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Thank you for visiting, and please join us in showing support for preserving Verona's historic Matts house - our last home from Verona's original settlement.

Current Status:  We are gearing up for a big winter fundraising season!  The Verona Common Council really came through for us and voted to allow the city to make minor "winterizing" repairs to the house (skylight leak, some re-grading).  Check out our facebook page for more updates.

We had a great turnout at the 10/12/15 City Council meeting - thank you everyone!  If you can spare a moment, please send an e-mail or call to anyone on this list below - simply letting them know you support the Matts house effort.

Mayor:
Jon Hochkammer:  608-845-5833 jon.hochkammer@ci.verona.wi.us
Alders:
Mac McGilvray608-848-3113  mac.mcgilvray@ci.verona.wi.us
Elizabeth Doyle 608-609-0477 elizabeth.doyle@ci.verona.wi.us        
Jack Linder 608-577-4250   jack.linder@ci.verona.wi.us    
Dale Yurs 608-577-9502 dale.yurs@ci.verona.wi.us    
Brad Stiner 608-845-6004  h.brad.stiner@ci.verona.wi.us     
Luke Diaz 608-616-9459 luke.diaz@ci.verona.wi.us   
Heather Reekie 608-845-1328 heather.reekie@ci.verona.wi.us   
Evan Touchett 608-225-8615  evan.touchett@ci.verona.wi.us  

Please e-mail or call one of them to let you know you support the cause - thank you!
Please make a quick call or e-mail, thank you!

How to Contact Us:
Join our e-mail list by e-mailing:  SaveVeronaHistory@gmail.com
Or call Jesse Charles at 608-616-9407 with any questions you have about the house or our effort.  He would love to hear from you!
Now for the details...


The Story In A Nutshell

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 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 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.

Our City's Important Decision

This spring at the request of the City, the Cunningham Group Architecture, Inc. did a "Facilities Assessment Summary" of the Matts house.  Their investigation listed discrete issues with various aspects of the house and estimated dollar amounts of what it would take to fix them.  The report laid out several different tiers of intervention and the associated cost of each.  The lowest estimate for halting further damage (patching up the roof, mitigating water intrusion, etc) was $47,500.  The highest estimate for a complete top-to-bottom renovation to bring it up to current standards of an office building or storefront was over a million dollars.  The estimates were discussed at the 8/10/15 Verona Common Council meeting, and Alders decided to pause their decision to give the public a chance to weigh in.  It is important that we all weigh in soon - as minimum maintenance is needed on the house before winter sets in.

Creative Solutions

This brings us to today and the website you are reading.  Concerned citizens have teamed up with the Verona Area Historical Society to accomplish the following goals:
1.  Demonstrate to our Mayor and Alders that enough Verona citizens value saving the Matts house (we hope this is true - you need to prove us right!)
        -The only way this works if if people like you call or e-mail the folks above.  Without that, nothing beyond this first goal will succeed.
2.  Provide information to the public and Alders on the relevance of this house to Verona Today (the result of which was the research you read above).
3.  Research alternative solutions. We are digging in to what minimum work could be done on the house to yield a safe and usable space.  We are organizing and will soon be approaching corporations such as local construction companies to see if work could be donated on the house.  Maybe to start we shore up the major problems and focus on the ground floor.

What is the Long Term Plan?

Should our efforts to at least partially rehabilitate the house succeed, many options exist for what the city could do with this space:
  • A beautiful and convenient location for a Verona welcome center.
  • A display area for the Verona Area Historical Society, staffed by volunteers.
  • A destination to bring outside heritage tourism to our city.
Want to Help?

The single most important thing you can do is call or e-mail one of the alders above or the mayor and briefly let them know you support giving the Verona Area Historical Society a few more months to research the creative solutions above.  Also, please join our e-mail list by e-mailing:  SaveVeronaHistory@gmail.com

Thank you!


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.

Here are the most common questions:

Question:  Isn't the fixing the house too expensive?

Some options that involve a top-to-bottom renovation of the house are extremely expensive.  To keep this project realistic we are hoping to:
1. Reduce the scope of what must be done now to structural/safety issues and opening up possibly just the main floor for use.  This is likely a fraction of the figures being thrown around for a full rehab.
2.  Appealing to coporate donors such as constructions companies to donate the necessary work and materials - costing them much less than if we were to fund raise and attempt to hire it out.  This depends on public support for the project and if the donors feel compelled to invest in our community and this piece of Verona History.

Question:  Don't we need this land to make the intersection bigger?

Good news!  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 is considering selling the house and the land it sits on to a developer if there is no future in fixing and using the house as it stands.  As of 8/10/15, 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.