In 2015, the Van Orden Mansion will celebrate its 111th birthday. The stylish and beautiful home of Jacob and Martha Van Orden was completed in 1904, just after the end of the Victorian era and midway through the reign of King Edward VII in the United Kingdom. Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, began his reign after the death of his mother in 1901. The Edwardian era lasted until 1910 upon the death of Edward, but is frequently extended beyond Edward’s death up until WWI.
The Edwardian period, which also opened the 20th century, saw numerous technical and social advances in all fields of endeavor. Female servants still provided services to families who could afford them. Domestic staff was provided with food, clothing, housing, and a small wage. However, fewer young ladies entered the domestic trade during this period, as they were finding better paying employment elsewhere.
Edison’s phonograph was a popular form of entertainment, and electricity began to supplant the smoky flickering gas lights of the previous era.
The Van Orden Mansion was on the cutting edge of technology when it was built. It boasted speaking tubes between various rooms, and an electric call system that signaled when the maid was wanted by the master or mistress. It had both gas and electrical supplies, one of the few residences to boast such modern conveniences at the time. Indoor plumbing was installed in the Mansion when many still made the long trip to the outhouse. The telephone became a necessity in many homes, and the automobile was seen on streets in both large and small communities.
It was during this time in history that Jacob Van Orden decided to replace the clapboard house that had been his home since 1879, with a modern residence that would befit the chief financial officer of the Bank of Baraboo (Baraboo National Bank today).
Work began in 1902, and was finished in March of 1904. Only one photo of the construction of the house is currently held by the Society and it depicts three carpenters taking a break on the main staircase.
The Van Orden Mansion has been the headquarters of the Sauk County Historical Society since 1938, when it was purchased by the Society for $9,000 (one thousand dollars less than it had cost to build the home 35 years before) .