Friday, September 8, 2017


I'd guess most cities have their own historic preservation societies and Madison is no exception. Madison's organization the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation began in 1974 as a reaction to two events:
the demolition of the William F. Vilas home on Mansion Hill to make way for a commercial office building and the demolition of Hillside Farm on University Avenue that was replaced by a very important Burger King.
The demolition of Hillside Farm made it to national significance when New York Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, included it in an article on the civic need of the importance of respecting and maintaining a city's historic heritage over the city's need for urban renewal.

I joined the Trust's mailing list when I came across their booth at a local street fair and ever since I've received notices about their events and schedules.
What I've found out is that on almost a weekly basis they conduct tours of significant areas of the city of historically important structures in the Madison metropolitan area. They charge $10 a person per tour. My schedule was hard to dovetail with most of their tours. I was either in New York our committed to other Madison obligations but I finally found a tour I could go to.

There's an area on Madison's west side that developed with fits and starts making it a an architectural history lesson stretching from the 1860's through the 1950's.
Westmorland is easily identifiable off of Mineral Point Road with its original stone and metal entrance that hails entrance to the neighborhood via a classic boulevard.
The area borders on one of Madison's beautiful golf courses, Glenway Golf Course providing a vista of rolling fairways of verdant green. The tour is a walking tour that lasts about ninety minutes
Once the tour begins you need to make sure you've got on some decent shoes and you've made a pit stop. There aren't any pee breaks along the tour.
We all met at a corner across from the Village Bar, a local hangout for the community and the 19th hole for the golfers from Glenway Golf Course.
The generational mix of the people who had signed up for the tour was a bit disappointing. I don't remember seeing a single walker under the age of fifty. I'd hoped an interest in the architectural history of the area would go beyond those looking behind and encompass more of those looking ahead.
Westmorland's history is significant for its niche, a niche that isn't about grandeur and opulence but instead about its common man appeal.
Straight through from the 1860's to the late 1920's the area remained predominately farmland but with the growth of Madison in a westward direction Westmorland took off. The Backus house was one of the first major residences to take root in the area. It was built for a local banker and remains one of the grander homes in the area. I have no idea of how many owners have inhabited the house but like so many homes of significance the house remains referred to under the name of its original owner.
A decade later and the character of the neighborhood began to emerge. Westmorland has a collection of Sears homes.
Sears provided a collection of plans you could choose from. Once you chose a plan Sears did the rest loading ever piece of lumber, stone and brick you'd need and sent it off for you to put together
These homes featured a good deal of curb appeal and interior layouts with that thirties appeal of structured rooms with specific uses.
All this was offered at an affordable price for a middle class market.
The thirties produced a boon in construction from the quaint to an influx of homes designed by the famous and popular all trying to produce homes for those with a more modest income.
Starting out as a single level home built in a Bauhaus brutalistic style this home was recently enlarged with a second story in the same style.
Across the street is probably Westmorland's most famous house,
The Jacobs House I built in 1937 by Frank Lloyd Wright. An L-shaped home, it was the first of Wright's Usonian homes designed for middle-income families
When you walk along the side of the lot the house sits on you can see how Wright focused the home to the natural expanse of the backyard enhancing the privacy of the home and providing the owners with a very bucolic view in opposition to its suburban setting
The front of the house has a hidden entry with strong horizontal planking providing a buffer to the street. I was lucky enough to get into the home years ago when a former student and her family owned the home. Their family grew and the home was no longer able to accommodate their family. It's the only reason I can come up with for why they sold it and moved to a less significant home.
With the onset of World War II construction died down until after the war when in the late forties and early fifties another building surge took hold.
A part of this surge was another foray into the area of prefab homes, the Lustron home.
These homes came as a kit of ceramic tiles and could supposedly be put together in a day complete with appliances.
The architectural history of Madison is evident throughout its many significant neighborhoods and I intend to sign up for additional tours with The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation because everyone is welcome in Madison.

State Street
Mark Golbach, photographer
All rights reserved,
Please help support local photographers


  1. I used to belong to MTHP and was even on the board long ago. We hang out at EVP coffee next door to the Village Bar so I rcognized a number of these houses. I often drive down Toepfer because it has such a great architectural mix. We know the owner of the Jacobs house and have been lucky enough to see the inside.

  2. So thankful Mark allowed me to use his photo. My only regret with the tour was the lack of younger people. Was hoping there would be more interest in the area's architectural history by a more youthful generation