PleaseOnce home to United States Senator Charles Durkee, the Durkee Mansion is a cream-brick, Italianate Victorian home. It was originally constructed with an ornate wooden wraparound porch and a widow’s walk. One of the most striking features is the suspension stairway, located in the foyer, which is the largest stairway of its type in Wisconsin. The second floor bedrooms and the third floor (formerly the ballroom) have fireplaces, parquet floors and louvered windows, and the entire home is furnished with period furniture and fixtures. The mansion, with its gracious feel and magnificent view of Lake Michigan, is an historic landmark recognized by the National Trust for Historic Places and the Society for Preservation of Wisconsin’s Landmarks. It is a fitting monument to a Kenoshan who was a major influence on national and local politics. The Durkee Mansion is open to the public, free of charge on the first and third Saturday and Sunday afternoons of the month from 1:00 to 4:00 from April through October.
Please call for Durkee Mansion Christmas Hours.
Senator Charles Durkee and the Durkee Mansion
Charles Durkee, a native of Royalton, Vermont, with his bride Catherine, left New England in early 1836 and came to Wisconsin. Charles built a log cabin of oak and black walnut in the area that would later be called Southport and later still, Kenosha. The Durkees loved the area and bought land extending from the center of town to the lakefront. Their happiness, however, was to be short lived. His 25 year old wife fell ill and died in her new home.
Charles filled his time with business and political activity and soon became the largest landowner in the area. He made land available to newcomers at modest prices and on easy credit terms. Called “the working-man’s friend,” his keen interest in politics and his ambitious plans for Southport led him to spearhead the efforts to have port facilities in the town.
When Wisconsin gained territorial status in 1836, Mr.Durkee became a member of the new territorial legislature. He was instrumental in selecting the location of the Capital and in the development of a school for the area.
Charles Durkee served two terms in Congress between 1848 and 1853; he then returned to his favorite city, now known as Kenosha. He was elected United States Senator in the 1854 elections and returned to Washington, D.C., where he championed worker’s rights and fought for progressive homestead laws.
In 1861, Senator Durkee returned to Kenosha and began construction on the new home that he and his second wife, Caroline, had planned on 10 acres of land on the lake shore.
While Senator Durkee was attending President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in 1865, the new President of the United States Andrew Johnson appointed him to the governorship of the Utah Territory. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church arranged to purchase the Durkee home and property in exchange for a lifetime annuity for Mrs. Durkee. The church began adding new buildings to the Senator’s home in order to develop it as a girls’ school.