An aerial photo of the Stonefield historic site

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Country Estate of Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin’s First Governor

Portrait of Wisconsin Governor Nelson Dewey, Image ID WHI 55243.

“The showplace of Wisconsin with its beautiful green lawns, gardens and orchards, stables and other buildings, and miles of stone fences.” That’s how one contemporary newspaper described Stonefield, the 2,000-acre country estate of Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin’s first governor.

Dewey began to build his dream home after completing his second term. This home would provide material testimony to his years of business and political success. The three-story Gothic Revival home was completed in 1868 and was the centerpiece of his 2,000-acre estate. It overlooked pastures and meadowlands, fruit orchards and a vineyard, and, in the distance, the Mississippi River.

In 1873 the home burned to the foundations, leaving only the brick walls standing. In 1879 General Walter Cass Newberry bought the ruins of the house and 40 acres of land. He worked the farm for several years. In the early 1890s he began building a summer residence on the original foundations. The Newberry house was much more modest, without the tall, narrow gables and ornate detail of the original mansion.

The Newberry family sold the house in 1896. A succession of owners maintained it until 1936 when the state purchased the land and buildings.

Stonefield Becomes a Historic Site

Stonefield’s State Farm Museum in 1956 was housed in a barn from Nelson Dewey’s original estate, Image ID WHI 55243.

Dewey’s home was designated as a historic site in 1954 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was deemed a place that would celebrate Wisconsin’s rich agricultural heritage. By 1961 the more than 30 buildings that make up Stonefield were constructed and opened, offering visitors a historic perspective of farm life in rural Wisconsin.

The site’s assortment of antique farm implements and machinery rapidly grew. This spurred construction of a new home for Stonefield’s agricultural collections. In 1971 a new building raised on the foundations of Dewey’s original sheep barn opened as the State Agricultural Museum. Today it houses Wisconsin’s largest collection of farm tools, models and machinery detailing the state’s agricultural past.

Stonefield continues to enlighten us about the turn-of-the-20th-century technology, the agricultural community that cultivated Wisconsin’s growth and the colorful characters that helped make the state become “America’s Dairyland.”