The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

Beauty in the Eye of the Holder

IMG_0680About three weeks ago, I watched a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning about “death by selfie”. You may have heard this is an actual occurrence in our world today where people come into harm’s way while trying to take the perfect photo of themselves on their mobile phone. The commentary went on to talk about how selfies, and the proliferation of camera phones in general, have caused us to stray from enjoying the moment, most importantly when we travel. The CBS story showed tourists crowding around the Mona Lisa, many with cameras raised high to take a photo, and the reporter wondered how many people simply enjoyed taking in the beauty of the Mona Lisa. This behavior, according to the reporter, relinquishes our recollection of people and places. In essence, we have no memory of the event or special occasion because we spent all our time uploading photos and posting them to social media. We didn’t take time to remember the feeling and emotion of what we saw or did.

The commentary got me thinking about our digital world and online reviews. Today, we can’t use an app or make an online purchase without being asked to review it. At The Livingston Inn, we are just as guilty at it, but we know it’s a very critical and required component to ensure our business succeeds. And we love our reviews, too. We have received so many kind and thoughtful comments from guests, and we greatly value the time it takes for them to write something. We read them all and feel supported for all the hard work we’ve put into our B&B.

Since we opened in 2011, we have also been honored to receive many handwritten thank you letters and notes. We have placed each one in a large manila envelope kept in a chest in our front parlor. As I pondered online reviews and “death by selfie”, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at the contents of the envelope. As I pulled out each piece of correspondence, it was a beautiful example of the not-yet-lost art of the handwritten thank you letter. The beauty of the experience was not the self-centeredness of receiving praise (although most everyone finds praise rewarding, whether in their career or personal life) but the feeling of connecting to the writer.

IMG_0660I don’t understand the psychology of it, but that feeling could come from many places. It could be sensing someone’s uniqueness through his or her handwriting style, stimulating a memory or two when reading the words, or the simple tactile sensation of holding a card or piece of paper. And it’s important to note that, some assumptions aside about the younger generation, the thank you letters have been sent to us from people young and old, near and far, and many walks of life. The time I spent taking out each note, card, and letter, reading them, and then placing them together was quite powerful. It made me very happy that, despite all the stuff in our lives, people take the time to write thank you letters and that Peggy and I have made the effort to hold on to them.

IMG_0666I am grateful for the many things and experiences we have in today’s world — mobile phones, our capabilities to travel and see the sights and cultures around the world, and even the ability to conveniently read a review about almost any item to purchase or a place to visit. They all are admirable accomplishments in the 21st century. But I am also very appreciative of this manila envelope inside a chest in an old historic home in Madison. It holds something very precious, something perhaps many years from now that another person will open to remember how humans are connected and what life was like at The Livingston Inn during its early years. It holds a gift of words written in a very personal way that, despite an online world that saves everything, endures because it has a timeless quality like a cherished piece of art.

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Boom Town, Part Two

Madison 1867

Madison 1867

In my last blog, I wrote about big changes happening in Madison over 150 years ago during the “Village Decade”. Among other things, I observed the similarities between those boomtown years and the growth and change we’ve seen in Madison during the past few years. While there are many glorious moments when a city prospers, there are also inevitable growing pains. In part two of this topic, I’ll share some interesting facts and challenges that were part of city life in the 1850s.

To call Madison a village at the beginning of this period of prosperity was likely accurate according to standards at the time. But Madisonians aspired for something more – to be designated as a “city”. Becoming a city meant you were in the league with already great American places like New York and Washington. With a thriving newspaper, a luxury hotel, fancy carriages, cabs, and gas streetlights, Madison certainly had acquired the “things” that made a city in the nineteenth century.

Capital House Hotel

Capital House Hotel

Besides the cache of calling itself the “City of Madison”, there were also practical, if not political, reasons for Madison to become a city. The village of Madison enacted a charter in 1846 but it soon found serious limitations on the ceiling for property tax rates. Even with other revenue sources like liquor licenses, fines, and special assessments, Madison lacked enough money to pay for fire engines, schoolhouses, a new cemetery, roads, and sidewalks. The charter also had jurisdictional issues with the town of Madison as well as unequal representation on the county board. To overcome these challenges, village leaders requested a city charter, eventually granted in 1856, for approval by the legislature. On March 7, 1856, the bill was signed into law and Madison officially became a full-fledged city.

As is true today, running a city also includes its fair share of problems, most of them caused by not enough money. One of the most talked about issues during the village decade was public schools. With Madison’s dramatic growth came too many schoolchildren and not enough schoolhouses and teachers. A twenty-by-forty-foot brick schoolhouse built in 1846 was still the only schoolhouse ten years later. Only a quarter of the school-aged children could squeeze into the little brick schoolhouse, so other students attended school in churches, a part of a carriage factory, and other various places around town. Besides the lack of space, teachers were also in short supply with a teacher-student ratio estimated at 1:125. Sadly, despite efforts to fund schools, very little progress was made during the village decade despite the prosperity that built fine churches, a Court House, and a costly jail.

Other problems during the village decade were streets and sidewalks. Dirt streets were either a rutted, muddy mess during rainy weather or very dusty in dry weather, making it unpleasant to breathe. Residents also used streets for free storage, so there was often an unsightly assortment of boxes, barrels, piles of wood, hay, ashes, and rubbish. Sidewalks at the time were the responsibility of the property owner to build. Very few did so, leading village trustees in 1855 to take responsibility for sidewalk construction.

Public sanitation and disease were a major issue during this period as in other US cities as well. Simply put, people just didn’t take sanitation seriously. Garbage and slops were often dumped in the streets, dead animals were many times allowed to decay wherever they dropped, and offal from the slaughterhouse was sometimes thrown in the lakes. Whether it smelled or looked bad, the only issue that caused the citizens to take action was disease. There were frequent cholera epidemics in the late 1840s and early 1850s, which led to quarantines, purifying streets and yards, and draining polluted standing water. Attempts were made to bring in piped water, which finally became a reality 30 years later.

There were also some more light-hearted challenges as Madison became a city. For one, the village cemetery, located at today’s Orton Park off Williamson Street, was too crowded and overrun with cows. Soon after the city charter was enacted, the common council established a new cemetery at Forest Hill, still there today near West High School.

forest_hill_office_DSC15662One other challenge I found entertaining was described by David Mollenhoff in one word: ruffianism. As Mollenhoff writes, “Madison’s remote location and rapid growth combine to attract a very rough class of people whose drinking, gambling, fighting, brawling, and swearing were notorious.” Newspaper editorials, settlers, and visitors described Madison as a place with “haunts of vice” and where “the best men in the state are sots”. A saloon census in 1853 discovered there was one saloon for every 90 residents. The rowdy behavior and drunkenness tempered somewhat as city leaders made various attempts to dry out Madison and fine anyone who sold liquor.

I hope you enjoyed this venture into a small part of Madison’s history and found it as intriguing as me when you look at our present-day city life. Compared to other places around the globe, Madison has a very short history, but as the introduction to Mr. Mollenhoff’s book states, “we are just beginning to understand the power of local history to enhance our understanding of ourselves, our cities, and our culture. It is, after all, this stratum of history that touches most of our lives most of the time.”  I am grateful that we have this history recorded from over 150 years ago and that Madisonians have worked tirelessly to preserve important buildings and parks as well as public policy and city resources. In the year 2166, 150 years from today, I hope we will look back at present day with the same appreciation for all the triumphs and challenges it takes to make a great city.

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Boom Town

“No period in Madison’s history produced so much change so quickly.” “A heady, almost uncontrollable prosperity reigned. The number and scope of new developments were dizzying.” “If Madison did not possess the full style and dignity of a city, people thought it was rapidly moving in that direction.”

Whether you’re a resident or occasional visitor to Madison, these quotes might make you think about the last few years in Madison. Our downtown Capitol Square is full of exciting new restaurants and shops. Johnson Street just west of State Street features new high-rise apartments and hotels squeezed into city blocks where little one and two story residences and businesses once stood. Similarly, East Washington is also booming with high-rise apartments and restaurants, displacing abandoned buildings and car lots. Breese Stephens Field is alive again, and University Avenue is full of beautifully designed new buildings supporting all that’s happening at UW-Madison.

Oddly enough, though, these quotes come from the introduction to chapter two of David Mollenhoff’s book Madison: A History of the Formative Years. The chapter is titled “The Village Decade: 1846 to 1856”.  I thoroughly enjoy reading about the village decade because so much happened and it was around the same period when our home was built. But the chapter also fascinates me because I see so many parallels between those ten years and current events, not just in Madison, but in many growing U.S. cities.

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Leonard J. Farwell credit: Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID-2650

Leonard J. Farwell
credit: Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID-2650

Mr. Mollenhoff begins the chapter describing the Farwell Boom when Leonard James Farwell came to Madison from Milwaukee in 1847 and was a champion for the growth of the area. Like others, he realized the potential of Madison’s location at the center of a large fertile area with no competing towns for miles around as well as its beautiful setting and its designation as the territorial capital. A year later, in 1848, Madison’s future became even brighter with three significant events: Wisconsin became a state, Madison was made its permanent capital, and Madison was made the home to the University of Wisconsin.

Farwell’s vision and leadership touched our city and state in many ways. In 1852, he became Wisconsin’s youngest governor at the age of thirty-three for a two-year term, and his accomplishments during this time were amazing. Among them, he abolished the death penalty, created the state banking system, built Mendota Mental Health Institute, and created the State Commission of Immigration to actively encourage migrating Europeans to settle in Wisconsin, an idea subsequently copied by other states.

View of downtown and the Capitol from Washington Avenue, 1865

View of downtown and the Capitol from Washington Avenue, 1865

Even as governor, Farwell didn’t abandon his dedication to Madison. During the 1852 and 1853 construction seasons, Farwell set a crew to grade East Washington Avenue from Blount Street to the Yahara River (a little over one mile). On top of the grading, the crew built a double plank road, Madison’s first form of paving, and to finish off this grand project, 6,000 maple and cottonwood trees were planted along the sides of the avenue. While governor, he also led investment groups that put up the Capital House, one of the fanciest hotels in the state, and the prestigious commercial building called Bruen’s Block, which included the Wisconsin State Journal among its tenants. At the corner of East Washington and Pinckney Street, Bruen’s Block stood where now is the well-known glass building housing US Bank as well as the popular restaurants L’Etoile and Graze.

If Farwell’s many accomplishments weren’t enough, the village decade also brought another momentous change: the arrival of the first railroad in 1854. As Mollenhoff states, “to have a railroad pass through town was regarded as a prerequisite for urban success.” Canals were limited and roads were unreliable, but a railroad brought goods and people, regardless of weather, catapulting any community into major growth and progress.

To celebrate this historic occasion, Madison does what it does best – it threw a party. Everyone in town was invited and 2,000 people flocked to the depot on May 24, 1854 to see a steam engine – a marvel of modern technology – cross Lake Monona into the village. Following the ceremony to welcome the train, the crowd returned to Main Street where they celebrated with barbequed steers, chickens, and ducks. It was undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable days in Madison’s history.

Following the arrival of the first train, life in Madison changed almost immediately. Just days after the railroad opened, up to thirty-car trains carried Madison wheat to Milwaukee. Travel through town doubled that summer and housing starts dramatically increased. The population exploded from 600 people in 1846 to 9,000 just ten years later – an increase of 1500%! The population growth pushed development into Mansion Hill, Fourth Lake Ridge (our current Tenney-Lapham neighborhood), Third Lake Ridge (today’s Williamson Street area), around the railroad depot (now the Bassett neighborhood), and along State Street.

Undoubtedly, the Great Farwell Boom and the village decade of 1846-56 laid the foundation for what Madison has become today, its impact still notable in many ways throughout the city. It makes me appreciate what I see around me when driving and walking through our downtown area.

As many of us know, though, growth comes with its share of problems and sometimes quirks unique to a city. In my next blog, I’ll share some of these as well as Madison’s notable rise to officially becoming a city.

Pinckney Street, ca. 1859.

Pinckney Street, ca. 1859. Bruen’s Block is the large building on the right.

The Year to Honor and Remember

We have many interesting and lively discussions with guests during their stay at The Livingston Inn, whether at the breakfast table or at impromptu moments in the evening. There’s no shortage of perspectives and life experiences, creating a wide spectrum of ideas and opinions.

There are a couple of areas where guests almost universally share the same thoughts and feelings. One of those would be the beliefs and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, Dr. King took his honorable place in U.S. history when he started a Civil Rights Movement to ensure equality for all Americans. His vision, courage, and determination were qualities that opened many eyes to injustice and suffering, both during the brief time he was with us and still to this day.

wpt_1358187062As we head toward a weekend when we celebrate Dr. King, I think this year, more than ever, is an important one to recognize what he accomplished and to show support to the people and ideas which carry on his legacy. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight some of the events happening here in Madison for MLK weekend and hope, whether you are a resident or visitor, you will take the time to participate.

FS-03-07-25-65-Dr. King and Rev. AbernathyJanuary 12 – United Nations of Dane County monthly Lecture Series, Madison Central Library, 7:00pm. January’s presentation is “Remembering the Dream: Living the Vision” A Salute to the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King” with Barbara Nichols. Ms. Nichols has extensive experience in executive leadership and international initiatives and is currently a Diversity Consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As featured in my last blog, the Madison Central Library is a great place to visit in our downtown area, making attendance at the lecture even more appealing.

January 15 – Free Community Dinner, UW-Madison Gordon Dining and Event Center, 4:30-7pm. The King Coalition welcomes all community members to the 29th annual dinner. Join more than 500 community members and enjoy a wonderful meal with friends, old and new, in Dr. King’s spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

January 18 – 36th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, Capitol Rotunda, 12:00 noon. This year’s celebration will highlight the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement.5690442018741.image

January 18 – 30th Annual City-County Observance, Overture Center, 5-7:30pm. The evening’s festivities start with singing in the Rotunda followed by presentations and performances in the Capitol Theater. The observance will feature the MLK Community Choir led by one of Madison’s most-noted music directors, Leotha Stanley. Mr. Stanley has amazed audiences for years with his Mt. Zion Baptist Choir and his involvement in public school music programs. The program will also feature

Earnest Green, "Little Rock Nine", Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, “Little Rock Nine”, Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, one of nine students, known as the “Little Rock Nine”, to first integrate Central High School following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

I hope you find an opportunity to take part in MLK events this upcoming weekend, whether here in Madison or your own community. Remember that one of Dr. King’s core ideas was service to the less fortunate around us which sometimes requires us to look outside of the comfort zone of the people and life experiences familiar to us. As the organizers and coalitions behind MLK day tell us, it’s not a day off. Instead, it’s a day on. As we start 2016, I hope this “day on” becomes for many of us a “year on”, not just to remember Martin Luther King but also to honor him through actions that guarantee the equality at the core of our country’s values for many generations to come.

Resources:
http://www.thekingcenter.org/landing_page.html
https://www.facebook.com/kingcoalition
http://www.ulgm.org/mlkevents
http://www.africanamericancommunication.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0yP4aLyq1g – The March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech – August 28, 1963

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Leitch House History Highlights

As several established Madisonians know, The Livingston Inn is identified more formally as the William T. Leitch House.  This is the name given to the house when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  William T. Leitch was the original owner of the house, overseeing its construction in the 1850s.  The Livingston Inn was the name given to the house when it became a B&B in the mid-1990s.  In its history, our home was also called the Harman House, named after the long tenure of Gordon and Dolly Harman at 752 East Gorham from the mid-1950s to 1990s.  To this day, some Madisonians still refer to the house as the Harman House.

Since we bought the house in 2011, we have been so fortunate to become close acquaintances with Gail and Jacqui Harman, daughters who grew up in the house while their parents owned it.  It’s a treasure to us each time they stop by to visit, and they have been so generous sharing memories and little saved mementos from their years living here.  We sometimes go around the house with them, and they tell us cherished details about how the house was arranged many years ago, so different now that its rooms are re-designed for a B&B.

Recently, we were pleased to welcome Jacqui Harman back to the house along with Gail’s daughters and their children.  Gail was not here for that visit, but following it, she sent along some items she had held onto as a memory of this house, and we’d like to share a couple of them with you.

First, Gail sent a newspaper clipping from the Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday, September 16, 1979.  The article featured owners of three homes on the National Register of Historic Places, one set of owners being Gordon and Dolly Harman.  The article emphasized the trade-off of not having every modern-day convenience in order to live in a historic home.  Items like amount of space were noted as an advantage while challenges focused on heating and cooling.

At the time, the Harmans were dedicated to living in the house as true to the history as possible.  Dolly explained, “Our kitchen sink has legs.  We have no Formica or any of the conveniences that everyone takes for granted.  This includes an automatic dishwasher, though we do have a freezer in the basement so I don’t have to shop for food every day.”

The Wisconsin State Journal article also featured several photos that we thoroughly enjoyed.  Anyone who has used our west stairwell will recognize a photograph of a chandelier still hanging there as you proceed up the stairs.Light by West Staircase

Guests who have stayed in the General Pickering room might recognize this photograph from the bathroom.  Someday we’d love to bring back a pull chain toilet to this bathroom, and we were so happy to see that’s what the Harmans had in place.General Pickering Bathroom

There was also a photo of Dolly Harman at what must be the dining room window as those windows are the only floor-to-ceiling ones in the house.  The Harmans loved the shutters on their windows, and we are sad to say they were gone when we arrived.  The radiator, though, remains in the same spot, maybe considered more decorative over the years but still serving its purpose.Dolly Harman

Finally, there is a photo of the exterior of the house looking through the wrought-iron fence that still is a prominent feature of this house.  Back then, the trim was painted white, which gave much more emphasis to the “gingerbread” look of the house.  Gone are the vines, which nowadays masons and landscape architects advise are not healthy for the long-term health of the sandstone structure.Exterior Photo 1979

Planning Profile 31In addition to the article on the William T. Leitch House, Gail sent along a City of Madison 1973 edition of the Planning Profile.  The profile has many interesting facts about the city in 1972.  Among them, it notes the area of the city is 50.8 square miles.  Today it’s considered around 77 square miles.  Gail sent us the Planning Profile because it also notes 1972 was the year that our house was designated on the National Register of Historic Places.  You’ll also see a photo and reference to the “House of Harman” on this page.Plannig Profile 31 - Harman House

There were several other little treasures in Gail’s packages, but I’ll end with a striking photo inside the front cover of a 1992 Wisconsin Historical Calendar.  While 1992 is recent history, the photo shows a view in 1898 from one end of UW-Madison looking toward the State Capitol.   The iconic Red Gym is on the left and the State Historical Society building is just under construction.  But what is stunning about the photo is the grandeur and size of the State Capitol building looming on the horizon.  To this day, guests are so impressed with our Capitol building, but back in 1898, this must have been an architectural marvel to city dwellers and visitors alike.Capitol View 1898

We hope you enjoyed these history highlights of The Livingston Inn, also known as the William T. Leitch House, also known as the Harman House, provided by one of its former residents.  We regularly research and receive information about the history of the house and hope to share more stories with our readers and guests in the near future.

From Japan to Madison: The Tradition of a Thousand Paper Cranes

IMG_0526[1]For our guests, as well as family and friends who have visited our home, most know we have a number of paper cranes throughout The Livingston Inn. They appear here and there, changing places, all in a variety of colors, sizes, and styles. We always offer to guests the opportunity to adopt one for their journey home at the end of their stay with us. So, some of the cranes have now found new homes. A guest or two has also made one themselves with some paper they had with them (most anything will do), and we have been the fortunate recipients of their gifts.

If you’ve stayed with us, you may know the story behind our paper cranes, but perhaps not if our conversations never got around to the topic. For the sake of our past and future guests, as well as anyone else curious about this unusual part of our B&B, we thought a blog on the topic would interest many of you.

The paper cranes first appeared at the grand opening of our B&B back in September 2011. A very good friend of ours made us a small supply as a gift and a gesture to bring us good fortune in our new venture. Paper folding has a deep history in Chinese, Arab, and European cultures. But it has its strongest ties to the Japanese art of origami dating to the late sixth century. At the time, paper was an expensive item. As a result, origami from this period was used primarily for religious ceremonies including weddings. For centuries it was also an oral tradition with designs passed from mother to daughter. Legend says that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart’s desire come true.

IMG_0528[1]An interesting thing happened once our friend brought us those first paper cranes. She found it brought her a strong sense of inner peace, something we might call therapy in the 21st century, and so she has continued to make us paper cranes over the past four years. She enjoys making them, and we love it every time we receive a bag, thrilled to see what beautiful paper she found for her latest flock. So whether one calls it good fortune or a matter of the heart, we firmly believe our paper cranes have brought wonderful things to us and to our friend.

IMG_0554[1]Lately, we’ve received two very kind and generous gifts from guests related to the paper cranes in our home. First, one guest mailed us a delightful book with the story of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a Japanese girl who was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Like other children during this time, she suffered from leukemia, and in 1955 she died at the age of twelve. When she found out about her condition, Sadako knew of the legend of folding one thousand paper cranes, so she set about doing so hoping it would save her from the suffering and death she saw among the other children around her. She only made it to 644 cranes. Due to Sadako’s spirit as a young child, though, the thousand paper cranes have now come to symbolize peace in Japanese and other cultures, and a statue of Sadako is part of Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. We thoroughly enjoyed the book from our guest and were moved how it connected us to the feeling of peace from our friend and the paper cranes throughout the B&B.

Our second gift from a guest came from a captain in the U.S. Navy. He wrote, “During our stay we noticed you had origami around your lovely home, and it reminded me of a gift I received from a Japanese harbor pilot in Sasebo, Japan, which is a U.S. Navy base near Nagasaki.” The guest sent us over two dozen paper cranes from this pilot made from Japanese magazines and other paper. We were humbled by this generous gift and are honored to have them in the house.

IMG_0541[1]We’re certain our friend has folded over a thousand paper cranes for us. We like to think that her thousand and more paper cranes are not just now bringing us good fortune and peace, but since we live in home that we share with guests from around the world, every person in our B&B can benefit from this gift. Between the thousands of years of history to the mother-daughter tradition to the evolution as a symbol of peace, we are certain those paper cranes bring a lot of good things to The Livingston Inn.

So, if you are ever in our B&B, please ask if you see a crane you’d like for your home. They are a gift to us that we will happily share with any visitor, family member, or friend. We would hope it would bring you as much joy as it does for us.

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“Digging” Our UW Badgers

Are you excited that we’re heading into fall with another Top 25 UW Badger team? While you might think I’m talking about football, I’m actually referring to our very talented UW women’s volleyball team. As of this weekend, the Badger football team is ranked 24th in the country, but even more impressive, our volleyball team is ranked 11th. While we love our fall football season around here, the team certainly gets its share of attention on sports media of all types, so we thought we’d highlight all the great things about our Badger volleyball team with a new season upon us.

11328797Volleyball at UW and in the Madison area is enjoying a wonderful resurgence in popularity, and the success of our Badger team is a big contributor. While ranked 11th right now, the Badger volleyball women actually have enjoyed back-to-back top 5 finishes nationally, ending up No. 2 in 2013 and No. 4 in 2014. The team won the 2014 Big Ten Championship, and their average attendance in 2014 of 4,973 fans was third best in the nation.

While the team lost eight players this year due to graduation, there are several returning players who have proven themselves as strong and capable in their roles on the team, including Lauren Carlini, Taylor Morey (a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year), Kelli Bates, and Haleigh Nelson. Head Coach Kelly Sheffield returns as well in his third season, part of the notable rise of the UW team. The excitement among these players and coaches for this season is palpable, many hoping to set more attendance records and to win big games against conference opponents. We certainly see them going far.

9235082Over the years, we have thoroughly enjoyed attending UW volleyball games. If you’ve never watched a game live, the action is always exciting and the talent of the women is amazing. There’s never a dull moment. My kids still laugh at me about one match we attended together a few years ago.  After a hard fought four games, I nearly knocked over one of the kids upon jumping up to cheer when UW won the match on the final point in one of those nail-biting two-point victory games.

An additional reason we enjoy going to games is to see them in the historic UW Field House. Similar to The Livingston Inn, the UW Field House is a local landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Home to UW volleyball and wrestling, construction on the building began in 1929 with an original capacity of 8,000. A balcony added in 1939 increased that number to 12,000. The Field House was home to UW Boxing from 1933-60, when it was a NCAA sport. In fact, the all-sport attendance record at the Field House was 15,200 for a boxing match in 1949. Despite its age, UW has regularly updated the facility. Among the work done for this volleyball season, patrons will enjoy 20 StadiumVision TVs in the concourse and free Badger WiFi throughout the Field House. The atmosphere of the Field House is also intimate and relaxing. It’s easy to walk around and find plenty of space for seats. Fans young and old can also line up outside of the locker room and cheer on the players as they come out at the beginning of the match.

UW_Field_House_HeaderBesides the talent of the athletes and the grandeur of the historic building, affordable tickets is one more reason many fans enjoy UW volleyball. While some college sporting events are becoming as expensive as professional sports, an outing for a volleyball match should fit the budget of almost any fan. General admission tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth. Many nights, you’ll see local high school teams attending thanks to free or reduced prices for their team. There are also ticket specials throughout the season, such as Ten Buck Wednesdays where $10 will get you four general admission tickets.

The UW volleyball season is just kicking into high gear with a couple of home games in October and many in November. We encourage you to get one on your calendar now and watch all those amazing digs, kills, and aces before the season passes you by. Fall sports are exciting in Madison, and we hope you find the opportunity to cheer on one of the top teams in the country right here at UW-Madison.

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Anniversary Gifts

Last week we marked our fourth anniversary at The Livingston Inn, also known on the National Register of Historic Places as the William T. Leitch House. On July 29, 2011, we opened our doors with excitement, and a little trepidation, for what would come. Looking back, I can say it’s pretty close to what we envisioned with a couple of small, but wise, adjustments along the way.

Nils Haugen Chair and Ottoman-Before

Nils Haugen Chair and Ottoman-Before

One wonderful gift that was finished and returned to the house in time for our fourth anniversary is a reupholstered chair and ottoman belonging to the third owner of the house, Nils Haugen. His great-granddaughter brought both items to us a few months after we moved in. It wasn’t until this year, though, that we had the opportunity to restore them as signature pieces of furniture at our B&B. The Nils Haugen chair and ottoman look right at home in front of the fireplace in the back parlor.

 

Nils Haugen Chair and Ottoman-After

Nils Haugen Chair and Ottoman-After

We can’t let an anniversary pass without thanking other previous owners for their gifts. This year, the owner prior to us stopped by with holiday decorations that used to adorn the lampposts and wrought-iron fence surrounding this historic home. We can’t wait to hang them this year and add to the beauty and majesty of The Livingston Inn during the holidays and winter months.

And of course we must also extended our warmest gratitude to the daughters of the fifth owners, Gordon and Dolly Harman, for all the photos, newspaper articles, note cards, plus the best stories they’ve shared on a regular basis. We very much look forward to another visit with these family members later this month.

Bible from original owner William T. Leitch, passed down from previous owners

Bible from original owner William T. Leitch, passed down from previous owners

To live in a house for four years is not long at all, and for a house this old, it could make the new owner feel a little disconnected from the home’s history. But these gifts from previous owners and descendants, plus the time we’ve spent with them, has given us an even more precious gift – the ability to reach both near and far back into the Leitch House’s past and feel like we’re part of a long and significant history in the City of Madison.

So, thank you guests, friends, neighbors, and family for helping us reach this small, but satisfying, anniversary! We hope our time here, too, will be long and fulfilling. Peggy and I work hard every day to ensure that happens. Because if we do, there’s so much to gain for anniversaries to come and for the story of this beautiful home in Madison.

Article by long-time Capital Newspapers writer, Doug Moe, about opening the inn - October 2, 2011.

Article by long-time Capital Newspapers writer, Doug Moe, about opening the inn – October 2, 2011.

In Celebration of Black History Month

For a small city, there’s so much yet for me to learn about Madison.

Three years ago, we set up residence on this side of town at The Livingston Inn, having spent many years on the near west side.  Several neighborhoods in Madison are ideal for walkers – interesting houses, small businesses, beautiful gardens – and the one around our B&B is no different.  On one of my first walks around here, I saw a sign posted on a street corner, something like you’d see on a historic tour.  I approached it to read: Here was Madison’s first African-American neighborhood.

IMG_0462[1]I have to admit I had heard about the recognition of this neighborhood, but I had no idea it was just four blocks from our new home.  It has intrigued me to learn more, and I found a helpful, accessible resource on the Cap Times’ website called Together Apart.  The site is home to an effort to shine “a bright light on disparities between whites and African-Americans in Madison.”

Among the articles on important social issues such as the achievement gap, incarceration, and unemployment, the site also presents an interactive timeline of black history in Madison.  I found as Wisconsin became a state in 1848, black families started moving to Madison as free individuals seeking opportunity and a new life.  William H. Noland and his family become the first permanent black residents of Madison in 1850, and among several jobs, Mr. Noland clerked for a prominent attorney.

IMG_0473[1]By 1910, the census indicated the black population totaled 69 or .4% of the population, and ten years later, it doubled to 143 or .6% of the population.  This is the same period when the neighborhood near The Livingston Inn started building an African-American community (present day pictured here).  One hundred years later, the non-Hispanic black population in Madison has risen in the latest census to 16,507 or 7.1% of the population.

I strongly encourage you to explore the Together Apart website.  Besides the census information, there is a wealth of stories ranging from challenges like discrimination and racism to accomplishments such as civil rights victories, the building of James C. Wright middle school, and Madison’s first black poet laureate.  I spent a couple of hours reading all of the articles and learning so much more about important people and events in our city’s history.

If you visit our B&B, we hope you will stroll down to the corner of Blount and Dayton Streets and read about Madison’s first African-American neighborhood.  The corner itself has a couple of other historic sites that make the short trip worthwhile.  The area must have been booming at the time the black population settled here.  You’ll find the city’s horse barn built 1910-1914, the city market built in 1909, and Badger State Shoe Factory built in 1910.  Below are photos of the structures today along with their historic significance.

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On behalf of our entire family, we hope you have found important ways to recognize and celebrate Black History Month this year and for many years to come.  Our communities are only vibrant when we take the time to see things from a different experience, whether through race or other special human conditions, and value and respect their place in our history.

Forty Years Young

madison-trust-logoThis month, my wife and I attended a special birthday celebration.  It was the 40-year celebration of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation.  Since its inception, Madison Trust has served an important function similar to preservation organizations around the country: to save our historic sites and buildings for future generations.

When we first moved into our home, we were trying to navigate what it meant to live in and maintain a city landmark also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  A friend of ours suggested we contact Madison Trust to give us ideas and support our effort to restore the home. My wife called their office a number of times and always received very helpful ideas and advice from the Executive Director, Jason Tish.  During one phone call, Peggy suggested that perhaps Jason stop by to see things firsthand. Twenty minutes later he was at the house.

Jason’s visit was invaluable.  We learned so much about how and why a former mayor, William T. Leitch, built this house in a certain way, both inside and out.  It’s information our guests still enjoy to this day whenever we pass along what Jason taught us.  We like to think Jason also enjoyed his first visit to our home when he told us it was among the finest Gothic-revival architecture in Wisconsin.Livingston Inn-July 2012

Jason was among a couple people who gave remarks during the Madison Trust 40th birthday celebration.  Jason reminded the members in attendance of the value of historic preservation.  Madison Trust has its roots in advocacy for historic sites and buildings threatened by the pressures of development.  It was an old stone house demolished to make way for a fast food restaurant that prompted Madison residents to start the organization’s quest for improved preservation efforts.

Since then, Madison Trust has evolved to a mission of both advocacy and education.  The organization brings these two areas together skillfully in its newsletters, emails, meetings, and other outreach venues.  My wife and I always appreciate their thorough research into the history of a building or neighborhood and their commitment to preservation.  And they see beyond just the centuries-old buildings and major landmarks, offering an exceptional perspective on more recent history such as neighborhood tours of mid-century modernism and pioneering suburbs.

Beyond preservation for its own sake, Jason also spoke about statistics that show a community that values preservation brings in more visitors looking to spend more dollars per visit.  In addition, a strong historic district brings in valuable, high quality construction projects and other work, creating a culture of skilled craftsmen such as masons, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.

After Jason spoke at the meeting, the new Madison Trust Board President gave some remarks.  The new President brings a youthful enthusiasm to her position.  She clearly understood the mission of the organization, and she was full of many ideas to draw in more members, both old and young, so that Madison continues to build a succession of residents committed to preserving its special places.

Madison Trust's office in a historic downtown building

Madison Trust’s office in a historic downtown building

So while I am grateful Madison hums along with economic recovery and development, I am happy that a grassroots organization exists like Madison Trust for Historic Preservation.  I encourage you to spend some time on their website and see their accomplishments, sign up for their newsletter, and perhaps consider becoming a member.  After all, in the grand scheme of history, they are quite young, and as such, full of promise for all they can teach us and all that they can ask we do for our community throughout the next forty years.