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Owen Drive Marker

Owen Drive Marker (10/9/72)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-36091

Owen Drive Rocks

Two boulders mark opposite sides of Regent Street just west of the Speedway Road – Highland Avenue intersection. One is inscribed “For Ethel and Nell To the City They Loved From Their Father and Mother” and the other “Owen Drive.” They commemorate Ethel Pratt Owen (July 23, 1876 - November 23, 1890) and Cornelia Loomis Owen (June 17, 1880 - December 4, 1890), both of whom died during a diphtheria epidemic.

Their father, Edward T. Owen (1850 – 1931), was an educator and real estate speculator. He graduated from Yale, where he acquired the nickname “Buck” while rowing on the crew team. He was professor of French at the UW beginning in 1878,and also taught German, Anglo-Saxon, Italian, and Spanish, starting up the last two programs in 1887. “His house at 624 State Street served as the center of lively off-campus intellectual and social activity.”

Owen was also a real estate speculator, and was a driving force behind the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association, which purchased land for public parks and drives decades before the city saw such need. In 1892 he bought a fourteen-acre tract of what was then wooded land along a commanding height about a mile south of Lake Mendota, parallel to the northern boundary of Resurrection (then Calvary) Cemetery. He donated it to the city as a pleasure drive dedicated to the memory of his daughters. The road is today the tail end of Regent Street, becoming Owen Drive as it passes through Hoyt Park and turns south to link up with Mineral Point Road. Owen envisioned connecting this drive to Observatory Drive and the shore of Lake Mendota. After Edward Hammersley gave an easement across his property, Owen raised money for construction of Willow Drive and similar roads. Later, his heirs donated Torwald, his summer retreat, to the city; the house still stands in Owen Park.

Mark Gajewski