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University Methodist Church

The Abiel Brooks house is building on far left attached to Methodist Church, 1127 University Avenue; it is still there (5/26/26)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-21225

Abiel Brooks House

Madison’s first brick house still stands at the corner of Brooks Street and University Avenue. Its builder, Abiel Brooks, whose first name was originally Easter, was born in 1801 and came to Madison in 1846. He purchased a slice of farmland stretching from Lake Mendota to Lake Wingra, part of which later became Camp Randall and part the UW. He lived in a log cabin where the UW chemistry building is now located.

In 1849 he organized a group of gold-seekers who traveled overland to California; he was its captain and two of his sons were in the company. They panned for gold on the American Fork, on a stretch of river just below future Civil War hero and governor Lucius Fairchild’s claim (he and Fairchild are buried within sight of each other at Forest Hill Cemetery). Three years later he sailed home via the isthmus of Panama with over $30,000, a considerable fortune in those days. Brooks supposedly had the gold dust turned into coins in New Orleans and carried them in the lining of his coat to Madison. Shortly thereafter, he built a brick house. It took up an entire block between Mills and Brooks streets, with a long driveway leading to the front door. The block was enclosed by a fence; cherry, apple and plum trees shaded the yard. The house featured a Dutch oven in which Abiel’s wife Mary was said to have baked fifty pies in a single day. They hosted an annual banquet for the entire UW faculty for many years.

Manley Rowley married Abiel’s daughter Julia. Involved in real estate, he platted the Brooks Addition and named Brooks Street after his wife. Their son Leslie platted West Lawn, Highland Park, Oakland Heights, College Park, Nakoma, and Briar Hill. Rowley Avenue was named for him.

Mark Gajewski