A former planter from South Carolina’s Sea Islands, William Brisbane came to live here in an enclave of southerners during the early years of statehood. In 1835, having decided that slavery was immoral, he freed his slaves and moved to Ohio. By the early 1850s, he had become a nationally prominent abolitionist. At that time, he came to Wisconsin and cofounded the village of Arena. He returned to the South during the Civil War to serve President Abraham Lincoln’s administration in Union-occupied South Carolina. After the war, Brisbane returned to Arena and built this sturdy limestone dwelling.
It reflects Brisbane’s regional roots. It is an I-house, a form that is rare in Wisconsin but common in the South from colonial times. Named for their tall, narrow side profile, I-houses are two rooms wide but only one room deep—the South’s hot climate making it desirable to promote cross ventilation. Typical of early I-houses, Brisbane’s has a steeply pitched roof, a plain exterior, and a central entrance. The symmetrically arranged windows include unusual triple-hung sashes on the ground floor. Yellow brick chimneys project from each end of the metal-covered roof.