The historic Brisbane House in Arena, Wisconsin, is renowned for its builder's past. William Henry Brisbane, known as an "abolitionist," faced significant scrutiny when he embraced this cause and subsequently relocated from his Southern home state.
Born on October 12, 1806, Brisbane began his journey as a cadet at the Norwich Military Academy in Norwich, Vermont. He later inherited 33 enslaved individuals from his family. While residing in a South Carolina house with his slaves, Brisbane underwent a transformation in his beliefs, recognizing the inherent wrongfulness of slavery. He made the courageous decision to set his slaves free, a move that garnered heavy criticism and disdain from his community. Nonetheless, this opposition did not deter him from persisting in his human rights campaign. To escape judgment and pursue his cause, Brisbane left South Carolina and settled in what is now Arena, Wisconsin, embarking on a new chapter in his life.
Brisbane harbored grand plans to construct a house where he could reside and eventually provide accommodation for others after his passing. The house was built in the "I-style," a design Southerners transported with them when they migrated North. Characterized by its towering structure and an interior adorned with numerous large windows that facilitated excellent ventilation in the summer, the house also featured tall doors. Remarkably, the house still stands in good condition.
In 1990, the Brisbane House earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, followed by recognition in the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places in 1996. Samantha Crownover and her husband, Bruce, are the current custodians of the Brisbane House. Their efforts to remodel the house, ensuring its preservation and preventing deterioration, earned them the 2022 Preservation Award from the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. Furthermore, they are poised to receive the Wisconsin Historical Society's 2023 Board of Curators Restoration Award.
Preservation of the Brisbane House and other historical artifacts is of paramount importance as it enables future generations to remember such crucial history and traditions. The history of Brisbane and his house serves as a vital reminder that there were Southerners who vehemently opposed slavery.
[Source: Wisconsin Historical Society]