Slinger, WI – You’ve probably driven past the old Zuern Family Homestead a million times and haven’t even known it.
The small white and brown farmhouse sits on the south side of Highway 144 just north of the I41 exit. The home rests behind some trees on a slight hill up a narrow gravel road.
Wendy Olson recently opened the doors for a tour and provided some history about the previous owners and the attempt being made to save the old farmhouse.
The Zuern Farm sold to Michael and Johanna Hermann in 1874 for $3,200.
Their daughter Anna married Theodore Zeurn in 1899 who bought all 160 acres and the homestead for $8,500 in 1909.
In 1920, Theodore “Teddy” re-built the home currently standing, replacing the original 1848 fieldstone.
“None of the land’s history or beauty escaped the sharp intellect of Teddy Zuern…” the original owner of acreage adjacent to major thoroughfares.
Uncle Teddy sold the property to nieces and nephews when his beloved wife, Beatrice, needed care. Sale of the land to the children of Louis (“Luddy”) Zuern – brother of Teddy and founder of Zuern Building Products, Inc.) was the first step toward lasting preservation of both the land and the homestead.
Always in the forefront of ideas, however, was their understanding of just how special the property and area remained, along with their collective will to keep the Zuern Family Homestead intact.
As a farmer, Teddy Zuern worked around natural features of the land to preserve its beauty. In his day, most farmers worked instead to clear or level as much land as possible for farming.
Teddy was both a naturalist and a teacher. His house was filled with artifacts from arrowheads to Mastodon bones, and his head was filled with facts.
Teddy could recite the history of everything. He had stamps, stones and all kinds of collections. He also kept abreast of all worldly events, items were auctioned, and funds went towards ongoing care for his wife, Beatrice.
As a team, Beatrice shared her husband’s love for nature, and further entertained the children by skillfully cooking every meal – especially holiday meals – on a wood-burning stove, which also served to heat the home.
Most of the property’s trees planted by their children can still be seen from Highway 144 and I41.
Twenty-five years ago, Geoff Maclay, President of the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation, began talking with the Zuern family about preservation.
Charitable contributions raised by the Foundation under a long-term project entitled “Kettle Hills Nature Preserve,” made the organization’s eventual purchase of the Zuern Family Homestead possible.
The Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation purchased the 108-acre Zuern Family Homestead in 2008 for the DNR.
Contiguous with properties which were previously preserved, the combined 414 acres of mid-kettle moraine landscape remains natural woodlands, wetlands, and prairie that make up the Ice Age Trail.
Kettle Hills Nature Preserve benefits the public through the preservation of Wisconsin’s vanishing natural heritage, protection of wildlife corridors and improved water quality.
On August 1, 2018, my then 89-year-old father, Colonel Ralph N. Olsen M.D. – U.S. Army – Retired – came to me knowing I was looking to find a home for The Slinger Historical Museum. He expressed his sadness and angst at hearing that the Zeurn home would stand no more.
“I am an original member of CLCF, a longtime environmentalist and believe in the DNR’s mission to expand the Kettle Moraine Ice Age Trail. However, our history must be preserved for our next generations. The house should not be destroyed. Wendy, you can save it. Love, Dad” Doc Olsen 08.01.2018
My father’s entire life has been dedicated to the preservation of Washington County’s environment having deed restricted his property at 6267 Riesch Road 30 years ago to the DNR.
I am seventh Generation Rosenheimer. My great, great, great grandfather Lehman Rosenheimer was co-founder of Schleisingerville (Slinger) in 1848. I currently live in the house he built for his son John in 1889 at 109 Storck Street, Slinger. I have restored my house in its entirety.
I was able to delay the destruction of the house and was successful negotiating with the DNR to save The Zuern historic structure.
The DNR respects my ability to save history. In September of 2020, The DNR Pike Lake Director asked me if I was still interested in saving the Zuern Farmhouse as they needed it moved.
At this point, 2 ½ years had passed and much had happened.
The Village did not want to use the Zuern Farmhouse as a museum. The DNR still offered the house to me as I had spent much time, sweat and tears to save the home.
II “Zuern vs. Burn” Preservation of Zeurn house -Why?
Exorbitant Cost to Demolish A House: The price for the DNR razing the house and its foundation was estimated at $25,000.
Environmental issues: The cost of removal is not the only factor to consider. The environmental threats of burning or razing a house can make costs soar, not to mention all the debris. The salvaging of the pieces is also not a viable alternative as it would amount to only $4,000 as per the DNR. *
Benefits of moving the Zuern house:
Moving a house might sound like a Herculean feat, but it’s more common than you might guess. Landmark buildings are sometimes moved for several reasons, typically because the land under them is being used for another reason such as the DNR expanding its Ice Age Trail. Yet the structure’s historic significance means it’s worth salvaging rather than razing it to the ground. I have secured:
- Zoning: Already in discussion with County
- Permitting for a house move: Secured $6,500
- One of the costliest elements of moving a house is dealing with the overhead utility lines and trees in your way. I have secured all permits in lieu of the move and eventual destination.
- Type of vehicle is secured with DeVooght Movers Inc.
- Setting the home in its new location – Homes are usually lifted from under the sills. Most professional movers use hydraulic jacking systems to raise the building to limit the chance of damaging the structure. Those jacks are supported by cribbing, and a network of beams keep the structure in place.
Possibilities Where to Move the Zuern Farmhouse?
I need you! Would you consider helping me secure a ¼ to a ½ acre of land? I ask not for a donation, rather, I can pay you. Or, if you prefer a donation to help with the move, Please contact me at [email protected]
Click HERE for more information
Your assistance to save history will never be forgotten.
Wendy R. Olsen