The Davidson House sits on the shore of the Sugar River in Verona, WI on Oak Grove Road. The house was built in the 1860s by an early Scottish immigrant and active Verona citizen, Patrick Davidson. The land around the house was sacred to Native Americans given the former presence of an effigy mound and a still-visible conical burial mound.
The house and land today is cared for by Dane County parks, with help from the Verona Area Historical Society. Many eras of Verona and Wisconsin intersect on this land, as described below.
The Sugar River Valley
The old stone house you see here, built around 1860, lies along the banks of the Sugar River. Humans have made homes for themselves in the Sugar River Valley for far longer, however. The unique abundance of natural resources found here drew humans to the region as early as 12,000 years ago. Nomadic Paleoindian bands were the first to return to the area as the glaciers of the last major Ice Age retreated northward. They were nomadic hunters, and followed herds of game animals – mammoth, mastodon, and other species of megafauna – seeking fresh grazing land. Early Native American residents found the valley to be rich with useful plants and animals. They also encountered natural outcroppings of rock perfect for making the stone tools they relied upon for survival. The valley’s rich soils were especially important as later Native peoples shifted to farming and established seasonal villages. The Sugar River as you see it today was formed roughly 5,000 years ago. It connects to a network of other rivers that served as important transportation routes for both Native American and early Euro-American settlers.
Burial Mounds on this property
Around 2,000 years ago, Native Americans from what is now called the Woodland Period created elaborate funeral practices centered on large earthen burial mounds. The earliest mounds were built in simple geometric shapes such as linear and conical forms. Later Woodland peoples constructed elaborate “effigy” mounds shaped like animals, spiritual creatures, and even giant human figures. This effigy mound culture is unique to Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois, and is found nowhere else in the world. Euro-American land surveyors of Verona recorded many of these structures in the early 1800s, but few survived farmers’ plows and other destruction by settlers. A panther shaped effigy mound once stood a few paces to the west of the Davidson House, and was still partially visible as recently as the 1930s. A conical burial mound with a large oak tree growing out of it can still be seen next to the riverbank on the northeast side of this house.
The first permanent U.S. settlers arrived in Verona in 1840, and established a homestead near where Highway 69 crosses Badger Mill Creek just three quarters of a mile north of this property. In 1841 Scottish immigrant Patrick Davidson settled on the grounds on which you now stand. He imported from Scotland the area’s first threshing machine – an important piece of farming equipment that separates grain from chaff. Davidson also brought a traditional Scottish style of music called "Pibroch", which he played with neighboring farmer and bagpiper Willie Reoch at early social gatherings. Although there were many Scottish settlers in this area, an 1877 account claims that Davidson’s “reputation as the best pibroch player in the county still remains undisputed”.
Davidson was a charter member of Verona’s first Presbyterian Church, organized in 1847. Services were held in the local mill, a schoolhouse, and members’ homes, until a church was constructed in 1861 near the present intersection of Sugar River and Marsh View Roads.
The Stone House
Historic components of this Greek Revival-influenced stone House lead experts to believe it was likely constructed around 1860 during Davidson's tenure on this land. By that time he owned a substantial 400 acre farm. The limestone blocks were likely quarried nearby due to the difficulty of transporting such items over long distances. The 1873 plat map of this area shows a quarry immediately to the northeast of this spot. Large hand-hewn beams support the floor, with smaller milled beams throughout. A soft lime-based mortar was used between the blocks. There is evidence of multiple fireplaces and chimneys having been present. A cistern was built to store water on the west side of the foundation. Many original components such as plaster and woodwork still exist on the interior. Modern additions were added throughout the 1900s, and the house was continuously lived in up until 2016.
Other notable occupants of the house include John (“Jack”) Huston Miller who lived here from 1881 to 1903. Miller started the Bank of Verona in 1903 and was a founding member of the Mount Vernon Telephone Company - the first telephone service to come to Verona. This house was also the childhood home of Verona World War II veteran Melvin Jaggi, born 1918, who served at Operations Torch and Husky. The house and farmland around it were rented out throughout the second half of the 1900s and into the early 2000s, until Dane County purchased the land in 2018 to become this park.