UPDATE: Sadly, OHU50K learned that no one took the free house offer. Shamefully, this historic brick house was demolished for a shopping center.
Times are a changin’ in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, the fastest growing suburb of Madison. To make way for retail stores on busy Highway 151, the 150-year-old Thompson-Schneider farmhouse, affectionately known as the “pumpkin farm,” is being offered by the city as a free house to anyone who can relocate it. The house sits on land that the city sold to a Michigan-based developer, and the free house must go.
Initially, City Council tossed around the idea of burning the c.1850 home down as training for the fire department. I can’t imagine any preservation society agreeing with that idea, and in fact, the Sun Prairie Historical Museum has been lobbying the council in an attempt to convince them to preserve the house. Suggestions include leaving it in its place and incorporating it into a park or even into a retail development.
Huntington Beach, California, did the latter with the historic Newland House. Originally a 500-acre farm that owned land down to the Pacific Ocean, the home now sits with its barn and water tower on a tiny plot in the midst of a shopping center. It certainly looks weird to find a farmhouse sitting in the middle of a retail parking lot on busy Beach Boulevard, but residents love the fact that the farmstead was preserved. Tours are just $2, and the barn, before Covid, was a popular wedding venue. Too bad Sun Prairie is not up to doing something similar, but I guess the next best thing is to offer the Thompson-Schneider home as a free house upon condition of its relocation.
“I would say this is a move-in ready house,” said Alderperson Steve Stocker. “If someone could pick it up, have land to move it to, a foundation to put it on and a way to move it, they can have it for free.”
This is not the first time that the farmhouse has to be picked up, relocated and placed on a new foundation. Back in 1956 during the construction of four-lane Highway 151, Arthur Schneider moved his home 150 feet east. At that time, the granary, machine shop, pump house and dairy barn were spared. Not so this time around. Sixty-three years later, those buildings will be used as training for the city’s fire department and the charred debris will be bulldozed over to make room for something like a Meijer store.
According to the Daily Reporter, “The Greek Revival house was built by Sereno Thompson in 1866 from brick made from a clay pit on an adjacent farm. Thompson had come to the Sun Prairie area in 1846 from Vermont, according to his obituary, which was published in 1904, just before what would have been his 82nd birthday. And the brick house, with its 12-inch-thick walls and limestone windowsills, wasn’t even the first structure built on the property.
Upon arriving in Sun Prairie in 1846, Sereno and his wife, Sarah, bought 40 acres and put up a log cabin. They would ultimately own 170 acres before attaching the brick house to the north side of the cabin. However, the original wood structure was removed in 1956 and moved about a half mile to the north. The existing wood-framed section was then built.
The dairy barn was built in 1893, and the granary, hog barn and well shed were all built before 1916, according to historical records. The farmstead was owned by E. Schimming from 1904 to 1916 before Andrew and Elizabeth Schneider purchased what was then a 147-acre property. The farmstead was reduced to 54 acres when Highway 151 was constructed and the brick house moved.
Joe Chase, a member of the Sun Prairie Historical Museum and whose ancestors founded Chase Lumber, was hoping it could have been spared like another property, the so-called Adam Smith house. In 2004, Veridian Homes spent $200,000 to move a house put up in 1873 by a man named Adam Smith, who came to the area with his wife, Mary, to build the first state Capitol building in Madison. The house is now the centerpiece of the Smith’s Crossing development. The Thompson-Schneider farm is no less important, Chase said.”
“I think that building is a huge asset,” Chase told city leaders recently. “And it stands out.”
It may not be standing out much longer. Of course, a free house that must be moved is not really free. Relocation costs can be $200,000 or more. Interested parties for the Thompson-Schneider House should email city administrator Aaron Oppenheimer. Applicants have until August to submit a plan before a final decision is made.