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Namur Belgian-American District

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c. 1872–1930. Roughly bounded by WI 57, Thru-Way Rd., County rds. K and N, and Green Bay

This district once comprised the largest rural concentration of Belgian immigrants in America. They began arriving from Brabant, a central Belgian province, in 1853, and later they also came from Namur, a southern province. By 1860, Wisconsin boasted more than 4,600 Belgian settlers, mostly in Brown, Kewaunee, and Door counties, who created a distinctive ethnic landscape. Fencerows divide the gently rolling plateau into farmsteads, each marked by a cluster of red brick or limestone houses, log barns, and outdoor bake ovens. Votive chapels can be found along the roads. The district is bounded by a corridor of forests and wetlands on the east and by cliffs with sweeping views of Green Bay on the west.

After the great Peshtigo wildfire of 1871 ravaged the area, many of the Belgians built new log houses, in some cases using trees salvaged from the blaze. These dwellings were later veneered with fire-retardant brick, creating the area’s characteristic farmhouses. A typical example is the one-and-a-half-story Marcelin and Caterine Baudhuin House (10120 WI 57) with segmental-arched windows and a spindle-friezed porch. The bull’s-eye window in the front gable was common to this area—its shape and surrounding brickwork served as the signature of the now-unknown builder. The Jean and Pauline Baudhuin farmstead (1880; 10240 WI 57) includes their limestone house and the area’s best surviving example of a stone summer kitchen with attached bake oven. Inside the gable-roofed kitchen is an oval brick oven on a stone platform, where a fire would burn until a white powder coated the oven walls, indicating that baking temperature had been reached. The unburned wood and coals would be raked into a cavity below the chimney, and as many as twenty-four loaves would be inserted into the oven at a time. These ovens were common in Belgium, where they usually stood apart from the kitchen. Across the highway and slightly west of their house, the Baudhuins built a gable-roofed, wooden wayside chapel, another building type transplanted from Belgium. Catholic families erected these small personal chapels, which were also open to travelers along the road. This is one of three remaining in the district.

The August and Mary Delfosse Farmstead (c. 1900; 1749 County Rd. N) is the district’s most intact traditional farmstead. The red brick house, a two-story gabled ell, has segmental-arched windows and doors and semicircular lights in the gable ends. Across the road stand three log barns and a log shed, grouped in a U around a small farmyard. Log construction was uncommon in Belgium, so these buildings show that these immigrants adapted to available materials. The Ernest and Tracie Macaux House (1899; 10525 Garner Road) is a log house without brick veneer. Typical of the district, it is unpretentious but incorporates modest decorative details, including a fanlight in the gable end.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
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Data

Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Namur Belgian-American District", [Brussels, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-DR1.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 278-278.

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