Step into the Lives of a Wisconsin Dynasty
Early settlers to Prairie du Chien, the Dousmans made their fortune in the fur trade, land speculation, and business. Engaging interpreters will take you on a journey through time as you tour the family’s stunning 1871 Italianate style mansion, one of the most authentically furnished Victorian houses in America. Built over 150 years ago in 1871, the home boasted the innovative modern conveniences of indoor plumbing and steam heat, making it comfortable as well as stylish. Today the mansion has been meticulously restored to its historic 1890s appearance, standing as a showcase of Victorian architecture and design.
Prairie du Chien is Wisconsin’s second oldest city, dating back to 1785. Because of this historic past, visiting Villa Louis offers rare access to earlier, lesser-known phases of Wisconsin history. The 25-acre site includes over a dozen historic structures, including buildings from the Fur Trade, the foundations of Fort Crawford, and Wisconsin’s only War of 1812 battlefield.
Things To Explore
VILLAS LOUIS VISITOR CENTER
To begin your experience at this historic site visit the elevated Visitor Center across the street from the Villa Louis Mansion. There you can buy tickets, find restrooms, and learn more about upcoming tour times. Built to protect against flooding from the Mississippi river this visitor center is elevated with stairs, learn more about accessibility accommodations.
TOUR THE MANSION
In 1870, H. Louis Dousman contracted with the renowned Milwaukee architect E. Townsend Mix to design and construct a new home for the Dousman family. Mix chose the popular Italianate style and the use of Milwaukee pressed brick. When completed in 1871, the home boasted the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing and steam heat, making it comfortable as well as stylish. Today the mansion has been meticulously restored to its historic appearance, standing as a showcase of Victorian architecture and design.
EXPLORE THE ESTATE
Villa Louis is much more than a mansion. The 25 acre site includes over a dozen historic structures, including the Rolette House, Brisbois House, Dousman Office Building, Ice House, Preserve House, Laundry, Stable, Blockhouse, Bath House, Pump House, and the foundations of Fort Crawford. You can also explore the site’s beautiful lawn, ponds, and gardens.
STEP ON A BATTLEFIELD
The lawn of what would become Villa Louis was the site of Wisconsin’s only War of 1812 battlefield. In June 1814, an American force led by William Clark arrived at Prairie du Chien and selected the site to construct a fort, which was named Fort Shelby. On July 17, a British force laid siege to the fort. The Americans surrendered on July 20 and the fort was renamed Fort McKay. The British held Prairie du Chien until May 1815, razing Fort McKay to the ground as they left.
Villa Louis Gallery
Learn with the Wisconsin Historical Society
The best day of your school year awaits! Don’t just read about history, experience it! Field Trips at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s historic sites and museums allow students to step into the worlds they’re studying through fun adventures and engaging experiences around the state for grades k-12.