James Duane Doty was appointed a federal judge for the newly created northern and western Michigan Territory (today’s Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula) in 1823 when he was just 23 years old. Doty was replaced as judge in 1832 and after that stood for election to represent western Michigan Territory as a delegate in Congress. He lost and turned his attention to land speculation, gobbling up thousands of acres in the district. 

In 1836 when Wisconsin Territory was created, Doty hoped to be appointed territorial governor but President Andrew Jackson gave the post to Henry Dodge, a longtime political rival of Doty. Unable to lead the new territory, Doty settled on the next best thing - getting the new territorial capital located on his land. He lobbied hard, filling legislators with grand plans of railroads and canals for his city that existed only in a few sketches on maps. It worked. In 1836 an isthmus on the Four Lakes of the Yahar River was declared the permanent capital and named after the fourth President of the United States, James Madison.

James Doty would go on to win the seat in Congress that eluded him and then become the second territorial governor. He worked on the Constitutional Convention that resulted in Wisconsin statehood in 1848 and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin’s 3rd district. He retired to an island in the Fox River but was called back into government service by Abraham Lincoln to govern the Utah Territory where he died in office in 1865.

Meanwhile the town that he had founded, despite grumblings about relocation, made the transition to state capital in 1848 and the University of Wisconsin was established here at the same time. Even so, the thickets on the isthmus remained so dense that the village of Madison and its 1,672 residents were classified as an “inhabited forest.” But with the reliable economic engines of government and education firmly in place that was not going to be the way of the world for long. The first train arrived in 1854 and the streets were lit with gas a year later. By 1860 the population had climbed over 6,000 and hasn’t stopped since.

Madison’s growth has not been a boon for lovers of old buildings. There has always been money available to tear down the old and put up the new in the name of progress. Nonetheless there are still heritage buildings from the 19th century in downtown Madison where the explorer is never more than seven blocks from the lake. But our search for these souvenir structures will start with one that isn’t quite that old, having replaced its predecessor that burned in 1904...

Wisconsin State Capitol
Capitol Square
bounded by Carroll, Mifflin, Main and Pinckney streets

This is the fifth building to serve as State Capitol, and the third in Madison. Construction began after a fire in 1904 brought down capitol number two and continued for eleven years. George Browne Post of New York, a master of the Beaux Arts style, designed the Renaissance Revival structure in a cruciform plan with its top 284 feet and five inches from the ground, a purposeful three feet shorter than the nation’s capitol in Washington D.C. The Capitol was constructed of 43 types of stone from six countries and eight states. The exterior stone is Bethel White granite from Vermont, making the exterior dome the largest granite dome in the world. The Capitol contains both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Office of the Governor. The statue of Wisconsin on the dome was sculpted during 1920 by Daniel Chester French of Lincoln Memorial fame.


American Exchange Bank
One North Pinckney Street at northeast corner of Washington Avenue

It was on this corner where the first Wisconsin territorial legislative session was held in a rustic tavern called the American House, built here in 1838. The American House was felled by a fire in 1868. This block-long structure crafted of Madison sandstone replaced it in 1871 and although it was partially destroyed by fire in the 1940s it stands as one of the finest Italian Renaissance commercial buildings in Madison. Stephen Vaughn Shipman, who created the dome and rotunda of the State Capitol, designed the block for J.E. Baker. It housed stores and offices and the Park Savings Bank; in 1922 it was occupied by the American Exchange Bank.


Belmont Hotel
101 East Mifflin Street at southeast corner of Pinckney Street

In the early 1900s small and mid-sized American towns yearned for a “big-city hotel” that would lure business and symbolize their commercial aspirations. In Madison that modern hotel was the Belmont, conceived as the town’s tallest building and funded by the sale of community bonds. The original plans were scaled back to eleven stories after the state legislature passed a law that buildings within one mile, let alone one block, of the State Capitl could be no higher than the base of the dome. Designed in a restrained Neoclassical style by the local firm of Harold Charles Balch and Grover Henry Lippert, the Belmont opened in 1924. Like most of its urban downtown cousins the Belmont faded in mid-century and the building was sold to the YWCA in 1968. 


The Bartell
113 East Mifflin Street

This building began life in 1906 as the Colonial Hall, built by Frederick W. Kehl for his dance school. The Kehl Dance Academy used the second floor and bowling lanes operated on the ground floor, the first of many uses for the space through the years. Most recently it has been transformed into a community theater by a collaboration between four theatre companies. Next door at #117, the non-descript brick commercial building was constructed as a frame house in the 1860s. From 1911 to 1922 it was the offices and printing plant for Rasmus B. Anderson’s Amerika, a Norwegian language newspaper that was a political force in the Norwegian-American community from its founding in 1898 until Anderson’s retirement in 1922.


Gates of Heaven Synagogue
300 East Gorham Street at northeast corner of Butler Street

This is the fourth oldest synagogue standing in the United States, although it hasn’t always stood here. In 1971 the city purchased the building, restored it and moved it from its original location on Washington Avenue to James Madison Park. It was built by German immigrant August Kutzbock in 1863 for the Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven) congregation, founded by European immigrants seven years earlier. Kutzbock used a Romanesque style infused with Bavarian influences knownas Runbogentsil, also known as Lombard Romanesque, for the little sandstone gem. Financial reversals caused the building to be leased to the Unitarian Church in the 1870s.


Old Governors’ Mansion
130 East Gilman Street

Insurance man Julius T. White built this Italian villa of locally quarried sandstone in 1856. The Whites sold their home the next year and the asymmetric house began its climb to historical icon in 1867 when it was purchased by State Senator J. G. Thorp, a millionaire lumber baron. Governor Jeremiah Rusk acquired the house in 1883 and sold it to the State of Wisconsin two years later. It was outfitted for use as the executive mansion and seventeen governors would reside here until 1950. The University of Wisconsin bought the heritage structure in 1951 and scaled it back to its original appearance, more or less.

Kendall House
104 East Gilman Street at northeast corner of Pinckney Street

John E. Kendall, a banker from New York, was the first to build on what would become Madison’s most picturesque intersection when he raised this stylish two-and-one half story Italianate home in 1855. In the 1870s the house picked up a fashionable French Second Empire makeover with a mansard roof. When this intersection was filled it went by various names: Big Bug Hill, Aristocrat Hill, Yankee Hill, Mansion Hill.

Bashford House
423 North Pinckney Street at southeast corner of Gilman Street 

This Italian villa from 1857 boasts a prominent square, hipped roof, three-story tower, or campanile. German immigrant architect August Kutzbock, who had a hand in many buildings on this side of town, contributed the original design. The first occupant was H.K. Lawrence, a town banker and bigwig with the Madison and Watertown Railroad, but carries the name of Robert M. Bashford, a town mayor in 1890. It wasn’t even Bashford’s house but his in-laws, the Fullers. 

Pierce House
424 North Pinckney Street at southwest corner of Gilman Street

When Alexander A. McDonnell, a contractor on the State Capitol, contracted to construct this house in 1857 his mandate was to “build the finest house money could buy.” August Kutzbock delivered his Germanic interpretation of the Romanesque Revival style and Italian stone cutters were brought from the East Coast to execute intricate stone carvings. Marble was imported from Carrara, Italy and solid mahogany used for woodwork. The result was lauded as indeed one of Madison’s finest houses.

Keenan House
28 East Gorham Street at northwest corner of Pinckney Street

Napoleon Bonaparte Van Slyke was one of the most important players in the development of Madison after coming from New York state in 1853. He helped form the first abstract and title company, one of the first banks and was an original regent of the University of Wisconsin. This house of Milwaukee cream brick was constructed for Van Slyke in 1858 but he never lived here. A dozen years later a frilly French Second Empire mansard roof was added to the Romanesque core. George Keenan was a prominent Madison surgeon who resided in the house from 1900 until 1916. 

Quisling Towers
1 East Gilman Street at southeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue

Danish-born architect Lawrence Monberg, working out of Chicago, gave Madison its best Art Moderne building in 1937. The elegant exterior of smooth surfaces and sweeping curved corners was executed in Bedford limestone, buff-gray brick and terra-cotta tile. This was one of Monberg’s first commissions and he stayed in Wisconsin, designing schools and public buildings for three decades. Abraham Quisling was the moneyman for the apartment complex which was given instant cachet with its streamline design and remains a favored address 75 years later.


Kennedy Manor
1 Langdon Street at southwest corner of Wisconsin Avenue

Brothers Tom and Grover Kennedy were dentists and property owners of eight downtown buildings on the 1920s. Looking to construct a legacy building they hired architects John Flad and Frank Moulton who delivered a five-and-a-half-story Neoclassical structure of cream brick and stone trim. Kennedy Manor was completed in 1929 just as the bottom fell out of the economy but it became the town’s most luxurious address, the type of apartment complex where residents live for decades.


Suhr House
121 Langdon Street

German-born John J Suhr set up a bank to tend to the financial needs of fellow German-speaking immigrants in 1871, a strategy that was successful enough for him to build this fine French Second Empire mansion in 1886. One of Suhr’s sons, Fred, was a brother-in-law to Oscar G. Mayer, son of the sausage maker and helped bring the company to Madison. The Upper Midwest was loaded with sausage makers but Oscar Mayer was the first to brand his hot dogs and market his sausages with a distinctive yellow band around the package.


Braley House
422 North Henry Street

Arthur B. Braley was born in rural Wyoming County in New York in 1824. After his father died Braley was sent to live with a wealthy relative with whom he studied Shakespeare. In his twenties he began to dabble in the law and made his way to Wisconsin where he was admitted to the bar in 1848. Braley settled in Madison in 1852 where he alternated between political writing and politics. He was elected at various times as city attorney, Political Justice and county judge. Braley is remembered today as family friend and promoter of poetess Ella Wheeler Wilcox. She is believed to have penned here most famous line in this Gothic Revival house, from the opening stanza of “Solitude,” in 1883: “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.” Her best known collection called Poems of Passion was published that year, causing a Victorian Age sensation for an unmarried 33-year old woman to be writing about such things. The book sold 60,000 copies and won Ella Wheeler famous literary suitors from whom she chose David Wilcox.


Wooten-Mead House
120 West Gorham Street

This large Prairie Style residence, crafted of brick and stucco, was constructed in 1907. The leading champion of the Prairie Style, Frank Lloyd Wright, spent his formative years living in Madison from ages 11 to 20. The house was built for Frank Wooten who co-founded the Madison Car Company in 1912, one of the town’s first automobile dealerships. The house survived a long stint as a University of Wisconsin fraternity house and several remodelings.

Quisling Terrace
2 West Gorham Street at northwest corner of Wisconsin Avenue 

Lawrence Monberg returned to Madison with another commission from Abraham Quisling in 1945, this time to build the doctor’s medical clinic. The Art Moderne Streamline building was constructed with blond bricks around an existing fame house from 1890. Monberg decorated his land yacht of a building with window decks and portholes. After a half-century the physicians moved out and the Art Deco landmark dodged the wrecking ball to carry on as low-income housing.

Bethel Lutheran Church
312 Wisconsin Avenue at southeast corner of Gorham Street

In its early years civic leaders in Madison openly opposed manufacturing initiatives, fearing factories would erode the community’s educational and cultural utopia. Norwegian immigrant John A. Johnson flouted those conventions and opened an agricultural implement company in 1880. Later he started a machine tool factory. The progressive Johnson built low-cost housing for his employees and engaged in profit sharing. Among his many benefactions in Madison was the founding of the Bethel Lutheran Church, now one of the largest Lutheran congregations in the United States.


Madison Masonic Center
301 Wisconsin Avenue at northeast corner of Johnson Street

Yankee settlers established the first Masonic lodge in Madison in 1844 and embarked on a peripatetic existence that did not end until 1891 when an old frame Presbyterian church on this site was purchased and purchased and remodeled into a Masonic Temple. The current Neoclassical structure, among the grandest in town, was completed in 1925 on plans drawn by brothers James and Edward Law. Fronted by plump, fluted Doric columns, the temple was constructed of Bedford limestone and is liberally appointed with marble inside. The final price tag, including furnishings and land, was $684,000.


Grace Episcopal Church
116 West Washington Avenue at northwest corner of Carroll Street

This is the oldest landmark on Capitol Square, constructed of native golden sandstone, in 1858. Milwaukee architect James Douglas contributed the Gothic Revival design for the congregation that started in 1838. It is the oldest parish in Madison.    

Hotel Loraine
123 West Washington Avenue at southwest corner of Carroll Street 

With a construction budget over one million dollars, this was the most expensive commercial construction project ever undertaken in Madison when ground was broken in 1923. Herbert W. Tullgren, a Milwaukee architect with no formal training who designed over fifty large apartment and hotel buildings, blended elements of the Tudor and Mediterranean styles to create Madison’s premier hotel. The ten-story structure remained so until 1968 and lives on today as condominiums. The name comes from the niece of money man Walter Schroeder, a hotel and insurance magnate.


Jackman Building
111 South Hamilton Street

Madison’s wheel-spoke street grid around Capitol Square created a number of triangular building sites that were filled with structures known as “flat-irons.” This corner was filled by Louis W. Claude and Edward F. Starck, local architects who were responsible for some 175 buildings in Madison during a decades-long partnership. Their classically inspired three-story flat-iron was built for the law firm of Richmond, Jackman and Swanson.

Baskerville Apartments
121 South Hamilton Street

Between 1910 and 1920, twenty-nine small and medium-sized apartment houses were constructed in Madison to contain a booming population surge. A century later the Baskerville is one of just a few residents from that time would recognize today. Local architect Robert L. Wright is considered to have done some of his best work on the classically-flavored Baskerville in 1913.


State Office Building
1 West Wilson Street opposite Carroll Street

The 177-foot-tall State Office Building that dominates the Madison skyline was built in three separate stages between 1931 and 1959. The main block, designed by State Architect Arthur Peabody, boasts a polished granite facade with bas-relief Art Deco ornamentation that includes a stylized version of the the state coat of arms. On the shield of the coat of arms are symbols for agriculture (a plow), mining (a pick and shovel), manufacturing (an arm and hammer), and navigation (an anchor).  

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard at northwest corner of Wilson Street

During the 1920s the federal government got into the business of building large civic temples and Madison received this fine Neoclassical ornament in 1929, designed by the supervising architect for the Department of the Treasury, James A. Wetmore.

Madison Catholic Clubhouse
15 East Wilson Street

This Mediterranean Revival clubhouse, infused with Art Moderne elements, was built for the Knights of Columbus in 1938. The Knights were a Catholic organization and go-to church architect John J. Flad designed the building. The building was used by several other Catholic groups and housed the offices of the Catholic Diocese.  

Bellevue Apartments
29 East Wilson Street

In the early 1900s multi-unit housing began to appear in Madison for the first time and among the early apartment buildings, the Bellevue was the largest. Aimed at a slightly upscale resident, the Bellevue was also one of the best-appointed and constructed. Charles E. Marks, a local builder of mostly Craftsman-style residences, took on his only large-scale project here and a century later the Bellevue appears essentially as Marks constructed it. The building pioneered modern conveniences, including electric elevators, food and laundry service, and centralized vacuum, trash disposal and refrigerator systems.


Christian Dick Block
106 East Doty Street at South Webster and King streets

Madison architects Alan Conover and Lew Porter filled this triangular site with a modified Richardsonian Romanesque style building in 1889. Based on the works of Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the brawny style enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity in the late 1880s and early 1890s, especially for imposing civic buildings. Conover and Porter were skilled practitioners of the style, elements of which can still be seen here, although much has been lost, in the rough-faced stone and polished pillars of the corner entrance, the bold arches and the conical tower. Christian Dick used the building to house his wholesale liquor business.

Fess Hotel
119-123 East Doty Street at King Street

George Fess arrived from England in the late 1830s without the proverbial penny to his name. He crewed on a Lake Michigan steamer and came to Madison in 1842 to work as a cook. Fess was able to open a small grocery store and eating house of his own in the 1850s and was soon taking in boarders and travelers to the capital city. It was a workingman’s establishment where a room and a meal could be had for less than $2.00. The operation engulfed the entire block with a saloon, ice house and a livery with accommodations for 60 horses. In 1901 the building picked up a picturesque Queen Anne facelift highlighted by decorative ironwork. The Fess family continued to operate the town’s longest-running hotel until 1973.


Majestic Theatre
115 King Street

Edward and Otto Biederstaedt built the Majestic in 1906 as the second vaudeville theater in Madison, hiring Louis W. Claude and Edward F. Starck to design what they hoped would be the first of a string of similar houses across the Upper Midwest. In 1911 a third floor was added to the Neoclassical theater as it evolved into the town’s first large movie theater. The following decades brought the typical boom times for movies in the 1930s and 1940s and the decline of the 1960s and 1970s. The Majestic stayed alive with “adult fare” and was eventually revived as a live performance stage. 

Suhr Building
104 King Street at Pinckney Street

John J. Suhr sailed from Germany for Wisconsin in 1857 when he was 21 years old. He found work as a bookkeeper and by 1871 he was ready to open the town’s oldest bank to serve the expanding German community in Madison. In 1887 Suhr built this three-story flat-iron building for his German-American Bank. John Nader, who was the City Engineer when he came to town to design the Madison sewer system, contributed the Italianate-flavored design, which remains unaltered save for a tweaking of the roof pediment over the entrance. As Nader took on more architectural projects he concentrated solely on his design work and became one of the town’s leading late 19th-century practitioners. The bank changed as well, dropping its German-associated roots during the World War I and emerging as the American Exchange Bank. The Suhr family moved the bank from its ancestral home here in 1922.