Villa Louis mansion

Villa Louis National Historic Landmark

Villa Louis is a historic mansion on historic grounds along the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien. The mansion was built by H. Louis Dousman in 1871, replacing an earlier one built by his father, fur trader and investor Hercules Dousman, in 1843. Located on St. Feriole Island, the mansion was also known as the “House on the Mound,” owing to its construction atop a former Native American mound. The mound has come in handy, as the flooding on the island can be legendary.

Villa Louis Historic Marker

The Villa Louis mansion is a Victorian Italianate style home, constructed of Cream City brick. It boasted modern indoor plumbing and central heating, quite a luxury for the early 1870s (Wi-fi wouldn’t come along for many years.) It was remodeled and restored in 1885 and again in the 1930s when family members used the mansion as a boarding house school.

Reconstructed Fort Crawford on the Villa Louis grounds

A reconstruction of Fort Crawford in its original location.

Prior to construction of the mansion, the Villa Louis grounds were the scene for the only battle in Wisconsin during the War of 1812, called the Siege of Prairie du Chien. The first Fort Crawford (a second was built on higher ground later) occupied part of the site from 1816-1843, replacing earlier forts named Shelby and McKay – which we learned during a War of 1812 reenactment was pronounced “Mc-Kai”, rhyming with “McHigh.”

Villa Louis was acquired by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1952 and it became Wisconsin’s first State Historic Site. By 1960, it had become a National Historic Landmark along with two other structures on the grounds, the Astor Fur Warehouse and the Brisbois House.

Inside Villa Louis

A room inside Villa Louis. (Photo credit: Wisconsin Historical Society.)

You can get all the information and begin a tour at the Visitor Center, which is open daily from 9:30am-4:30pm. You’ll notice it’s on stilts; that’s because the area does still flood sometimes! There are restroom facilities and a cool Museum Store inside the Visitor Center, plus the opportunity to get informational materials on everything in the area. Tours of Villa Louis depart at the top of each hour, generally from 10am to 4pm; you can get specifics by season here.

Villa Louis side

Villa Louis Admission:

Adults (18-64) $12.50
Children (5-17) (children 4 and under are free) $6
Students/Seniors (65 & older) $10.50
Group Tour – Child (5-17) $5
Group Tour – Adult $10.50
Wisconsin Historical Society Members are admitted FREE

You can get to Villa Louis via Blackhawk Avenue west from downtown, which was the original U.S. 18 route before the road was relocated to the location of the current bridge over the Mississippi. Today’s U.S. 18 and Highways 27, 35, and 60 bring you within blocks.

Villa Louis Address:

521 Villa Louis Road
Prairie du Chien, WI 53821
(608) 326-2721
Website

 




Ten Chimneys Estate, Genesee Depot

Ten Chimneys National Historic Landmark

Ten Chimneys logoStarts of stage and screen frequented Ten Chimneys Estate , a National Historic Landmark that was home to Broadway greats Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The iconic couple, who married in 1922, appeared together in over 24 plays and, more recently, on a postage stamp. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on West 46th Street in New York City is – of course – named for them, an indication of their prowess on the big stage.

Tours of Ten Chimneys are available from May through mid-November of the grounds and the house. Furnishings, hand-painted murals, décor, art collections and other memorabilia are everywhere, and yes, the house does have 10 chimneys. Even the Gift Shop is unique: from early 20th century hat styles to jewelry to Noël Coward quotes adorning black t-shirts, there’s plenty of interesting things to check out.

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The main house at Ten Chimneys. All ten chimneys are but a fraction of the architectural splendor both inside the house and on the surrounding grounds.

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The dining room, for example, where elegance, beauty and attention to detail combined with what must have been some incredibly good meals.

Guests to Ten Chimneys over the years the Lunts lived there included Katharine Hepburn, W.C. Fields, and most infamously Noël Coward, probably the Lunt’s most frequent Ten Chimneys guest. Coward was known for many things, including some of the most famous plays ever written. Today the theatre in Westminster, London where he first performed in 1920 is named the Noël Coward Theatre, which was named in his honor in 2006. He acted in many plays and also performed intelligence work for the British Secret Service during World War II (in fact, he was approached by neighbor Ian Fleming in the 1960s to play the villan’s role in Dr. No, which he turned down… with the phrase “Dr. No? No. No. No.”) Meanwhile on the Ten Chimney grounds, he was known for walking through the house in the buff on his way to go for a swim because he liked to skinny dip in the pool, causing at least one cook to quit. Others presumably stared or did double-takes at various times.

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Part of Ten Chimneys’ Museum Store and reception area includes a variety of things to see, including a stage to check out, backstage samples, a Dick Cavett video interview of the couple from 1970, furniture and more; the stage is above. And of the many things available at Ten Chimneys, you can buy specialty shot glasses with “the great drinkers” like Yeats, Wilde, Thomas and Fields. Just don’t use them while State Trunk Touring, okay??

genesee_10chimneys01You’ll find Ten Chimneys (and tell them you’re doing a State Trunk Tour!) on Highway 83 in Genesee Depot in southwestern Waukesha County, about 10 miles south of I-94 and 10 miles north of I-43. Tours of Ten Chimneys are a must, and reservations a day or more in advance is strongly recommended. They also have numerous events and dinners to check out.

Ten Chimneys Estate Address:

S43W31575 Depot Road
Genesee Depot, WI 53127
(262) 968-4110
Website




Man Mound Park & Historic Marker

Man Mound National Historic Landmark

Man Mound Historic MarkerMan Mound is the only human-shaped effigy mound left in North America – that we know of. Constructed sometime between 600AD and 900AD by Native Americans, Man Mound is 214 feet long and raises up an average of 2.5 feet up from the ground. It served as a gathering place for feasts, sacred rituals, and many believe the burial of relatives’ remains, in part to connect with spirits. When you visit, you can see where the road cut through what was part of the Man’s legs; a farm across the street preserves some of the Man’s feet. The rest of the mound, in the park, is easy to decipher as the shape of a person, including the arms and head.

Man Mound

Here you can see the legs of Man Mound, part of which were cut off the road over 150 years ago.

Construction of what is now Man Mound Road in the 19th century obliterated part of the Man’s legs, but the rest of the mound is in good shape. It was first identified and surveyed as a man-made mound in 1859 by a European settler named William Canfield. A county park was designated around it in 1908, helping to preserve the rest of the mound. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and became a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Man Mound marker

Man Mound Road sign along Highway 33

This caught our eye.

We first discovered Man Mound when we saw the road sign, which we thought was an interesting name, so we followed it. What a treat to stumble on this cool piece of history!

Man Mound Park also has a playground, bathroom, and picnic tables. You’ll find it just off Highway 33 on Man Mound Road, northeast of Baraboo in Sauk County. It’s just over ten minutes from I-90/94.

Man Mound Address:

E13085 Man Mound Road
Baraboo, WI 53913
(608) 356-1001 (Sauk County Historical Society)