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  • Introduction
  • Making Their Mark: Wisconsin's National Landmarks
An imaginative reconstruction of Aztalan. From the collections of the Milwaukee Public Museum
An imaginative reconstruction of Aztalan from the Milwaukee Public Museum

Making Their Mark: Wisconsin's National Historic Landmarks

National Historic Landmarks are our country's most exceptional historic properties. Their stories reflect the breadth and depth of the American experience and capture the uniqueness of our communities by recognizing their most important historic treasures. Landmarks are conspicuous objects, known to many through either their remarkable appearance or their compelling stories. Our nation's historic landmarks include places where significant events occurred, where important Americans worked or lived, that represent the ideas that shaped the nation, that reveal our past, or that are outstanding examples of design or construction.

Wisconsin's historic landmarks reflect the diversity of people, places and events that together make our state unique. Landmarks shape our sense of place and sense of belonging. Wisconsin's most renowned prehistoric site is Aztalan, a temple mound and palisaded village site that was the northernmost location associated with the Mississippian culture between circa 1100 and 1300 A.D. The Oconto Site contains implements and remains of a copper working prehistoric people that are among the world's earliest metallurgical cultures.

Among the first Euro-Americans to arrive in the Midwest, were fur traders in the employ of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. Prairie Du Chien became one of Wisconsin's first cities, where the Astor Fur Warehouse and the Brisbois House bear witness to the early French and British occupation of the Midwest. The Second Fort Crawford Military Hospital, a reconstructed portion of a major upper Mississippian Federal fortification, symbolizes American control of the upper Midwest after the war of 1812. These events opened the area to more widespread settlement, leading to Wisconsin statehood in 1848.

Our state's distinctive character is partly the result of the diversity of ethnic immigrants drawn to Wisconsin by promises of jobs and cheap land. The Namur Historic District tells the story of Belgian immigrants who brought their building traditions and life ways to Door County and established the largest and best-preserved enclave of Belgian-American culture. The Pabst Theater and Turner Hall both reflect the urban history of immigration, when Milwaukee was the "German Athens," a high point of Germanic immigrant culture in America.

Madison, Wisconsin c. 1920-1930. Wisconsin State Capitol. Negative WHi (A61) 6227.
Madison, Wisconsin
c. 1920-1930
Wisconsin State Capitol
Negative WHi (A61) 6227

View more about the Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin was a national leader in progressive reform at the turn of the twentieth century. Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette inspired others to champion political and social reforms aimed at curbing the worst excesses of the gilded age. His success in breaking away from the Republican Party was heralded by an important political assembly held at the University of Wisconsin Armory & Gymnasium. The success of the Progressive Party ushered in an era of political reform in Wisconsin that became a national model. The Wisconsin Idea, embodied in the Wisconsin State Capitol paired University of Wisconsin scholars with government leaders to craft effective solutions to fundamental social problems like care for the aged and infirm.

Wisconsin shows us how place can shape profound ideas that reach beyond our boundaries and resonate throughout America. Aldo Leopold's "shack" in Sauk County was the site that influenced the noted wildlife ecologist's land ethic philosophy. University researchers like Charles Van Hise, working at Science Hall conducted breakthrough research in geology at sites like Schoonmaker Reef, Soldier's Home Reef and the Van Hise Rock. Along with the prolific fossil collecting of Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day and the collection amassed at the Thomas A. Greene Memorial Museum, Wisconsin became a leader in the geological sciences.

For some, Wisconsin became a springboard to national or even international acclaim, though they remained loyal to their home state. The Ringling Brothers Circus Winter Headquarters in Baraboo reflects Wisconsin's importance to the nation's performing arts. Here, the Ringlings built a circus empire that became "The Greatest Show on Earth." Their winter facilities, including an Elephant Barn, Hippo House, Bear and Deer House, and Camel Barn testify to the origins and rich history of one of the best known entertainment acts in the country. Likewise Ten Chimneys the home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, celebrates the lives and accomplishments of America's most famous theater couple, who innovative performances and long careers represent the pinnacle of their profession.

Taliesin circa 1911-1914. Negative WHi (X3) 21674
Taliesin circa 1911-1914
Negative WHi (X3) 21674

View more about Taliesin

Some of our nation's greatest achievements in architecture and the arts occurred in Wisconsin. Taliesin marks a shift in the career of perhaps America's best-known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. At this retreat, Wright abandoned the geometric forms of his earlier houses to create seminal architectural masterpieces such as the Administration Building and Research Tower for the S.C. Johnson Company, and Wingspread, the home of its president Herbert Johnson. Wright's first home for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs marked a new emphasis on middle class suburban housing that he dubbed "Usonian," while his design for their second home is an early experiment in solar architecture.

Wright's mentor Louis Sullivan is also heralded by many today for his innovative designs. His home for Harold C. Bradley and his family is one of the nation's most notable Prairie School designs. Near the end of his career, Sullivan designed eight remarkable "jewel box" banks in small Midwestern cities. His Farmers and Merchants Union Bank in Columbus was the culmination of this last phase of his inventive and influential career.

These places and the other properties listed below contribute to the collective history of both Wisconsin and our nation. These landmarks celebrate our national character and their preservation reminds us of our shared heritage. To learn more, visit the National Historic Landmark website.

More examples from the National Register:

Farmers and Merchants Union Bank, Columbus

Villa Louis, Prairie du Chien

Brisbois, Michael, House, Prairie du Chien

Science Hall, Madison

University of Wisconsin Armory and Gymnasium, Madison

Jacobs, Herbert A., House, Madison

Bradley, Harold C., House, Madison

LaFollette, Robert M., House, Maple Bluff

North Hall, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Namur Belgian-American District,

Taliesin,

Aztalan,

Oconto Site, Oconto

Ringling Brothers Circus Headquarters, Baraboo

Van Hise Rock,

Leopold, Aldo, Shack,

Johnson, Herbert F., House, Wind Point

Johnson, S.C., and Son Administration Building and Research Tower, Racine

Milton House, Milton

USS COBIA (submarine), Manitowoc

Day, Dr. Fisk Holbrook, House, Wauwatosa

Fourth Street School, Milwaukee

Turner Hall, Milwaukee

Pabst Theater, Milwaukee

Ten Chimneys,

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

University of Wisconsin Dairy Barn, Madison

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