Elmside, 2709 Sommers Avenue
Nestled in the heart of the block at 2709 Sommers Avenue is a vine-covered, Italian villa-style sandstone mansion called Park Place. Originally named Elmside, it was built by Simeon Mills in 1863. Townspeople called it “Mills Folly,” since it was located so far east that no one could conceive of such a long daily commute to town. Elmside was once the centerpiece of a 191-acre farm that reached from the vicinity of the house to the shore of Lake Monona. Its walls were two feet thick; there were twenty large rooms, eight with fireplaces, and six separate cellars.
Mills reached Madison from Ohio on June 10, 1837, only hours after the arrival of the original Capitol workers, and stayed the rest of his life. He later recalled “a vast rolling prairie, broken here and there with groves and openings, and every hill and valley… radiant with the glossy foliage and the gaily variegated wild flowers of June. It was a paradise of loveliness, a veritable Garden of Eden; at all events, it bore this striking resemblance - there was but one man in it.”
Mills was Madison’s first storekeeper and justice of the peace, Dane County’s first state senator, and a member of the first UW board of regents. He carried mail on the Madison to Milwaukee route from 1837 to 1842, was county commissioner in 1839, was village president in 1851 and 1854, and was Territorial treasurer in 1848. He introduced the bill that became the charter of the UW and supervised construction of its first building. He was a trustee for the State Hospital for the Insane (now Mendota Mental Health Institute), a paymaster general during the Civil War, a founder of the Wisconsin Argus newspaper in 1844, and a director of the Madison & Beloit and the Madison & Portage railroads. He built a business block at 106-116 King Street in 1855. He eventually moved back to town because his wife Maria didn’t like being so isolated; he built her a fine house in the block where the City-County Building now stands.
Around the turn of the century Julia Miller, the daughter of Reverend J. S. Miller, a retired Baptist minister who operated a 200-acre farm on Lake Monona, moved into Elmside with her mother. She lived there until 1939. In 1918, at age 65, she married John Hicks, a machinist ten years her junior. It was her first marriage; “I never met a man I cared to marry until I met Mr. Hicks.”
Julia owned a set of china cups and saucers that had been the property of George and Martha Washington, the only genuine Washington relics in Wisconsin. Julia was the great-granddaughter of Captain George Dixson, a personal friend of Washington who served under him during the Revolutionary War.
The original name of the house is today commemorated in Elmside Boulevard.