Verona's Historic Matts House

Our city is growing, but our history is shrinking!

Over the years, we have seen the demolition of every building, house, and home from Verona’s original 1840s settlement except this last one:  The 1848 Verona Matts House.

Why care about this house?

First - because it's the last one.  Quite frankly, this is all Verona has left from our original European settlement.  Unlike many of our neighboring cities like Stoughton, Mt. Horeb, Middleton, and Madison who have robust historic districts, all structures from Verona's first few decades of settlement (1840s - 1870s) are gone except this house.  If you've lived here long enough, you might remember some of the others like Dr. Sharpe's house (demolished in 1987), the Eagle's nest (demolished in 1970) or Civil War Veteran Sergeant Jesse Meyers' family home (demolished in 2004).

Second - The impact the Matts family (who built and lived in this house) had on making Verona what it is today.  The Josiah Matts family arrived in Verona via wagon in 1844 when initial settlers from the Eastern states came to purchase and homestead land.  Over the years, the Matts family:

  • Originally owned and homesteaded half of our current downtown's land.
  • Brought the railroad to Verona.
  • Raised a son in this house who became a Verona Civil War Veteran and P.O.W.
  • Donated land for our churches.
  • Ran Verona’s early Post Office from this house.
  • Pursued the first vision of our downtown by attracting businesses and settlers.
The hard work of this and other founding families of Verona paved the way for our city as we know it now.  

What is happening to the Matts house?

The city of Verona recently purchased the Matts house property because one unused corner of the lot will be 
needed for expanding Verona's main intersection.  The house itself and the land it sits on are not needed by the city.
The house is in need of substantial repairs that were originally deemed prohibitively expensive for the city budget.  Six developers showed interest in the property, each wanting to demolish the house.

This decision weighed heavily on our mayor and alders.  In August of 2015 the council decided to delay deciding on the house's fate to allow time for Verona's citizens to weigh in - remembering the public backlash 28 years earlier when the Sharp house was razed.

The Verona Area Historical Society began a campaign to let people know what was at stake.  We also contacted our mayor and alders to let them know we are working on a plan and to ask for more time.

Thankfully, people began emailing and calling their alders in support of saving the house.  Members of the historical society presented possible plans at city council meetings.  The city was very receptive and in October the Common Council approved the minimum roof repairs need to winterize the house and give more time for solutions to be presented.  We are very grateful for this!

A City Council "Committee of the Whole" meeting regarding the Matts house was held in early January 2016.  The council expressed their wishes that the house's exterior be preserved.  The city put out a "Request for proposals" in February 2016 for any entity interested in the house to submit.  Thankfully, this request states several times that preference will be granted to those parties whose plans include preserving the structure.  The city might also put a deed restriction on the house that prevents future demolition.





Questions about the Matts House, or Verona History in general?

*Email (join our email list):  SaveVeronaHistory@gmail.com
*Phone:  Call Jesse at 608-616-9407 with any questions you have about the house or our effort.
https://www.facebook.com/SaveVeronaHistory



More Historical Details

If you are interested in a little more historical perspective:
The Birth of a Town...

The 1840's was the decade when European settlement of the area that would become Verona began.  Scotsmen James Young and Thomas Stewart settled in the area near Nine Mound Road and word spread of the promise this area held in land, resources, and rich soil.  Homes dug into hillsides and made of logs were constructed by settlers, along with our first stone school and the first mill in Dane County.  Even back then Verona valued innovation and education!

Who Were Josiah and Lydia Matts?

In Spring of 1844, teacher Josiah Matts traveled in a Conestoga Wagon from Pennsylvania with his pregnant wife Lydia and four year old son William (who would later become one of Verona's Civil War veterans).  A year later he applied for and received a land grant from the U.S. government for the area that would later become half of our downtown - the east side of Highway M from Cross Country road south to the Badger Mill Creek.  The west side of M was owned by his brother in law Joseph Flick.  Matts' land can be see outlined in orange in the 1890 plat map below.  The orange circle is the intersection of M and Verona Avenue.



The Matts house we know today was built by Josiah and family in 1848 exactly where it sits today (the northeast corner of the Highway M and Verona Avenue intersection - also the black dot in the orange circle on the 1890 plat map pictured).  It was the first brick house in Verona, the bricks used were kiln fired on a farm on Half Mile Road - just west of where the Fairfield Inn is today.  The style is Italianate, popular in Wisconsin at this time - with influences of earlier Greek Revival.  These bricks, the hand-made foundation, and the trademark-Italianate curly brackets under the eaves are some of the original touches that remain to this day.  Please stop by and put your hand on the outer wall of the house - you are touching 1848!

Josiah would become Verona's second postmaster and this house was used as our first or second post office.  His vision was creating a town along the area of present-day County M and Verona Avenue as our present downtown area reflects.  He sold land to the Northwestern Railroad company in 1880 - which made way for the railroad path near Hometown Junction.  This was crucial to the growth of our town.

In 1861 for exactly $1, Josiah leased land for the construction of the Baptist Church at 201 South Main Street which exists to this day.  The lease specifies that this land must always remain a church.

Josiah's son William would train at Camp Randall and serve in the Civil War, until being taken prisoner in November of 1863 near Lafayette, Louisiana.  Josiah eventually traveled to the south and retrieved his critically ill son, bringing him back to Verona.  Josiah passed away of typhoid pneumonia on March 15th, 1883 and is buried in the Verona Cemetery, on what was once his land.

The Matts House in Modern Times

The house has survived to see the Town of Verona become a village (1921), and that village become a City (1978).  Sadly, it has also seen its sister house  (built by Josiah's brother-in-law, near where Walgreens stands now) across the street demolished. Another house of its era - the Sharpe House - saw the same fate in 1987 to make way for a Hardees restaurant.  There was public outcry against the Sharpe house demolition but it could not be prevented because at the time it was privately owned...and most people waited to speak out until the wrecking machines arrived.  We are hoping to start earlier this time!  The Matts house is now the only remaining house from the early era of Verona settlement.  The next-oldest structures we know of are the buildings housing Cahoots (1880), Tuvalu (1885), and Avanti (1890).  Those are also currently privately owned.

The Matts house incurred a fair amount of decay in recent decades.  It sat for sale with no buyers for some time, until the City of Verona purchased the land and house for $150,000 this April (far below the 2015 assessment of $255,600 for the land, and the house for $56,200).  The city needs the area that is the Matts house parking lot to make way for expanding the intersection as part of our downtown plan.  The land the house sits on is not needed for that intersection - according to our downtown plan.  This is key as it leaves open options for what to do with the house and the land it sits on.


Sources:
  • Assessment Data:  http://assessordata.org/Search/ 
  • Curtis, Karl.  A Sesquicentennial History of Verona. The Verona Press, 1997.  Print.
  • Matts Family Historical documents
  • Wisconsin Veteran's Museum
  • Verona Press online at ConnectVerona.com


Frequently Asked Questions

We love fielding your questions!  Please send us any you have to SaveVeronaHistory@gmail.com or call 608-616-9407.


Question:  Why did the city purchase the Matts house?

 The City's current downtown plan only requires half of the current Matts house parking lot for widening of the intersection (Source:  8/10/15 Verona Common Council Meeting).  This is why the city was considering selling the house and the land it sits on to a developer.  Back in Summer of 2015, the city had been contacted by six developers about the land the house is on - all six wanting to bulldoze the house for the land. (Source:  8/10/15 Verona Common Council Meeting)

The white dotted line below represents the area needed for widening the intersection in our current downtown plan.  The house itself can be saved on its current plot without interfering with our downtown revitalization efforts.  In fact, it could be argued that this house being a centerpiece of the downtown would help in that regard :-)

Credit to Google Earth for this image.














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