The majority of homes on the market in Dane County were built in the last 40 years. So, we tend to lump homes built before that into one category-“old.” But not all historic homes are made the same. Madison’s first settlers arrived in the 1830s, and the 120 years of development that followed gradually changed the cityscape, piece by piece. And overtime, home styles changed from stone cottages in Madison’s very early years, to Romantic period estates during the mid 1800s, to Victorian homes by the turn of the century, to the emergence of Prairie and Craftsman styles during the early 1900s, and to the innovative contemporary homes of the 1950s and ’60s. Each of these styles became popular  because of cultural and economic forces around in Madison at the time. While condensing 120 years of domestic architectural history into one article is an impossible feat, I have chosen just a handful of styles that were incredibly popular in the Madison area, and greater Midwest, during their time.

 

The Old Executive Mansion, 130 E Gilman St is a high example of the Italianate style, built in 1856.

Italianate: The Romantic-era Italianate style originated in England in the 1840s, and was meant to encapsulate the English’s vision of an Italian villa. The style was popular throughout the Midwest from the 1840s to the 1880s until falling out of favor. Italianate homes are characterized often by a flat or low pitched roof, projecting eaves, pedimented and arched windows, often very tall on the first level. More elaborate Italianate homes might have cupolas, balusters, large bay windows, or other adornments. In Wisconsin, most Italianate homes are constructed of brick or stone. Because Italianate homes are just a quiet minority in Madison’s housing stock, they are easy to spot. There are quite a few in the Mansion Hill neighborhood, the First Settlement neighborhood, and there are a handful in the historic downtowns of neighboring communities. While they can range from simple to elaborate, all Italianate homes give off a vibe of nostalgic stateliness that’s otherwise hard to come by.

 

204 Dewey St, a simpler Queen Anne home in downtown Sun Prairie, built in 1904.

Queen Anne: The Queen Anne style is the most common Victorian-era style in Wisconsin. It was so popular that when we discuss “Victorian” architecture in Madison, we usually are referring to the Queen Anne style alone. Technically a revival of architecture during Queen Anne’s rule in the mid 1700s, this English style arrived in the US during the late 1870s, and became incredibly fashionable during the 1880s and ’90s. While British in origin, Americans made it their own. These homes are characterized by steeply pitched roofs, front-facing gables, asymmetrical facades, large bay windows, castle-like turets, expansive, asymmetrical porches, and bold, cheery colors that showcase exterior adornments such as spindle work detailing. This style can be found throughout downtown Madison, as well as in the historic Main Streets of nearby communities.

1202 Sugar Maple Ln: An American Four Square  home built in 1920, on Madison's west side. 1202 Sugar Maple Ln: An American Four Square home built in 1920, on Madison’s west side.

Prairie: Frank Lloyd Wright, born in Richland Center, is considered the father of the Prairie style, and the most famous American architect.  The Prairie School, which really came to fruition in a handful of Chicago suburbs, is considered one of the first, truly American styles. Wright emphasized that buildings should be in harmony with their surroundings, to the point where they become part of the landscape itself. Prairie homes feature a strong horizontal emphasis, flat or very shallowly pitched roofs, and exaggerated, overhanging eaves. Many also have banded windows, massive porch supports, and hidden entryways. Generally, Prairie homes have significantly simpler exterior adornments than earlier styles. Although, many feature decorative casement windows, and terra cotta detailing. Earlier examples have boxier shapes. The most common vernacular style is the simple American Four Square house, found throughout Dane County.

744 Chapman St., currently listed by Tony Tucci, is a Crafstman style bungalow in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood, built in 1930. 744 Chapman St., currently listed by Tony Tucci, is a Crafstman style bungalow in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood, built in 1930.

Craftsman:

The Craftsman style, though originating in southern California, became widely popular nationwide. Partly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement,   It was incredibly popular from 1905 to the end of the 1920s. The style was influenced Craftsman homes feature low-pitched gabled roofs, multi-paned windows, front porches, overhanging eaves often with exposed decorative beams underneath, and front porches with tapered columns. In Madison, the most common vernacular example of the craftsman style is the Bungalow, a 1 and a half story house, with a side gabled roof, dormer windows, and sometimes sloping eaves that cover a front porch. Craftsman houses tend to have detailed built-in woodwork and arched entryways. Bungalows can resemble the Prairie style as well, and can be found in most older neighborhoods. Check out the Marquette, the Schenk-Atwood, and Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhoods in particular.

The first Jacobs house, a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house at 441 Toepfer Ave, was built in 1937 and is one of the earlier examples of “contemporary” domestic architecture.

Contemporary: Contemporary architecture is a sub-category within “modern” American architecture. It rose to popularity during the 1950s through the 70s. The name “contemporary” can be confusing, because not all homes built during that period can be called “contemporary,” and homes built recently we would otherwise consider “contemporary”  are not included. But you know one when you see one. There are two types of contemporary houses- the flat-roof house, which comes from the International Style, and the gabled-roof house, which is influenced by Prairie and Crafstman styles. Both types often have exteriors of wood, brick and stone. They are usually one story. Many architects of these properties incorporated them into their landscapes in a Wrightian fashion. There are a small handful of “Usonian” homes scattered across the state. This style was a favorite among architects, and there are many in the University Hill Farms neighborhood in particular.

 

Often, we view purchasing a historic home as cumbersome: they’re not energy-efficient, they can take more work and time to maintain, and sometimes (with the exception of contemporary homes) their layouts aren’t the most conducive to modern life. But if you are genuinely interested in owning a home with history, the benefits, though at times difficult to quantify, are grand. Historic homes and streets help give the communities we know and love a sense of place and character. Historic homes help us understand the historical development of our communities, which in turn strengthens our connection to our neighbors, and communities themselves.

 

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