Man Behind the Field
Breese Stevens (1834-1903) was one of Madison's great entrepreneurs and served as the city's 20th mayor. An attorney, he came to Madison in 1856 and was involved with railroad, canal, and land-grant litigation. He was associated with the First National Bank, was a UW regent from 1891 to 1903, and was a curator of the Wisconsin Historical Society. He was director of the Consumer's Gas Company of Chicago, the Michigan Land and Iron Company, the Madison Land and Lumber Company, and the Monona Land Company.
In 1856, he purchased 106 acres on the hills west of Camp Randall. He sold the land in 1893 for $106,000 to the University Heights Company and then served as its director.
When elected mayor in 1884, he was president of the Madison Gas, Light, and Coke Company. A mayoral committee had been studying the feasibility of electric lights, but Stevens declined to reappoint the committee, preserving the city's use of gas lights for five more years.
One obituary said he enjoyed an enviable distinction for conservatism. Stevens had a command of large affairs, great wisdom and a supreme sense of justice shading into generosity in all professional and business relations.
Breese J. Stevens was twice married. His first wife was Emma Curtiss Fuller (1844-1870), a relative of telegraph inventor Samuel Morse. Emma was a childhood acquaintance and died a week after the birth of her only child. Mary Elizabeth Farmer (1844-1925) was his second wife. Mary was active in the city's social and philanthropic activities. Items from her trousseau are in the Wisconsin Historical Society's collection of clothing. She donated money to build the streetcar waiting house while a member of the Forest Hill Cemetery Commission. The building now serves as the cemetery office.
In 1923, the city signed a contract with his widow for $35,000, to purchase some of her property. The site contained 18 full lots and was desirable for its proximity to the business section of the city. This was $10,000 less than the original asking price. At the time, the city viewed the field as a place for high school football games, ice skating in winter, or as an open-air theatre.
Breese Stevens Field at 917 E. Mifflin Street was once a mecca for city sports. The Madison architectural firm of Claude and Stark designed the original grandstand structure in the Mediterranean Revival style; it was built from 1925 to 1926. The surrounding walls are constructed of sandstone, believed to be from the former Hoyt Park quarry. The walls and concrete bleachers were built in 1934, and the wooden press box was built in 1939. The complex is a Madison Landmark. In its early uses, the field saw four high school football games on a weekend: Wisconsin High, East High, Central High, and Edgewood High School. During the 1930s, the field hosted exhibition baseball games, notably the Madison Blues, a semi-pro team. Tom Butler, a sports reporter, recalled Jesse Owens racing a thoroughbred on the center track there. Jimmy Demetral wrestled there. Alan Ameche from Kenosha once played a game there against Central High School.
Another landmark exists for Stevens. The house at 401 N. Carroll Street also has a historic plaque. It is currently used by Jerome Mullins for his projects.