The Van Slyke House
The Van Slyke House (one of two in the city of Madison…but we’ll explain that in a minute) is located at 510 N. Carroll Street and is widely considered one of the finest examples of Italianate-style architecture in the United States. Originally built for a successful hardware merchant named Samuel Fox in 1856, Napoleon Bonaparte Van Slyke and his second wife, Annie, purchased the residence in 1860
Backstory and Context
Van Slyke was a farmer, businessman, and family man in Onondaga, NY before coming to Madison in 1853. When Van Slyke relocated to this growing capital city, he brought his first wife, Laura, and their three children (Laura, Daniel, and Elisha) with him. After moving to Madison, he founded the Dane County Bank, became president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, and vice-president of the Savings, Loan, and Trust Company. Van Slyke also served on the first city council, helped to select the site of the city’s primary cemetery (Forest Hill Cemetery), and was a UW regent until 1879.
When the Civil War broke out, he was appointed Quartermaster for the state and held the rank of Brevet Lt. Colonel, serving from October 1, 1862 to July 28, 1865. As Quartermaster, he was charged with the training and supply of troops. He also drafted the plans for Camp Randall as a training installation for Wisconsin’s Civil War soldiers. In fact, his hand-drawn sketch is the only blueprint of the camp in existence.
He called the North Carroll Street residence home throughout his life in Madison, even though he had another house built. The second Van Slyke House in Madison stands at 28 E. Gilman Street and was commissioned by Van Slyke under the direction of famed architect August Kutzbock. Napoleon had construction on the Gilman Street house commenced while his first wife, Laura, was still alive. After her death in 1857, and after completion of the house in 1865, he decided that Laura’s memory lay too close to the structure and he could not bear to move into it. It is now known as the Keenan House, as it was purchased in 1900 by Dr. George Keenan, a prominent local physician and United States Consul to Bremen, Germany, who lived there with his wife until 1916.
Engle, Jeanne. “The Van Slyke House.” Madison Essentials. Online. Accessed 27 May 2020. https://madisonessentials.com/Article/2016-08/Van-Slyke
“Napoleon Bonaparte Van Slyke.” Online. Accessed 27 May 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/86588369/napoleon-bonaparte-van_slyke
“Original Plan for Camp Randall.” Wisconsin Historical Society. Online. Accessed 27 May 2020. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM33625
“The Troubled and Talented Banker: Napoleon Bonaparte Van Slyke” Online. Accessed 27 May 2020. https://www.theedgewater.com/the-madison-experience/welcome-neighborhood-mansion-hill-historic-district/
Olson, Michael G. Van Slyke House Plaque. May 26, 2020, Madison.
Civil War Broadside, WVM Mss 1940. Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wis).