Villa Louis will remain closed for 2021

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By Correne Martin

 

The Villa Louis is one of four southwest Wisconsin historic sites to remain closed for 2021. A letter from Wisconsin Historical Society Director Christian Overland cited this is due to budget restraints, temporary pandemic-related staff reassignments with other state agencies, and a lack of time to prepare for public opening before the approaching tourism season.

Additional southwest sites closed will be Stonefield in Cassville, Pendarvis in Mineral Point and First Capitol in Belmont. Wade House Historic Site in Greenbush, HH Bennett Studio & Museum in Wisconsin Dells, Madeline Island Museum in LaPointe and Reed School in Neillsville are also on continued pause for the calendar year. 

“We know this is a huge impact to our communities, so we are doing what we can to use this year as wisely as possible,” said Susan Caya-Slusser, southwest sites regional director. “While we will not open for tours, we are staying very busy with many huge projects in the works. We are also preparing for the 2022 season, writing business and staffing plans to address the unique challenge of reopening after very uncertain years.”

Caya-Slusser wanted to ensure the public that the Villa Louis Carriage Classic will still happen Sept. 10-12, on the grounds, though the mansion will remain closed during the event. The Carriage Classic is put on by a non-profit 501c3, and only hosted by the Villa Louis.

Caya-Slusser is one of the southwest sites staff reassigned part-time with other state agencies throughout the pandemic. For example, she’s worked with the customer outreach team of the COVID-19 Testing Task Force at the Department of Health Services. Samantha Matern, southwest sites interpretive manager, has also been on Caya-Slusser’s team, facilitating the delivery of state-provided COVID-19 test supplies to communal living facilities and ensuring facility testing plans align with state and federal regulations.

Caya-Slusser said, as a reminder, that in spite of the uncertainty of the past 12 months, a lot has been accomplished at the Villa Louis, and more is expected this upcoming year. For a list of these plans, see the sidebar with this article. 

“There’s sadness to not be sharing these sites’ great stories in 2021. I am sure this also might leave you with questions. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me,” she stated. 

To contact her, email susan.cayaslusser@wisconsinhistory.org.

 

Projects still happening on Villa Louis site

•Phase 1 of the Villa Louis Walkway Project will continue beginning around April 1. This includes laying new and salvaged limestone around the east and north sides of the mansion as well as replacing the brick pathway to the front entrance. The contractor hopes to have this phase completed by the beginning of July. Being able to do this without traffic from tours should actually make the process much smoother.

•Phase 2 of the Villa Louis Walkway Project kicks off its first meeting next week. This is a massive undertaking and much more extensive than Phase 1. This project is in its very early stages, and last month the architect/engineer who will lead the design was selected. The project went to Vierbrecher and Associates, the same firm that led the design of Phase 1. Since this project is larger in scope, it will need to go before the Wisconsin State Building Commission—hopefully this fall.

•At the beginning of April, the mansion kitchen floor will be replaced. The kitchen floor was in constant need of repainting and did have minor structural flaws. There are actually two kitchen floors, and issues with the sub floor is what led to constant issues with the floor you see. The new floor will be stained rather than painted, making cleanup and maintenance much easier.

•Flood insurance funds from the flood of 2019 were received. Repairs to the Fernette Building, Laundry Building floor, and Preserve House bathroom doors will also start this spring.

•Unfortunately, there has been work on removing many trees around the Mansion due to both the condition of some of the trees and the damage their root systems were causing. There are some funds to replant and replace trees on the site. Work on the hedge is also likely.

•The objects in the house have been “put to bed;” packed away inside the rooms to protect them during the pause, allowing for a very thorough deep-cleaning of the mansion.

•The Brisbois house is also receiving some attention as a large collection of documents from Judith Dousman Matthews (Louis de Vierville’s daughter) once housed in that building is being cataloged and preserved.

•The curatorial team in Madison has done some work to help us prepare for future high-water events at both Villa and Stonefield, and will be working with museum staff to manage some of the larger objects currently in storage. This will free up a great deal of space to be used for future programming.

•The Villa Louis is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the construction of the mansion as best as possible­—with virtual content planned throughout the year on Facebook as well as two articles written by Mary Antoine about the Villa and Dousmans planned for the “Wisconsin Magazine of History.”

•A request was recently submitted to work on restoration of the 1st Fort Crawford Block House.

•A project is underway to update the security system as well as the internet connectivity throughout the site. 

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