The first house erected in University Heights was built by Charles and Martha Buell in 1894 at 115 Ely Place. Designed by Conover & Porter, it was called “Buell’s Folly,” since University Heights was an empty hill located beyond the western outskirts of the city and no one in his right mind would live way out there. Charles (1855 – 1938) was an attorney, president of his UW class, county superintendent of schools, and a member of the assembly. Martha (1864 – 1942) was an educator, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Woman’s Clubs, and 50-year member of the University Heights Poetry Club. In 1928 she spearheaded a campaign to save the old Indian Agency House at Portage, leading to its restoration and rededication in 1932.
Three oral histories collected by Historic Madison touch on life in University Heights.
Myron Stevens: “I was born on August 8, 1902. I originally lived on Arlington Place. I think our family house was about the second house built on University Heights. The first house was the Buell right up on the top, then called ‘Buell’s Folly.’ In those days… I think that Breese Terrace was about as far west as the city went. People building in University Heights were really on the outskirts of the city. I think our house was built in 1901. I remember my mother [Kate Stevens] once telling me that she lived in a tent just west of that house and when an electrical storm would come in summer, it scared her so she would go up to the Buell House so she would be under cover. They lived there while the house was being built.”
Ruth Chase Noland: “My family came from New England and we came to the Heights in about 1908. One of the earliest recollections I have of University Heights was the windmills. Every house had a windmill. They pumped the water with it. The artesian water. The water wasn’t provided by the city. They all squeaked. There were perhaps only really a half a dozen at that time. Our home was right up on top of the hill, at Summit and Prospect. In the meantime I was married and my father gave us part of his garden. I remember the woods. The Heights was still quite wooded.”
Delma Woodburn: “I will tell you about our Heights toboggan slide. We started at the top on Prospect Avenue in front of Dean Turneaure’s house at the top of the hill. We came down to Princeton Avenue and turned left. Then we came down to University Avenue. Well, we had guards parked out there to stop the horses and the autos while we went across University Avenue. Down there at that corner of Princeton and University, there also was a metal water tank for watering the horses back in those days. Well, anyway, we continued our toboggan slide over the railroad and we made a sharp turn to the right and ended up down by the stock pavilion. That was a long slide! We continued that until somebody ran into that fence down there and we decided it was a little too hazardous.