Villa Louis (B. Granflaten photo)
Villa Louis (J. Dean photo, 1978)
Villa Louis parlor (Dale Hall photo, 1998)
Villa Louis veranda (Dale Hall photo, 2003)
521 N Villa Louis Rd, Prairie du Chien, Crawford County
Architect: Edward Townsend Mix
Date of construction: 1870-1871
Perched atop a Native American mound on Saint Feriole Island, Villa Louis commands a panoramic view of the Mississippi River. Milwaukee architect E.T. Mix designed this palatial Italianate style house in 1870. Built for a prominent family, which made a fortune during the French and British fur trade, the house was suited both to their large family and their lavish social life.
Villa Louis replaced an earlier residence built by Louis's father, Hercules Louis Dousman I. The new house, with its public rooms on the first floor and bedrooms on the second, had many modern conveniences, including a ventilation system, central heating, and indoor plumbing. The home displayed a stylish urban sophistication more common to larger cities. The house sat in a park-like setting landscaped with pathways, specimen trees, and an ornamental fountain.
Jane Dousman, widow of HL Dousman I, lived in the new house until her death in 1882. At that time her son and his family made it their permanent home and established a horse-breeding farm on the estate. HL Dousman II died in 1886 and his wife, Nina Sturgis Dousman, took over the running of the estate. Nina renamed the house "Villa Louis" in memory of her husband.
Beginning in 1885 Nina Dousman redecorated the house to reflect the contemporary British Arts and Crafts influence. The decorator was Joseph Twyman, an English designer and admirer of William Morris, who furnished the home with richly detailed draperies, lushly textured wallpapers, and colorful floral carpets. The house and its furnishings have been authentically restored to reflect Villa Louis' heyday in the 1890s.
The Dousman family gave the property to the city of Prairie du Chien in 1935 to be operated as a house museum. Villa Louis became Wisconsin's first state-owned historic site in 1952 and is open for tours. The house and its collections are administered by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.