Wisconsin Historic Home? Or Just Old? Here’s How to Find Out!
Is your home historic? Or just old? Let's review the criteria that makes a home "Historic" on a national level, the state of Wisconsin and locally in Watertown, WI.
I have always loved and been interested in Historic homes. Growing up in Wilmington NC, I was surrounded by them! Old homes from civil war era times surrounded by magnolias and Spanish moss on the Cape Fear River. They were enchanting! One of my favorites was the Bellamy Mansion Museum on historic Market Street in Wilmington NC.
In the summer of 2021, my husband and I toured a historic home that was for sale, fell in love and soon purchased the Brandt Quirk House in Watertown, Wisconsin. Before purchasing this home, we had no idea of the rich history and culture surrounding our home as well as Watertown in General.
Melissa Lampe of the Main Street program here in Watertown helped to fill me in on the history of both Watertown as well as some of the history of my home. Before I recorded this video I sat down with Melissa to talk to her about what qualifies a homeless historic. Melissa is both a historic homeowner herself as well as the local expert in Watertown.
What Defines a Historic Home
Generally, a house needs to be 50 years old or older to be considered historic. This is from the 50-year rule that was designated in 1948. The rule was later redefined in 1966 under the National Historic preservation act which designated that 50-year-old buildings aren't necessarily automatically considered historic.
There can be instances of historic buildings less than 50 years old there are other criteria that make a home eligible for the historic status. The historic criteria include:
1. Significant events happened at the property
2. Significant people were associated with the property perhaps they lived there, perhaps they died there, etc.
3. The distinctive characteristics of architecture. Homes that are architectural wonders are therefore worthy of historic designation on those criteria.
4. The home is located in a historic district. While that criteria is not a stand-alone reason for a house to have a historic designation, it is a contributing factor if a home is within a significant historic district it lends to the credibility of that home being designated
Local, State, & National Historic Recognition Level
Historically a home can be recognized as historic on the local level, the state level and the national level. The national level of designation is the most well-known.
The National Historic Register of Places is a list of those places around the country that have been nationally recognized historic place. There is a process to applying to get your home or commercial building on that list. If your home is approved to be on that list, there is a plaque that is given to be displayed at the home.
In Wisconsin, the state level of recognition is given by the Wisconsin Historical Society. They have a website that is searchable. If you have a home and you're not sure if it's historic designated or not, go to the website and search for your home. It's a really good
list and has lots of information about many homes.
The local level of designation here in Watertown is program that designates homes as
significant to the Watertown area. These homes also have a plaque that is displayed in front of them. If you think your home should be on this list, you can still apply for that. In order to have your home considered you would need to contact Melissa Lampe with the Main Street program and provide certain information such as the date your home was built.
A Wisconsin Historic Home Example
For example, Jen Lenahan spent lots of time in a home built by her grandparents. The home was built in 1926 and the farm was the hub of the family activity. She spent lots of
time there going through the farm and spending time with her grandparents. Her great-grandparents and had very fond memories of the home. Somehow through the years the home fell out of the family. In 2021, when that home came back on the market, she knew she had to buy it right away. Now that she lives there she's creating new memories with her family and even held her own wedding on the farm. Although Jen says she loves the new house she says she gets lots of comfort from walking the same floors that her grandparents and great-grandparents walked.
Historic Home Takeaways
There are so many ways to define what causes a home to be special or valuable or even historic. Ultimately what defines a home as historic is simply the history. That history may or may not be filled with historic events, historic people, or special architectural designs. It could be that the home was simply loved by the people who lived there and it provided shelter and warmth and great memories through the years. If you own a historic home in southeast Wisconsin and especially in Watertown, you are welcome to give a call and I would love to help you learn more about the history of your home.