The Village of Shorewood Hills [†] has been an important entity in the development of the west side of the Madison area. Beginning as a series of separate real estate plats in the World War I era, incorporation as a Village in 1927 combined both plats. These plats were largely the vision of John C. McKenna, and his first developments in the Madison area - he later went on to develop other areas on both the east and west sides of Madison.
When first formed, the Village of Shorewood Hills was a remote and distinct area from the City of Madison. After World War II, the city grew out to meet and later surround the Village, but Shorewood Hills has remained a separate, yet deeply connected municipality.
Originally agricultural land, a Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad extension through the area in 1856 eased development west of Madison. The first plat in the now Village, College Hills, was established in 1912 on land from the Jacob Breitenbach farm. Named for its location west of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, homes originally catered to university professors. The second development of College Hills was established in 1915 on land from part of the Lewis Post farm. Though delayed by World War I, McKenna began a new series of plats between Lake Mendota and University Avenue, shortly thereafter which he called Shorewood.
The streets for both College Hills and Shorewood were laid out by the noted landscape architect O.C. Simonds, and were designed to emphasize the natural beauty of the area. In post World War I construction, Shorewood and College Hills both grew significantly, and by the time of incorporation in 1927 there were 52 houses and 205 residents. At this time, Madison was still centrally located on the isthmus with unincorporated areas separating both municipalities.
Primarily a community of single-family homes, the Village is largely characterized by its architectural diversity. In contrast to many Madison neighborhoods, Shorewood Hills developed over a very long period of time, with 3 distinct periods of construction consisting of: post World War I, post-Depression (late 1930s), and post World War II. During each distinct period, homes were designed reflecting the architectural styles of the time, most architect-designed, and many by well-known Madison figures.
Although initially consisting solely of McKenna’s residential plats, Shorewood Hills has expanded through annexation twice. These include the1932 annexation of Black Hawk Country Club, a thriving golf club just west of Shorewood Hills, and the 1957 annexation of Garden Homes and University Avenue commercial corridor.
The Shorewood Hills School and the Village have always been administratively separate, though there have always been strong ties between the school and community. Initially, the village school was part of a school district in the Town of Madison offering K-8 classes, and students went to Madison high schools. As the Village and surrounding area grew, the school grew with it - requiring addition and renovation. The first part of the school was constructed in 1939, and additions to this building were made in 1950, 1962, and 1990. In 1962, the Shorewood Hills Elementary School was integrated into the Madison School District.
Today, the Village of Shorewood Hills remains a highly desirable residential area. Its proximity to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW Hospital, and the City of Madison make it extremely convenient for residents, and the Village has higher average home costs than any other municipality in the County, consistent with this demand.
The Village’s character and its unusual layout is a response to its unique natural setting. Accented by woods, rolling hills, and a dramatic shoreline from which the Village takes ts name, portions of the Village’s “organic” street-plan were laid out by the noted landscape architect O.C. Simonds, whose work is reminiscent of the work of some of the most famous planners of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Simonds’ contemporaries include Fredrick Law Olmstead, Raymond Unwin, Clarence Stein, John Nolen and other planners of the Picturesque tradition, which favors rough and wild scenery over a manicured and polished landscape. The Village is also home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Unitarian Church – one of the Wisconsin architect’s most celebrated works.
Many homes that build the character of the Village were designed during the 1940s and 1950s by a local architect named William Kaeser, a longtime resident. The Village encourages design and development that further the Village’s sense of place, and recognizes that character can be eroded incrementally through the loss of historic structures and the introduction of new structures that do not complement the Village’s intimate surroundings.
The Village seeks an environment where homeowners are free to express individual design options, but within a common framework that emphasizes a common sense of shared sensitivity toward the impact of individual design decisions on overall neighborhood character and resident enjoyment.
† Comprehensive Plan Introduction, 2020, www.shorewood-hills.org, accessed May, 2021.
Nearby Towns: Madison City •