After almost eight decades as a Milwaukee County historical site, the 175-year-old Lowell Damon House is under private ownership.
It started out as a carpenter’s home in a frontier settlement. Almost a century later, it became a history museum in a growing suburb.
Now the curtain could be rising on a third act for Wauwatosa’s oldest home. The Milwaukee County Historical Society has sold the 175-year-old Lowell Damon House, 2107 N. Wauwatosa Ave., to neighbors William and Jennifer Hoag, for about $100,000.
The Hoags didn’t return calls seeking comment on their plans. However, a historic preservation easement in the deed will require the county society to approve any major changes to the house, says Mame Croze McCully, the society’s executive director.
Although the society had operated the house as a museum since the early 1940s, the building was costly to maintain, Croze McCully says. The county society offered to donate it to the Wauwatosa Historical Society (which operates the Kneeland-Walker House and the Little Red Store), the namesake Damon Woods Neighborhood Association and the City of Wauwatosa, but none of them was prepared to take it on, Croze McCully says.
That led the county society to seek a private buyer who was willing to restore the house, she says. The deal closed in November.
“We looked at what was best for the long-term preservation of the Lowell Damon House,” Croze McCully says.
The house’s story started in 1844 — four years before Wisconsin became a state – when carpenter Oliver Damon moved from New Hampshire and built the first part of his new home. He used oak and black walnut trees from the local forest, according to the National Park Service’s 1935 Historic American Buildings Survey.
Two years later, Damon and/or his son, Lowell – historians aren’t certain who – added the more elaborate front part of the house. Its architecture generally follows a Colonial style that may have been inspired by Oliver Damon’s native New England, but with Greek Revival touches, the parks service survey said.
By 1935, the house was already deteriorating and seemed likely to face demolition soon, the parks service reported. But the sons of former owner Alexander Rogers were determined to save the home where they grew up, according to an article in the Wauwatosa Historical Society’s newsletter. The Rogers brothers bought the building and donated it to the county historical society in 1941.
For most of the next 78 years, a local history museum occupied the front part of the house, while a caretaker lived in back, looking after the home in exchange for reduced rent, Croze McCully says.
In 2010, the historical society joined forces with the neighborhood association to revitalize the property. Volunteers gave the house its first new paint job in at least 12 years. The association also installed a 204-brick path behind the house and offered neighbors a chance to pay for engraving a brick in honor of a current or deceased resident; part of the proceeds went to the upkeep of the house and the rest to the association’s programs.
Contributions from the association helped supplement revenue from the caretaker’s rent and the suggested $2 donations from the few visitors who toured the house on Sunday afternoons, but that wasn’t enough to offset maintenance costs, Croze McCully says. The society spent $15,000 to $18,000 last year on short-term repairs alone, without addressing long-term issues, she says.
With the sale of the Lowell Damon House, Croze McCully said, the society will be able to focus more on the other historic properties it operates, including its main museum in a former bank building in downtown Milwaukee, Kilbourntown House in Estabrook Park in Shorewood, and Trimborn Farms and the Jeremiah Curtin House, both in Greendale. The society owns the Curtin House, while the county owns the other three sites.