Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, East Park Historic District’s nomination states, “the district is made up of small- to medium-sized, single-family residences on modest lots. … The scale and orientation of the contributing buildings, the narrow streets, [East Park’s] sweeping lawn studded with mature trees, and the topography … combine to make the district feel both secluded and welcoming, pedestrian and family friendly, and evoke an earlier time.”

The East Park Historic District, located in a corner of east Stoughton overlooking the railroad depot and a group of historic tobacco warehouses a block south of Highway 51, began as the site of the first Stoughton Fair, in 1879. O.M. Turner, local businessman; civic leader; and son-in-law of Stoughton’s founder, Luke Stoughton, leased his land to the Stoughton Fair Association. A grandstand and racetrack were built.

After a few years, the fairs ended, but the driving track, known as the O.M. Turner Driving Park or Turner Park, was still used. By 1899, the driving park no longer functioned, and Turner platted the section in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1913 that he began selling the lots. The City of Stoughton purchased a triangular portion of the parcel for a public park: East Park.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Once the lots were sold, home building began. Construction ebbed and flowed between world wars and the Great Depression—by the end of World War II, most of the 19 houses in this historic district were built. Two more were added, one in 1947 and the other in 1952. All face East Park.

Making up almost 50 percent of the district, the most popular style of home is the bungalow, which was the first style built in 1913. A popular building style in the United States for more than a century, bungalows are characterized by low-pitched roofs with gables or eaves, large covered front porches, and are usually one and a half stories.

The district’s National Register nomination notes that bungalow neighborhoods “like the East Park Historic District are found in all of Wisconsin’s larger cities but are not common in smaller communities. … Of the houses in the district, no two are alike.”

Brian Johnson, resident of the district who owns one of its bungalows, reports, “I enjoy sitting on the porch and watching activity in the park: family events, parties, concerts.” Brian moved into the district almost 20 years ago from a new subdivision in Stoughton. His family has roots in the Stoughton area, and he also owns Cheesers in downtown Stoughton.

“The craftsman construction of this house is amazing when you look at the materials that were used,” says Brian. “The woodwork is stunning. Unfortunately, some of the features of my house have been covered by vinyl siding, but the original look of the house has been retained.”

Photograph by Brian Johnson

Brian has redone the kitchen and the full bathroom on the second floor in his 1,300-square-foot house, and he refinished the floors. “There was old, ugly green carpeting in the house. We were amazed at all that gorgeous oak hardwood that was hidden underneath.” He advises anyone who wants to live in a historic house to “be willing to invest time and energy to updating it.”

Peter Welch, another resident of the East Park Historic District in Stoughton, sums up the charm of his neighborhood by saying, “We can have a campfire in the backyard and soon the neighbors will show up with their lawn chairs and drinks.”

Peter and his wife, Brianna Stapleton Welch, live a few houses away from Brian in a Dutch Colonial Revival style house. The 1,200-square-foot home, which they’ve owned since 2017, has a gambrel (barn) roof with two slopes on each side, a broad dormer, and an off-center entrance framed by multipaned sidelights.

“We like the charm and history of our house,” says Peter. “You can tell there’s a level of quality in an older house that’s not apparent in new construction. It helped that the previous owner, who we think was born and raised in the house, took very good care of it. We redid the kitchen terrazzo countertop and floor. The footprint stayed the same. We were able to find replacement appliances that fit the space. We also replaced the water heater. This house has been a dream.” For anyone looking to buy an older home, Peter recommends having a knowledgeable realtor who understands older houses.

It’s an easy walk from the East Park Historic District to the post office, library, or to get a cup of coffee. “We’re not in a super urbanized neighborhood and yet we have the same access to places like they would in downtown Madison,” says Peter.

Several other styles of houses can be seen in the district, including Foursquare (cube shaped); Cape Cod; front gable form; and the Craftsman style, of which the bungalow is a subtype. The Craftsman style emerged from the British Arts and Crafts movement of the mid-19th century and is known for simple design, use of natural elements, and a belief that objects must be well made as well as decorative. Advocates of the movement prized fine workmanship above the mass production of the Industrial Revolution.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

According to the National Register nomination, “Although the homes in the district are small and most were built for families of modest means [many of them laborers], each house shows individuality and architectural flair.”

Nic Miles, Stoughton’s Zoning Administrator, believes that residents of Stoughton have respect and a similar sense of protection for historic buildings. A total of five National Register historic districts are within the city limits. In addition, 32 individual properties have been designated as local landmarks by Stoughton’s Landmarks Commission. Stoughton even has a mini-grant program available to owners of historic properties.

“Our residents understand that visitors are drawn to what has been preserved and want others to enjoy the community as much as they do,” says Nic. “I have a lot of respect for property owners who own those type of assets and put in the work to preserve them. I admire 
their passion.”

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.

The Welches have reserved East Park shelter, 225 S. Lynn Street, 
for a book swap on Saturday, September 14. The public is invited
 to participate beginning at 1:00 p.m.