Just as the lives and fortunes of the Brittingham family are intertwined with UW-Madison history, so too are their homes. Two houses owned by the Brittinghams later became UW-Madison fraternity and boarding houses, and one currently serves as the official residence of the University of Wisconsin System President.
Probably the first house the Brittinghams occupied as a couple in Madison was a small structure at 153 West Gorham Street. They were only there for a few years before moving on. Their next residence was at 211 Langdon Street, where they lived from roughly 1897 to 1901. That building later housed Kappa Phi Gamma, Phi Sigma Kappa, and Kappa Psi before becoming a non-greek boarding house for female students in the 1940s.
The Brittinghams’ next home, at 640 North Henry Street, was an impressive structure set on the shore of Lake Mendota with a stone boathouse embedded in the sloping back lawn. It was designed for the Brittinghams by the architectural firm Porter and Small. Senior partner Lew F. Porter contributed heavily to Madison’s architectural heritage. He was involved with the design or construction supervision of many city landmarks, including the Armory & Gymnasium (Red Gym), the Dane County Courthouse, the Capitol building, Randall School, Science Hall, and the Agricultural Dean’s residence.
The Brittinghams were a lively component of the Madison social scene, and the home on Henry Street was the “scene of many of the city’s brilliant social gatherings”. The Brittinghams entertained frequently, hosting “house parties,” as they called them, regardless of whether the event was an afternoon ladies’ tea or a summer gathering spanning an entire week.
640 North Henry Street was purchased by the Alpha Delta Phis in 1915; the building that had housed 5 family members and 2 servants became home to 23 young men. The Alpha Delta Phis lived in the old Brittingham house until their board determined the structure could not be saved by renovation. In 1959, the home was razed, and a new fraternity house was built in its place. The boathouse was preserved and renovated, and it remains a familiar sight to users of Lake Mendota.
The Brittinghams had always been on the lookout for a more suitable permanent residence, and they finally found what they were looking for in a piece of property off Old Sauk Road. Satisfied that their search was over, Thomas cheekily named the estate they built there in 1916 “Dunmuven.” The grand Georgian-style home was designed by Frank Riley, whose other contributions to the area include the Lakewood School in Maple Bluff (demolished in 1986) and East High School.
The 15-acre estate includes a squash house, carriage house, tennis courts, and what was one of the first swimming pools in the area. Among the wide variety of social activities that occurred at Dunmuven were UW-Madison reunion events, which Mary hosted each year.
In 1955, Tom Brittingham, Jr. and Margaret Brittingham Reid donated the entire estate of Dunmuven, including furnishings, to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After it had served for several years as the operational center of the Geopolar Research Institute, the family requested that the building be made into a residence again.
Renovations began in 1968, but financial and political wrangling stalled the renovations until the Brittingham Fund finished the work itself.
Chancellor Edwin Young and his family moved into the house in 1973, and it has served as the official residence of the University of Wisconsin System President ever since.