Glimpse: Villa Louis, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

  • The beautiful entrance to Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

When you visit Villa Louis, the 19th century estate of the Dousman family, set on a hill just out of the reach of the Mississippi River’s regular floodwaters in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the shocking excesses of the leisure class are on display. There are photos of the wealthy family enjoying the home and grounds, but you must use your imagination to envision the bevy of servants cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, tending the grounds, preserving foods, and cutting blocks of ice from the river to keep perishables cold. The family’s fortune was built on the fur trade and was lost when the son, H. Louis Dousman, died at 37 in the midst of building an ill-fated Artesian Stock Farm to breed and raise trotter horses. The home is restored to its appearance in the mid-1890s, and more than 90 percent of the original furnishings are intact. A tour guide, dressed in period clothing, takes you through the home. The tour includes the separate office, complete with billiard room; the ice house, where blocks of ice from the Mississippi River were packed into the cellar and kept meats and cheeses cold; the preserve house, where summer fruits and vegetables were canned; and the laundry, with a second floor where clothes were hung to dry. They don’t allow photos inside, so you’ll just have to go see for yourself. The site also contains the remains of Fort Crawford, built in 1816 to help secure the Northwest frontier, and a Fur Trade Museum housed in an 1850s stone structure built by B. W. Brisbois, one of the last fur traders in the area.

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