Williamson-Marquette: Madison, Wisconsin
Located on Madison's Isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, Williamson-Marquette is one of Madison's oldest neighborhoods. From its earliest beginnings in the late 1850s, Marquette, as it commonly is known, has embraced diversity. Grand Victorian homes were built along the lakefront, and single family Queen Annes and two flats filled the adjacent grid. Along Williamson, the neighborhood main street, modest workers' cottages were sandwiched between shops, taverns, implement dealers, and blacksmiths.
The neighborhood is bordered by East Washington Avenue to the north; Blair Street to the west; Lake Monona to the south; and to the east by First Street, the Eastwood bypass, Division Street, Lakeland Avenue, and Lake Monona.
Today, Marquette attracts professionals, students, and bohemians to live or open a business. Visitors from around the region come to dine and shop. Marquette is located a short walk from Wisconsin's state capitol, Madison's downtown, and the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus. With its continuous sidewalks, bike paths, and lively commercial district, it is one of Madison's most thoroughly walkable neighborhoods.
Marquette's 19th century architecture showcases some of the last remaining buildings from Madison's early history, including a Carnegie–funded library. Originally opened in 1913, the building has been historically renovated and now houses office space. The neighborhood's housing options include Craftsman Bungalows and newly built or redeveloped condominiums and apartments — including a generous number of affordable units fostering economic diversity.
Marquette's intact neighborhood character has been preserved by the efforts of residents, who in 1968 formed the Marquette Neighborhood Association (MNA). Years of decline had left the neighborhood vulnerable to modern threats: commuter traffic, a proposed freeway, middle-class flight, closure of the elementary school, vacant factories, and up-zoning and demolitions.
To counter these threats, in 1971, MNA wrote and implemented Madison's first citizen-prepared neighborhood plan. The neighborhood was saved, and neighbors are still refining and realizing the goals of the 1971 plan.
In 2008, Madison completed the Yahara River Parkway, a goal of the MNA plan that was first envisioned by renowned planner John Nolen in Madison: A Model City (1911). The Parkway, a linear park connecting the two lakes, helped transform brownfields into a riverfront with bike paths, open space, and connection to an 8.7-acre central city park currently under construction.
During the 45 years since Marquette's turnaround began, locally owned shops, restaurants, and live music venues have occupied previously vacant spaces on Williamson Street. Startup incubators now occupy former factories, and a home-grown entrepreneurial energy prevails. Placemaking efforts, from neighborhood fairs, to music festivals, to Little Free Libraries, express the spirit of an engaged community.
With renewal have come new challenges: pressure to redevelop, gentrify, and accommodate national chains. Residents remain vigilant, however, and are determined to protect Marquette's traditional character and diverse population.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Madison's City Charter 1856; approximately half of Marquette included in Madison's original plat (1836)
- In 1911 John Nolen — hired by the city in 1908 — proposed a comprehensive city park system; in Marquette he recommended connecting lakes Mendota and Monona with a park along the Yahara River
- A Carnegie Library built on Williamson Street (1913); library moved to Atwood Avenue (1958)
- Nolen's ideas for Madison began to be implemented in the 1920s
- Madison streetcars traveled along Williamson Street until the 1920s
- Walkability of Williamson Street was compromised during 1950s when street was widened to accommodate automobile traffic. Street trees were removed
- When manufacturing industry and rail service ended, also in 1950s, neighborhood underwent a long period of decline; storefront vacancies and crime increased. Williamson Street was viewed as the "seedy" part of town.
- A period of neighborhood renewal and recovery began during 1970s
- Nolen's vision of a Yahara River Parkway finally realized in 2008.
- Founded in 1857; styles include Greek Revival, Italianate, Arts & Crafts Bungalows
- Four national historic districts: East Wilson Street Historic District (1986), Jenifer-Spaight Historic District (2004); Marquette Bungalows Historic District (1997); Orton Park Historic District (1988)
- Two local historic districts: Third Lake Ridge (1979) and Marquette Bungalows (1993)
Planning & Community Engagement
- Marquette Neighborhood Association (MNA) formed 1968 to preserve Marquette Elementary; association has been a long-term force behind citizen activism
- In 1971 MNA wrote city's first citizen-prepared neighborhood plan
- Common Wealth Development, Inc., formed 1979; programs include business incubators; development and management of 111 affordable housing units; youth programs
- The Greater Williamson Area Business Association provides range of business services
- Marquette Neighborhood Association annual events include Chili Dinner, Waterfront Festival, La Fete de Marquette, Orton Park Festival, Willy Street Fair
- Friends of Historic Third Lake Ridge seek to promote, popularize, and defend the historic character of the neighborhood through education, events, and activism
- Neighborhood's two historic districts subject to design guidelines to protect architecture
- Local newspaper, Wil-Mar Gazette, published bi-monthly
Physical Attributes & Amenities
- The Willy Street Grocery Cooperative (1974) helps keep Williamson Street vibrant
- Served by several bus and bike routes that connect the neighborhood to the city
- Marquette Elementary School and O'Keeffe Middle School located in neighborhood
- Iconic Machinery Row now a professional building (Williamson, Blair and Lake Monona)
- Points of interest within the neighborhood include Lake Monona, Orton Park, Yahara River (Yahara Place Park, Parkway, bridges, and bike path), BB Clarke Beach, and Morrison Park
- Additional greenspace within a few blocks walk include Tenney and James Madison parks
- 8.7-acre Central Park, just now under development, reclaims underused industrial lands
- Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center (1969); uses former church; site of Eastside Farmer's Market