1872 Italianate Mansion Saved by Relocation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

1872 Historic Italianate Mansion Saved by Relocation

Adam and Mary Smith House, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

1872 Italianate Mansion Saved by Relocation | Wisconsin Historical Society

In 1839, Adam Smith arrived in Madison to work as a carpenter. This pioneering entrepreneur eventually became a prosperous tavern owner and farmer south of Sun Prairie. As a testimony to his success, he and his wife Mary built an elaborate Italianate house on their farmland in 1872.  The solid, red brick showplace had decorative limestone window hoods, shapely scrolled brackets, and intricate wooden porches. On the interior, luxurious touches like pocket doors, plaster ceiling medallions and a marble fireplace added richness. Their new home became the centerpiece of their 480-acre farming operation.

EnlargeAdam and Mary Smith House, 1997.

Adam and Mary Smith House, 1997.

Sun Prairie, WI. AHI 4949. House prior to relocation and restoration.

EnlargeAdam and Mary Smith House, Sun Prairie, 2006.

Adam and Mary Smith House, 2006.

Sun Prairie, WI. AHI 4949. House after relocation and rehabilitation.

After the Smiths sold the farm in 1881, the house passed through a series of owners before becoming apartments about 1970. The home may have been demolished for road improvements on the nearby US Highway 151 without the cooperative efforts of the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Negotiations under Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act led to a successful offer by Veridian Homes to acquire the house and relocate it as a centerpiece of its new housing development called Smith's Crossing.

Relocating the Mansion

Moving the 782,000-pound house involved months of planning. Workers from Childs Contract Movers of Boscobel inched the massive building up off its foundation to minimize harm to the load-bearing brick walls and decorative interior plasterwork. The solid masonry walls required exterior reinforcement with steel cables before massive steel I-beams were inserted under the house to support its weight on a series of eight-wheeled hydraulic trucks. After lifting the house, contractors demolished the foundation to allow the removal of the house.

The house was inched sideways out of the foundation hole before being towed backwards out of its original location to spare a majestic oak at the rear of the property. The home slowly crept along muddy frozen ground to its new home in the Smith's Crossing village square.

"The Adam Smith home is the anchor for Smith's Crossing," said David Simon, President of Operations for Veridian Homes. "It not only the new community's namesake, but its history fits perfectly with the traditional principles on which Smith's Crossing was founded. That's why the home will be properly restored to its original beauty in one of the neighborhood's central locations."

Veridian utilized Historic Preservation Tax Credits in the rehabilitation of this building. The company thought the house would be a perfect fit in the neo-traditional Smith's Crossing neighborhood, planned on principles of pedestrian design, diverse architecture, and mixed residential and commercial uses.

When the Smith House rehabilitation was completed in 2005, its ornamental wooden porch welcomed the community into a beautifully restored interior that now houses offices. The Smith House demonstrates how the preservation of our past can be a successful element of smart growth, bringing continuity and a greater sense of character to new communities.

Read about the history of Sun Prairie's Adam and Mary Smith House in the historic property record on our website.