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Edgewood College's original historic site (55 acres of property on Madison's Lake Wingra) included oak savannah and marsh land (with springs) on the north shore of Lake Wingra. The Late Woodland Native American peoples left evidence of their hundreds of years of presence--mainly in effigy and burial mounds (most of which still remain). European-Americans settled in the area in the 19th century, and various owners bought and sold the property once it was made "available for sale" by the U.S. government. The first person to build a structure on the site was John Ashmead, who in 1855 erected a colonial-style "Edgewood Villa" on the crest of a hill overlooking Lake Wingra. Ashmead had purchased the land from Leonard J. Farwell, then serving a second term as Wisconsin's governor. Ashmead sold the Villa and lakeside property to Samuel Marshall in the spring of 1857. Marshall was famous in Wisconsin banking history--both for his State Bank in Madison (1852) and for his founding of the still extant system of the Marshall & Ilsley banks (based in Milwaukee, but extending throughout the state of Wisconsin). Samuel Marshall and his family lived at Edgewood from 1857 to 1873. He beautified the grounds, importing exotic trees, shrubs, and flowers to the estate. In September of 1873, Marshall sold the property to the then-governor of Wisconsin, Cadwallader Colden Washburn--politician (former U.S. congressman), entrepreneur, and Civil War General. Washburn, like Marshall before him, continued improving the grounds, adding trees, vines, and a trout pond. He kept the property until 1881, when he decided to give the Villa and the grounds to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters to use in perpetuity "for educational purposes." In the fall of 1881, the Dominican Sisters moved their St. Regina Academy (which had been located near the capitol in down-town Madison) to the Edgewood property.
The story of Edgewood since September 1881 is one of education on this site--first as an academy (grade & high school levels), and later, beginning in 1927, as a college. The academy was housed in the former governor's Villa until November 16, 1893, when a tragic fire destroyed the Villa and resulted in the deaths of three of the youngest boarding pupils. The academy re-opened in a new building in the fall of 1894, and other buildings were gradually added to the entire campus, particularly after 1950 as the college expanded.