History preserved, along with Walter Kohler’s bathtubs, in Madison’s Mansion Hill District | Local News

History preserved, along with Walter Kohler’s bathtubs, in Madison’s Mansion Hill District | Local News


The home was one of the grandest in the city.

The sandstone block was quarried in 1855 across Lake Mendota in the town of Westport and, when it was finished in 1856, it would become over the years the home to an insurance executive followed by a real estate magnate then a lumber baron and even a world-renowned violinist.

In more recent years, the house, at 130 E. Gilman St. in Madison’s Mansion Hill District, was home to UW-Madison students in the Knapp Memorial Graduate program.

Sandstone block was quarried from the town of Westport on the opposite side of Lake Mendota to build what is now the Governor’s Mansion Inn & Cafe.

STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL

But the 4,832-square-foot home is perhaps best known for its time from 1885 to 1950 as the Executive Residence for 17 Wisconsin governors. Jeremiah Rusk was the first and Oscar Rennebohm the last. In between, occupants included dairyman William Hoard, progressive leader Robert M. La Follette and John Blaine, the former mayor of Boscobel.

When Walter Kohler was elected governor in 1928, he made sure bathrooms in the house were up to his family’s standards.

And now, the nearly 90-year-old enameled, cast-iron bathtubs, along with the rest of the home, are part of Madison’s newest hotel.

Governors Mansion Inn & Cafe

When Walter Kohler Sr., whose father founded the Kohler Co. in Sheboygan County, was elected governor, he remodeled the bathrooms of the Executive Residence. The original tile and an enamel-coated cast-iron tub remain in the Governor’s Mansion Inn & Cafe. Bob Klebba, the hotel’s co-owner, shows off a sink with three faucet heads. Two provided hot and cold water drawn from a cistern while a third provided drinking water.  

STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL

The Governor’s Mansion Inn & Cafe may be one of the smallest hotels in the state but it’s also one of the most historic. The property began serving guests Aug. 1, a cafe is set to open in October, and owners Bob Klebba and David Waugh envision an art gallery that pays homage to the state’s history and can also host small weddings, concerts and other

It comes after spending $400,000 to purchase the property, which has lake views but not lakefront footage, and another $1.6 million in restoration and upgrades.

“I’m not afraid to share those numbers,” Klebba said. “It’s important for people to understand what it takes to bring a building like this into the 21st century.”

Governors Mansion Inn & Cafe

Bob Klebba navigates the original grand staircase that was constructed in 1855 in a home overlooking Lake Mendota. Klebba and his partner, David Waugh, have converted the home into the Governor’s Mansion Inn & Cafe and began receiving guests Aug. 1.

STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL

Klebba and Waugh, who also own and live in Mendota Lake House Bed & Breakfast, 704 E. Gorham St., had help with the purchase of the former executive residence from Fred Mohs, an attorney, Downtown activist, historic preservationist and former University of Wisconsin System Regent. He lives a few blocks away in Kennedy Manor, an art-adorned home on Wisconsin Avenue.

Klebba and Waugh also took out a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration and secured historic preservation tax credits for 20% of the restoration, which included new wiring, plumbing and air conditioning, widened interior doors for accessibility, more insulation, a sprinkler system for fire protection, the conversion of some of the home’s many fireplaces to natural gas and work on the…

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