevant issues: Art and architecture

Statement of significance: One of three notable commissions executed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) during the Great Depression, these structures employ a highly original system of cantilever-slab construction in a classic of modern office design. Wright’s imaginative approach to structure is seen in his use of rounded, organic forms and in the T-shaped columns and treelike tower.

Astor Fur Warehouse

Location: Prairie du Chien, Crawford County

Relevant issues: Business and industry

Statement of significance: Constructed c. 1828, this stone building, one of the American Fur Company’s principal establishments, recalls the Astor empire and Prairie du Chien’s prominence as a fur trading center.

Aztalan

Location: Aztalan State Park, near Lake Mills on Wisconsin 89, Jefferson County

Relevant issues: American Indian history

Statement of significance: This large, stockaded temple mound site, first discovered in 1836, is the northernmost of the major Mississippian culture archaeological sites. It now forms Aztalan State Park. It represents an important northern extension of the Cahokia phase of the Middle Mississippi culture.

Dousman Hotel

Location: Prairie du Chien, Crawford County

Relevant issues: Cultural history, western expansion

Statement of significance: Constructed 1864-1865, this three-story, buff-colored brick structure is the largest, most luxurious, and last built of several large hotels in Prairie du Chien during the nineteenth century, while the town was an important river steamboat and railroad terminus. It was used as a stopping point by thousands of emigrants to the West after the Civil War.

Fountain Lake Farm

Location: Montello, Marquette County

Relevant issues: Education, social reform

Statement of significance: John Muir (1838-1914), pioneering advocate of natural preservation, lived at Fountain Lake Farm from 1849 to 1856, during his early teens, and periodically between 1862 and 1864. Late in life he traced the formation of his conservation philosophy to the years he spent at Fountain Lake Farm. Though no structures associated with Muir’s period of residence are extant, a natural meadow, spring, and lake remain.

Fourth Street School

Location: 333 West Galena Street, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

Relevant issues: Education, political history

Statement of significance: Milwaukee’s Fourth Street School is the only surviving structure in America associated with Golda Meir (1898-1978), who from 1967 to 1974 was prime minister of Israel. Fleeing the pogroms of their native Russia, Meir’s family came to this city and settled on Walnut Street. In 1906, the young Golda attended the Fourth Street School, where she learned English and exhibited a talent for leadership; in 1912, she graduated valedictorian. The school continues to serve the students of Milwaukee.

Garland House

Location: West Salem, La Crosse County

Relevant issues: Literary history

Statement of significance: This rambling, nondescript structure is associated with author Hamlin Garland (1860-1940). Garland’s early work exploded the romantic myths of the West, exposing the hard lot of the pioneers and frontiersmen; his later, more romantic novels–one of which brought him the Pulitzer Prize (1922)–celebrated the strength of the individual rather than the oppressive environment. Garland bought this house for his parents in 1893; he visited regularly, doing much of his writing during his lengthy stays.

Greene Memorial Museum

Location: Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

Relevant issues: Science and technology

Statement of significance: Amateur naturalists played a crucial role in the development of nineteenth century science by assembling extensive collections of natural history specimens. From 1878 to 1894, Thomas A. Greene assembled a comprehensive collection of minerals from around the world, as well as an unparalleled collection of fossils from the classic ancient reefs of the Milwaukee-Chicago, stimulating further research on these structures by eminent geologists of the day and providing abundant material for future paleontological research. The entire collection was originally donated to Milwaukee-Downer College, a women’s college, where Greene’s heirs built a fireproof museum building to house it in 1913. The museum, along with the rest of the campus, was later sold to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Johnson House

Location: 33 East Four Mile Road, Racine, Racine County

Relevant issues: Art and architecture

Statement of significance: Built in 1937-1938 for Herbert Johnson, president of Johnson’s Wax Company, this large house was considered by its architect the finest (and most expensive) house he had built up to that date. Frank Lloyd Wright’s design is so completely wedded to its site–rolling grassy slopes and shallow ravines–that it seems to grow naturally from the earth. Displaying what its author called the “eloquence of materials”–beautifully finished and integrated surfaces of wood, concrete, and brick put together with respect and taste–it is the last of Wright’s Prairie Houses. Currently, it is one of the most important educational and cultural conference centers in the Midwest.

La Follette Home

Location: Maple Bluff, Dane County

Relevant issues: Political history, social reform

Statement of significance: From 1905 until his death, this was the residence of Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925). La Follette served in the House of Representatives (1885-1891) but did not emerge as a major force in governmental reform until his service as governor of Wisconsin (1901-1906). As a U.S. senator (1906-1925), he continued to champion “progressive” causes and was the Progressive Party candidate for president in 1924, the year before his death.

Little White Schoolhouse

Location: Ripon, Fond Du Lac County

Relevant issues: Political history

Statement of significance: A meeting in this simple, one-story clapboard and frame schoolhouse on March 20, 1854, and another in Jackson, Michigan, on July 6, to protest passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which permitted the extension of slavery beyond the limits of the Missouri Compromise, drew dissatisfied Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Democrats. These meetings were the first of those that led to the formation of the Republican Party.

Milton House

Location: 18 South Janesville Street, Milton, Rock County

Relevant issues: African American history, social reform

Statement of significance: This tall, hexagonal building, constructed of concrete grout and covered with plaster, is nationally significant not because of its unusual shape and construction but because of its antebellum usage. Built as a hotel, it and the nearby log Goodrich Cabin served as stops on the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves could enter the cabin, open a trapdoor, and make their way through a tunnel to the Milton House, where the Goodrich family provided food, shelter, and assistance to reach their next stop on their way to Canada and freedom. This property, open to the public as a museum, also illustrates the westward spread of abolition and its transformation from a moral to a political issue. Joseph Goodrich, founder of Milton and proprietor of the hotel, moved from New York State to Wisconsin and was one of many who brought the reform movement and its ideals westward.

Namur Historic District

Location: Namur, Door County

Relevant issues: Cultural history

Statement of significance: Located in northeastern Wisconsin, this area contains the nation’s largest known concentration of Belgian-influenced farmsteads, other rural buildings, and landscape features. Namur is a lively ethnic enclave where French is still spoken with a Walloon accent and where the heritage of the area is evident in food and ethnic festivals. Although Belgian settlement of the area dates to the 1850’s, most of the buildings were constructed after the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

Oconto Site

Location: Oconto, Oconto County

Relevant issues: American Indian history

Statement of significance: At this prehistoric burial ground, implements of the Old Copper Culture people, who occupied the northern Midwest about 2500 b.c.e., have been found in association with human burials. The site forms the Copper Culture State Park.

Soldiers’ Home Reef

Location: Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

Relevant issues: Science and technology

Statement of significance: This rock mound in the Menomonee River Valley near Milwaukee was discovered by Increase A. Lapham, Wisconsin’s first scientist, in the 1830’s. In 1862, James Hall was the first to recognize and interpret this and several other early mounds as fossil reefs, making them the first ancient reefs described in North America and among the first described anywhere in the world. Thomas C. Chamberlin used this and other reefs in formulating his paleoecological and sedimentological model of reef development, which was published in his classic 1877 work Geology of Eastern Wisconsin.

Turner Hall

Location: Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

Relevant issues: Cultural history

Statement of significance: Milwaukee Turner Hall, built in 1882, is among the few surviving nineteenth century historic buildings associated with the American Turners, a very influential organization of German Americans. The last Turner clubhouse in Milwaukee, the “German Athens” of America, it exemplifies the major place and multifaceted role the Milwaukee Turners have held in this national organization. The buildings also represents the Milwaukee Turners’ unheralded role in political reform from the antislavery movement in the 1850’s through the era of progressive municipal reform.

University of Wisconsin Armory and Gymnasium

Location: Madison, Dane County

Relevant issues: Political history, social reform

Statement of significance: This was the site of the 1904 Wisconsin Republican Convention, a seminal event in the history of the Progressive movement. At this convention, Robert M. La Follette’s Progressives defeated the Stalwarts for control of the Wisconsin Republican Party. Widespread favorable publicity launched La Follette on the national scene. The controversy and legal suit engendered by the “Gymnasium Convention” and La Follette’s subsequent vindication by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin led the Progressives to victory that November, giving them a majority in the state legislature the following year. This allowed the enactment of substantial reforms, many of which were subsequently adopted by many states across the nation.

University of Wisconsin Science Hall

Location: Madison, Dane County

Relevant issues: Education, science and technology

Statement of significance: Science Hall is associated with Charles R. Van Hise (1857-1918), who was the first geologist in the nation to apply microscopic lithology to the extensive study of crystalline rocks and to use those results in the formulation of geological principles. Van Hise’s emphasis on the quantitative application of physical and chemical laws to geological problems was one of his greatest contributions to the science of geology. His influential 1904 monograph A Treatise on Metamorphism moved geology out of the science of classification and into formulating principles. As a teacher, Van Hise earned a reputation for training geologists who matched his own high standards in scientific research.

Villa Louis

Location: Prairie du Chien, Crawford County

Relevant issues: Business and industry

Statement of significance: Hercules Louis Dousman I (1800-1868), prominent fur agent for the American Fur Company, adviser to the government on matters ranging from Indian affairs to land surveys, and owner of river steamboats and a proponent of the railroads, built a large brick Georgian style house here in 1843. In 1870, it was replaced by his son with this villa complex with outbuildings. The house stands on a mound–believed to be a Hopewell site–which was also the site of two early forts.

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