My Travel Philosophy

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Villa Louis

Front Entrance to Villa Louis
Mom, Tom, Sylvia, and I decided to take a trip to southern Wisconsin to tour House on the Rock (Spring Green), and Villa Louis and environs (Prairie du Chien). Because it was a pretty big trip, I need to split it into a several blogs.

After visiting Laurium Manor with Jeff in Michigan, this was the second great house that I visited in just a couple of weeks and really sparked my interest in getting out there and seeing more.  I had visited in back in the 60s on a weekend trip with the family but had not been back since.  We were really lucky because we were there midweek so it wasn't crowded and we were told that the entire place had recently been completely renovated.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the house but I was able to find some good photos on the internet to go along with the ones I had taken outside.

Mr. Dousman's office building
The tour actually begins at the Visitor/Gift Shop across the street, of course, and the guide is in costume.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and really nice.  We walked over to the grounds and began the tour with Mr. Dousman's office building.  The house and office were wired for electricity even though it was new.  Underneath the office is a stone wine cellar.  The history of the Dousman family and the estate was really fascinating and can be found on the website by visiting:

Only invited guests were allowed to come through the front door -- everyone else had to use the side entrance.  On this trip, we were invited guests and got to go in through the front entrance!  Immediately inside is a beautiful glassed-in veranda that goes around 3 1/2 sides of the house.  In the mid 1990s, the Villa Louis interiors underwent extensive restoration to re-create the house as it appeared in the late 1880.  Photographs appear in many of the rooms showing the home as it appeared when the family lived there -- including this veranda.  The restoration has returned the home to the appearance that it had then.  From this veranda, it would have been possible to watch the carriages passing on the road in front, as well as viewing the race track that once existed in an area that is now park land.

Entry Hall
From the veranda, you enter the front door into the main entrance hall.  To the left as you enter is the formal parlor, that was in use only for special guests and on special occasions.  To the right was the less Family Parlor where the family would spend time in the evenings.  From the family parlor, a door led to the dining room.  In the formal parlor, there is a marble statue of two of the daughters, which is repeated in a painting in the Family Parlor.

Formal Parlor
There is a lovely old iron cook stove in the kitchen that reminded me of the one that Grandma Fosdick used to have (only hers was a lot bigger).  There are cisterns in the attic to hold water so there was no need to haul water into the house so often.  As a result, there was both hot and cold running water in the house.  The property is often used now for meetings, weddings, and special events so the kitchen is actually used for cooking.  As a matter of fact, there was a tent being erected for a wedding rehearsal dinner while we were there.  Weather doesn't look too promising so I hope it turns out ok for them!

In the kitchen there were actual utensils used for cooking and some old recipes that they're still using.  At the back of the kitchen is the rear door where non-invited guests (servants, delivery people, etc) would come.  From this back door, you would have access to some of the outbuildings used by the servants:  the Preserve House, the Laundry Building, and the Ice House.  The family employed a laundress to wash, dry, starch, and iron the mountain of clothing for the family.  In the Ice House, blocks of ice were cut and taken from the Mississippi River and rolled in sawdust so they wouldn't melt.  Then, food could be stored through the entire summer.  The back of the house faced the Mississippi River and there was a landing for boats as well as a depot for the trains that ran on tracks between the Dousman grounds and the river.

Villa Louis from the rear
On the grounds, there are two artesian wells that the family drank from religiously because people believed that the minerals were good for the health.  We all took a drink but I'm not too sure it's going to do anything for us.  It did remind me, though, of the times we used to go to get water at the artesian well in the park in Joliet.  At the time, everyone would stand in line to get the fresh, healthy water.  Years later, when visiting the site after we had lived in Wisconsin for a while, all we could see and taste was the iron in the water!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My New Hobby: Grand Old Houses

Jeff and I took a weekend trip to the U.P. as Scott was using the cottage for the weekend and I had always wanted to see the waterfalls.  It was a great weekend and we had a fun time -- and it started a new hobby for me.  When I went to England in 2010, I visited a lot of manor homes and mansions that are now open to the public.  When we went through Laurium, Michigan, I saw signs for a mansion tour so we found the home and did take a tour of Laurium Manor.  As a result, it dawned on me that we probably have a lot of really wonderful old homes, manors, and mansions in this country that are open to visitation by the public so that's now my new hobby.

Laurium Manor
From the brochure about the home:  "Copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula was in its hey day in 1908.  With the copper came wealth and opportunity.  Across the region large mansions sprang up as a testament to copper mine owners' success.  Thomas H. Hoatson, owner of the Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. completed the largest and most opulent of these mantions in the Village of Laurium.  Hoatson spared no expense in building this 13,000 sq. ft. 45 room home for himself, his wife Cornelia, and their 6 children. At a time when miners made 25 cents per hour, the Hoatson family built this house for $50,000."

It was really fun to walk through the house, which is now open to public tours and is also run as an historic hotel.  Some of the bedrooms were not open for viewing because they were occupied by guests.  I wish we had known that before heading out as it would have been fun to stay in one of the rooms and eat in the family dining room.  Next time!

Fireplace in the den
The mansion was wired for electrical lights in 1908 and still retains the original push button switches.  Heat was supplied by a hot water boiler that fed the radiators that are still in use today.  Each room had its own pneumatic thermostat that controlled the mushroom shaped valve on each radiator.  Thermometers were not common in 1908 so there are marks for freezing, temperate, summer heat, and blood heat.  The den is where the men would retire after a formal dinner to discuss business.  The women would go to the music parlor.  The Hoatson's did not reside in the mansion during the summer.  The fireplace is made of hand carved oak and glass tiles and may have been designed and built by Tiffany.  The thistle design in the tile surround is there because Captain Hoatson was of Scottish descent and the thistle is the symbol of Scotland.
Dining Room

The dining room was used for formal dining occasions.  In the middle of the room, there was a push button switch that could be activated with the touch of a foot.  This rang a bell in the kitchen to let the butler know that it was time to serve the next course of the meal.  The wall covering is elephant hide leather embossed and gilded.  The table can extend to seat 12 people and is currently used for guests each morning.

One of the guest bedrooms
The parlor contained a box grand piano, and has a vaulted dome ceiling.  The room is covered with canvas that is hand painted.  The Hoatson's owned the manor until 1949, when Maynard & Jane Hurlbert purchased it.  They owned it until 1979.  From 1979 to 1989 there were six different owners.  during this period some of the owners were antique dealers that stripped the home of its original fixtures and stained glass windows.  In 1989 the mansion was purchased by David and Julie Sprenger.

At the time the mansion was purchased by the Sprengers, it had been vacant for 10 years and was not in livable condition.  The heating and plumbing did not work, and almost all light fixtures and many windows were missing.  All furniture was gone.  Renovations were begun in 1989 and continue as furnishings are located that accurately represent the period.  There are now 10 guest bedrooms used as part of the hotel.