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Step into the Lives of a Wisconsin Dynasty

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When you walk through the doors of Villa Louis, you step into the life of one of Wisconsin’s most historic families – The Dousmans. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, this National Historic Landmark offers a panorama of Wisconsin history, beginning with the arrival of early fur traders through the heyday of the Victorian era. Experienced interpreters lead tours of the grand mansion, one of the most authentically furnished Victorian houses in America.

Villa Louis is a 25 acre site with three major historic components. The largest concentration of historic structures is the Villa Louis mansion complex. Consisting of five buildings constructed on an elevated mound, this is what remains of the Dousman family’s sprawling 19th century estate. Along the waterfront south of the mansion complex are three historic structures built between 1837 and 1850. The families who lived and worked in these buildings were active in the Upper Mississippi-Great Lakes Fur Trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The archaeological remains of Fort Crawford are visible north of the mansion complex along with a replica log blockhouse reconstructed by WPA workers in the 1930s. Built on the very site of the only War of 1812 battle to take place in what today is Wisconsin, Fort Crawford was one of a series of U.S. military installations constructed to cement America’s tenuous hold on its Northwest frontier.


Things To Explore

Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin 

June

We drink it, fish in it, clean with it, swim in it and travel across it. Water has always been critical for our survival, and it has also helped shape our history. With the Mighty Mississippi River flowing just outside, explore the impact that water has had on Wisconsin through this special temporary exhibit at Villa Louis. 16 panels tell the story of Wisconsin’s relationship with water, with reproductions of 70 stunning historic and contemporary photographs. 

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.

Close-up image of statue in Villa Louis

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.

An elderly couple on a tour of Villa Louis

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.

Line of men firing guns in a field

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.


Learn with the Wisconsin Historical Society

Virtual and In-person Programs

Get ready to give your young learners the best field trip memory of the year. WHS is excited to bring back our popular sensory-rich, wonder-filled, on-site Field Trips at our historic sites and museums. We are also continuing our live, interactive online programs to bring creativity, critical thinking, and empowered storytelling into your classroom!

Wisconsin Historical Society Sites

Villa Louis is one of the 12 historic sites and museums owned and operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Explore all of these sites below.