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Madison's Historic Neighborhoods


State Street Circa 1939, Source: The Badger Herald

A Look Back at Madison's Past

Madison's earliest history dates back nearly 13,000 years ago when the four lakes region was formed by glaciers. Ho Chunk natives, known as the mound builders, called this land home for many years before the Yankee settlers began to arrive in the 1800s. James Doty, a judge and land speculator, traveled through the isthmus in May of 1829 and loved the land so much that he purchased 1,200 acres and began making plans for streets. In 1836, he convinced legislation to designate Madison, named after the 4th U.S. President James Madison, as the new Wisconsin State Capital.

Madison was incorporated as a village in 1848 with a population of 626 people and a capitol under construction. In 1856, Madison was officially a city with a population that grew to 6,864 people. The first commercial district in Madison included King St. and the East Main/S. Pinckney St. sides of the Capitol Square. The first residential districts were along Gorham, Gilman, Langdon and Wilson Street. The industrial revolution stimulated Madison's growing economy, and employment and opportunity rose quickly thanks to the University and a few successful industries like the Oscar Meyer, Fauerbach Brewery, Olds' Seed Co. and more.

Oscar Meyer Meat Packing Plant Circa 1932, Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

We have history to thank for Madison's diverse and vibrant culture. A lot of history still resides in this city today. From the historic University buildings to the historic districts, we can always remember our roots and appreciate how far our city and people have come.

Curious to know where Madison's rich history still resides? Here's a list of Madison's oldest existing neighborhoods.

Madison's Historic Districts

1. Mansion Hill Historic District

John E. Kendall Residence built in 1855. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

Mansion Hill resides north of the Capitol Square and occupies the streets of E. Dayton, E. Johnson, E. Gorham, N. Butler, Langdon, and W. Gilman. The oldest houses built in this district date back to the 1850s. Mansion Hill was one of two most prestigious neighborhoods in Madison in the 19th century. Originally, there were around 120 executive homes built in these neighborhoods, mostly in the styles of Italianate and Queen Anne. In the 1950s and 1970s, a number of these homes were demolished to make room for new commercial and apartment buildings. Residents petitioned to have the district designated as a landmark to protect it's history. Today, Mansion Hill contains more original Victorian homes than any other district, many of which were homes to Madison's first pioneers.

2. Third Lake Ridge Historic District

600 Block Williamson St. Circa 1938, Source: Friends of Historic Third Lake Ridge

The Third Lake Ridge Historic District was pronounced Madison's second historic district in 1979. The district encompasses the areas around Williamson St. and extends roughly from Blair St. to the Yahara River. The district is known for it's variety of architecture, from churches and warehouses to small cottages and impressive mansions. The district became a place of diversity as many early European settlers lived, worked and shopped there. In the 1970s, the Marquette Neighborhood Association proposed a multi-faceted revitalization campaign that focused on beautification, economic development, zoning studies and traffic redirection of the area. View the 1977 proposal document for the rezoning for WIlly St. here. (Source: Friends of Historic Third Lake Ridge)

3. University Heights Historic District

Harold C. Bradley House built in 1909. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

University Heights was established in 1893 as one of Madison's first suburbs. The location of this district is very close to the University, which attracted a lot of families of UW professors and other business professionals. The curved streets are abundant with beautiful homes that have a variety of architectural styles such as Queen Anne, prairie, and period revival. Keck and Keck, George W. Maher, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, Madison's most famous architects, designed homes in this district.

4. Marquette Bungalows Historic District

Louis & Fannie Russos Residence built in 1924. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

This district contains two blocks of bungalow-style homes in the Marquette neighborhood and is roughly bounded from Spaight St. to Rutledge St. and S. Dickinson St. to S. Thornton Ave. These bungalows sprouted up between 1924 and 1930 sharing similar shapes and sizes, although each home has certain details and features that make them unique. The size of these homes are not very large, but the quality of details and construction were superb. Many of these homes have wood flooring, fine woodworking throughout, built-in cabinets, and leaded glass windows. The Madison Landmarks Commission declared the Marquette Bungalows a historical district in 1993.

5. First Settlement Historic District

Pinckney Street Circa 1859, Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

This district was home to Madison's first residential settlers and resides just southeast of the Capitol Square. A boarding house for workers who built the first capitol was the first to be built in this district in 1837. More and more modest framed houses were built throughout the 19th century, and the area seemed to be growing at a steady rate. After World War II, the development of downtown Madison began to encompass the area and the construction of government buildings began to decrease the value of this neighborhood. Downtown natives began to migrate back to the area in the 1970s and restored the old houses. The district was declared Madison's fifth historic district by the Common Council in 2002.

Source: CIty of Madsion - Local Historic Districts

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