The property that was given to St. Dunstan’s to become the site for the church was a former farm on the edge of Madison with the original homestead, the red-brick Heim farmhouse, a wing-and-gable structure with a half-round oriel window. It sat at the highest point of the surrounding property west of the old farm road which provided access to Old Sauk Road to the south and University Avenue to the north.
This land first came under the ownership of the U.S. Government after the Blackhawk War, which resulted in the local native peoples being largely exterminated or pushed westwards, after being forced to cede their land in southern Wisconsin. Read more about the Blackhawk War here:
Read more about the removal of the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk from Wisconsin and then Minnesota here:
The original surveyor of the Town of Madison, Lucius Lyon, conducted his survey of the region in 1832 during the months before and after the Blackhawk War. He recognized its potential value as the site for a city, and purchased land around Pheasant Branch and west of Lake Mendota in hopes his speculative “Paper City” would win the territorial sweepstakes that pitted well-heeled speculators against one another in the famous territorial legislative session at Belmont, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1836. Lyon’s bid to site the capital at Pheasant Branch lost, but James Doty’s plat on Madison’s isthmus won, and a likely relieved Lyons sold portions of his speculative parcel to John Falls O’Neill who arrived in 1836 to help build the Territorial Capitol in the heart of the isthmus.
Anticipated development failed to occur and the indigenous Ho-Chunk continued to return, despite their “official removal” in 1832, to hunt, fish, and grow corn at traditional camps on the north shore of Lake Mendota and Pheasant Branch. Speculators lost interest in and money on the surrounding property, and eventually Wisconsin Governor William Farwell purchased O’Neill’s parcel.
A failed revolt in the Germanic states in 1848 brought an influx of refugees to Wisconsin, among them Joseph and Anton Heim. The Heims purchased land, including the present site of St. Dunstan’s, from Farwell in 1849. Over the next decade the Heims improved their property and eventually built the red-brick house now known as St. Dunstan’s rectory (leased to non-church tenants beginning in 2015). Anton’s son Ferdinand shared memories much later:
“In an interview with him on September 8, 1915, Mr. Heim stated that when his father acquired this land, in 1848, the Winnebago Indians still camped on it and upon the adjoining farms. A favorite camp ground was on the Lake Mendota shore on the present Magnus Swenson estate. The number of Indians which he remembers as camping in this vicinity was from thirty to fifty. They lived in wigwams and existed by hunting, trapping, and fishing. They were great beggars, stopping at the farm houses at all times for food supplies. His father was obliged to erect rough fences about his hay mows in the Middleton Beach marsh to protect them against the foraging Indian ponies.”
The farmhouse still stands much as it was originally built. Its red-brick, gabled “ell” design with its distinctive half-round oriel window in the gable pediment, reminiscent of the Greek Revival style popular at the time, roughly date the house’s construction between 1858 and 1860. As Madison expanded in the 1850s and grew quickly in the years preceding the Civil War, the Heims farmed the parcel and became involved in Madison politics.
The farm shrank over the years as Middleton began to grow and farmland was sold off to be developed. Several families owned the farmhouse over the years. A couple of photos in the Wisconsin History Museum collection show it in 1952.
The Heim property originally included at least one effigy mound, in the shape of a fox, created by the Native peoples of the area long ago. Ferdinand Heim donated the mound to the Wisconsin Archeological society in 1937, to protect it as development began in the area. Read more here:
St. Dunstan’s is mindful that we gather to worship on Ho-Chunk land, taken unjustly. We don’t know what it looks like to make peace with that history, but we wonder.