The Dean House

The Dean House Restoration and Museum Project

Untitled Document

The Dean House Project

The Parlor

The Living Area

The Kitchen

The Pantry

Master Bedroom

The Children's Room

The Hiestand-McKenna Bedroom

Special Events

Letters from Student Tours

Needs List

Madison Doll Club

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As you drive north from Madison's South Beltline on Monona Drive--County Road BB--and pass the Monona Golf Course, you find a Wisconsin Historical Society marker in front of a square, yellow brick, two-story house with a porch across the front. The marker tells you about the Dean House and its builder, Nathaniel Dean, who constructed the house in 1856. As you leave your car after turning into the parking lot on Dean Avenue, a brass plaque on the house tells you that the house was designated as a Madison Landmark on July 4, 1976, and is listed on the National Register of Historic places. If you arrive in the afternoon of the second Sunday of any month or during a special event, the patriotic bunting and U. S. flag will be flying, and you will be invited on a guided tour that will let you step back into Wisconsin's Victorian era.

Photo of Official State Historical Plaque

(Click to see larger)

Nathaniel Dean had been a merchant in Michigan before coming to Wisconsin in 1842 and establishing a dry goods store on King Street. He is known to have bought land in Blooming Grove as early as 1846, and after 1857 he concentrated on his real estate interests, which amounted to more than 500 acres in the Town of Blooming Grove alone. By 1880 his farm was one of the three big dairy farms in the township, producing wheat, corn and barley and supporting 93 milk cows, 11 cattle and 12 pigs.

In 1847 Dean married Harriet Morrison, who was born in Wisconsin in 1829 and whose family had interests in the Park Hotel on the Capitol Square. They had two children, both of whom died in infancy. The Deans built this lovely country house on Monona Drive and lived in it for about five years before moving back to Madison. Dean was not only a builder of business blocks in the early years of the capital city, he was also a Regent of the University of Wisconsin, its treasurer in 1858, and a State Assemblyman from Dane County. He donated the land across the road from the house for the Blooming Grove Town Hall, erected in 1871.

The Deans were a prominent link between frontier farming and urban development. They symbolize Blooming Grove's early economic and social ties with the City of Madison that bordered and later absorbed much of it.

As you enter the house, you may think you have stepped into the Victorian era (1850-1900). The Dean House caretakers have carefully restored the home and equipped it with furnishings and details appropriate to that time period.

As you pass through the door into the front hallway, you are met with a curving staircase and its handsome walnut banister, which was entirely rebuilt by skilled craftsmen at the time of the restoration. To your right is the elegantly furnished parlor as it would have been kept closed for general use by the family and opened only for "company" on special occasions. To your left is the family living room, with a pump organ, a fainting sofa and a braided rug on the floor. Throughout the house the stunning chandeliers are electrified antique oil lamps, and each room has its own wood stove--not used now because the restoration included heating, lighting, and plumbing to meet current community codes. At present, a large I 0-room doll house reproduction of an even more elegant Victorian residence is on display in the living room. In the adjacent dining room the table is set for 12 diners. A glass-fronted cabinet contains a luxurious display of silver and fine glass pieces. In the kitchen the modern family can empathize with the early day housewife who cooked over the wood-burning range in the heavy iron pots The modern stove, refrigerator, and plumbing are partially concealed. The adjacent pantry room offers a laundry stove with its copper boiler, food preparation space and many storage shelves for utensils, bowls and other equipment, as well as an interesting collection of old-time kitchen gadgets that sometimes task your imagination. The half-hidden modern facilities are used by the Society for various pot-lucks, socials, and special events.

The back porch, fully enclosed with screens, was not part of the original house. It serves as a dining room for the society's Spring Tea and the Annual Society Potluck Supper Meeting, for the August Ice Cream Social, as a stage for the Back Porch Concerts, and as the display and conference room for the Evaluation Day.

One has to imagine the sheds, barn, pump, outhouse and other outbuildings that were part of an 1856 working farm.

Wind your way up the front stairway and look into the three restored bedrooms, the Hiestand-McKenna room to the north, the Master Bedroom to the south, and the adjacent Children's Room.  

In the dormitory room at the rear of the second floor, which once housed the farm's hired hands, the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society has begun displaying collected historical artifacts relating to work and life and in the community. Two jeweler's display cases that once displayed diamonds and watches at Schenk's Corners on Madison's east side now contain changing exhibits of handcrafts and collections.

A back staircase leads back down to the kitchen on the first floor.

Today, in addition to the docents who tell about the house, the HBGHS provides written descriptions and pictures of some of the rooms and is supplementing this material monthly.

In 1971, when the Village/City of Monona was already thirty-some years old and growing, the deteriorating clubhouse on the Monona Golf Course was scheduled for demolition. A group of local residents had watched in dismay as the elegant Clark/Ellestad house down the road had disappeared, and then as the old Town Hall was razed. Realizing that some memory of the first settlers ought to be preserved and that the Dean House property was already in public hands, the group organized, studied the architecture and its stability, and persuaded the City of Madison to rent it to them for $1 a year in return for care and restoration.

The house had been used by farm tenants for about 50 years when in 1928 the City of Madison acquired the golf course, put the house to use as a club house and remodeled to suit its needs. During Madison's 50-year tenure, the house was left unheated in the winter, men's and ladies' rest rooms were constructed, floors were damaged by golfers' shoes, and plaster began falling from the walls and ceilings.

For restoration, the foundation and supporting beams had to be stabilized, the heating, lighting and plumbing had to be replaced and central heating installed. The walls had to be replastered, some floors replaced, and the woodwork stripped and repainted.

Thousands of hours of volunteer physical labor on the house itself--and more hours of fund-raising for professional work and furniture--were supplemented by many donations of period furnishings. Today, the summer Back Porch Concerts, membership dues, and donations from businesses and individuals provide the funds to maintain the 7house as a cultural asset.

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Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society