This old house has become their home: Restoring century-old integrity a surprising newfound interest

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Dakota Smith stands by the front profile blueprint of the home he owns with wife, Jill. He’s on the stairwell at the center of his main floor living room, dining room, kitchen and half-bath. In the forefront is an example of one of the home’s original built-in cabinets. (Photos by Correne Martin)

This home was built in 1913 by J.W. Parish, whose father owned the Prairie du Chien Woolen Mills. For the past two years, Dakota and Jill Smith have been restoring more of its original character.

In the Smiths’ dining room, they added wainscoting, as the room once had years ago. Dakota stripped paint and refinished the door between this room and the north side sun room. He also added a mini split air conditioning system in the corner and covered it with decorative wood and aluminum.

Below photos by Melissa Collum

By Correne Martin

 

When Dakota and Jill Smith first purchased the 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath, Frank Lloyd Wright-style, stucco house at 508 S. Beaumont Rd. in Prairie du Chien, in June 2019, they knew it was built in 1913. 

What they didn’t realize was the history they would learn and begin to love about the residence. They also couldn’t imagine the extensive amount of restoration work Dakota would put in over two years’ time to bring their new home back to much of the original character.

From Waterloo, Iowa, Dakota graduated college and landed a job at 3M in Prairie du Chien, the same place his dad worked for years. He met Jill—who is from Akron, Ohio, originally, but also works at 3M—and they got engaged and married in 2021.

Ready to leave behind rental experiences, the couple began looking to buy their first home.

“This was the first place we looked at,” Dakota recalled, standing in his dining room. There were 15 other houses after.” 

He noted the house ended up going off the market for a short time and, because it was so large, he and Jill just told themselves it was not meant to be. 

However, having compared every other house to this one, the young couple decided to purchase it when it came back up for sale, especially since the price dropped significantly as well.

“When we moved in, it was pretty functional. We initially decided we were going to paint the walls and that would be it,” Dakota said. “Within a month, we tore up the pantry.”

He explained that the pantry was small and off-putting. 

That project was basically the starting point for what has become a mid-century modern, eco-conscious renovation, mixed with some unveiled century-old flair that had been covered up over the years.

Dakota grew up in a family with parents who flipped old houses and sold them. He learned a lot, particularly from his dad, about how to identify architectural periods from certain construction details. So, he quickly noticed their house’s integrity. 

This spurred research into the history, which led him to discover the original architect, Parkinson and Dockendorff (who built hundreds of schools in the region), from La Crosse. He then found two original blueprints for the house, in perfect condition, at the La Crosse library. He had the pages copied and they are now displayed in their home, framed with original piece-trim that had been stored in the house’s basement since it was built. Next, Dakota said, he found out from his neighbor, Mike Rider, that the Prairie du Chien Historical Society was in possession of copies of all six of the house’s blueprints. A previous owner had mailed them to the local museum. 

“The blueprints are probably my favorite thing about this place,” Dakota said. 

They display exactly how J.W Paris, or John Wright Paris, wanted his home built by the architect. Paris’ dad, Robert, owned the Prairie du Chien Woolen Mills, according to Dakota. 

“The home was in the original family for 40-plus years,” he added. “Martinus (Jacob) Dyrud inherited it.” Martinus was married to Blanche Wright Paris, J.W. and Elizabeth “Bessie” Paris’ daughter, according to family information at FindAGrave.com. Eventually, the house went through a lot of other families.

Dakota and Jill purchased it after the previous owners had moved away and were renting it. 

According to the book “Images of Prairie du Chien,” by Mary Elise Antoine, the home was one of a few more fashionable homes of its time, erected along South Church Street, now Beaumont Road. 

The exterior once appeared light pink, with baby blue windows even, Dakota said. More recently, it was painted the current beige and brown colors. 

“I’m just glad nobody ripped out the walls to open concept the whole thing,” he commented, grateful for the appreciation prior owners showed for the house’s antiquity. “I wasn’t into this sort of thing before, but it has become a passion of mine now,” he said, adding that Jill helps where she can and has done a lot of the painting.

As a second shift worker at 3M, Dakota sleeps overnight and then gets his hands on a different aspect of the restoration, usually from 7 a.m. to noon. 

Of the 70 windows in the home, he has stripped paint from and resealed 14 of them so far. He’s also done the same to multiple interior doors as well. 

“It’s taken a little bit of trial and error and a lot of YouTube videos,” Dakota stated, of how he’s implemented his handiwork. “Most of all, it’s just time.” He’s also browsed and consulted Facebook groups and brick-and-mortar stores focused on historical architecture.

In the dining room, where the greatest changes have occurred, the Smiths put wainscoting three-quarters of the way up the wall—which, according to markings on the wall, is historically accurate. They painted it stark white but added a contrasting deep blue paint on the walls above it. The room was previously all white, from top to bottom.

The most time-consuming projects have been the windows and doors, some for which Dakota also rebuilt the stained glass inside. In addition, he has stripped six layers of paint from the back porch, installed a wooden medallion and chandelier in the upstairs stairwell, replaced light switches with antique-looking push button switches, added discreet solar panels to help with electricity, renovated the main floor half-bath, and added a ductless mini split air conditioning system on the main floor with a decorative wooden and aluminum cover. He squared in a small entertainment room in the formerly unfinished basement. 

“I try to reuse as much as I can as I go,” Dakota shared.

In the near future, he hopes to insulate the attic, repair and freshen the paint on some of the cracked exterior walls, and mend some of the rotting storm windows. At this time, Dakota has the second floor bathroom under construction. In there, he plans to refinish and install a cast iron bathtub, clean up the original tile, and place period-correct subway tile on the walls. Of course, over time, he will keep working on windows and doors too.

As the Smiths have breathed new life into their old home, Dakota has also become involved with the historical society. 

In November, he and Jill arranged a Christmas open house for other society members to get an inside glimpse at how the home is being transformed.

As a handyman, Dakota volunteers wherever he is needed on the Fort Crawford Museum grounds and with database work as well. Because he is employed by 3M and puts in 20 hours of volunteer work during the year for the non-profit, 3M donates $500 to the historical society. 

In the end, the Smiths’ have made this old house into a home. One that’s like no other. 

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