Man About Town: George Delaplaine

Old Governor’s Mansion

By Michael Bridgeman

George Delaplaine was not the first occupant of what we now call the Old Governor’s Mansion. That was Julius T. White, a prominent businessman. Nor was Delaplaine the most famous resident. That would either be Robert M. La Follette, whose family occupied the “executive residence” while he was governor from 1901 to 1906; or Ole Bull, the renowned Norwegian violinist who lived here after marrying the young Sara Thorp.

Nevertheless, George Delaplaine is a person of interest. The house was completed around 1854 to 1856 for the Whites and not long thereafter was bought by George and his wife Emmaline. About ten years later they sold the mansion to J.G. Thorp, lumber baron, state senator, and future father-in-law of Ole Bull.

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George B. Delaplaine

Portrait of George B. Delaplaine on his carte de visite, 1860. (Wisconsin Historical Society, WHi-37969)


Delaplaine was born in 1814 in Philadelphia and by 1838 had found his way to Madison by way of Milwaukee. He held a series of public positions (he held only one elective office in his long career), including secretary for Wisconsin’s first three governors.  In 1841 he married Emmaline Smith, sister-in-law of Simeon Mills, an early Madison entrepreneur.

The advancement of women, the recognition of their political and economic equality, and every movement in woman’s behalf, had his earnest sympathy and support.
— Wisconsin State Journal

The house at 130 E. Gilman Street appears on the left in this photo from the 1880s or 1890s, by which time it had become the Governor’s Mansion. Shown in a side view, it shows the Victorian treatment of the balconets and front porch. (Detroit Publishing Co., publisher. Madison, Wisconsin, East Gilman Street, photograph. Library of Congress collection) [Click photo to enlarge]

A Wisconsin State Journal article recalled that George and Emmaline became known for hosting events dedicated to literature and the fine arts, “gathering together a delightful society of musicians, painters, authors, and people of advanced thought.” By 1868 their eldest daughter was married, another had left for Europe and the family moved from Gilman Street to Langdon Street.

George Delaplaine was a partner in the Lakeside Water Cure, an ultimately ill-fated sanatorium on 50 acres overlooking Lake Monona in what is now Olin Park. But he also owned considerable real estate including the parcel on the capitol square where Madison’s city hall stood from 1856 to 1954.

Emmaline died in 1876 after her dress caught fire from a kerosene lamp. George Delaplaine and his daughters still lived in the Langdon Street house (demolished) at the time of his death at age 81 in 1895. According to a lengthy obituary in the Wisconsin State Journal, he “interested himself genuinely and constantly in forwarding the fortunes of young authors and artists of promise.” In addition, “The advancement of women, the recognition of their political and economic equality, and every movement in woman’s behalf, had his earnest sympathy and support.”


This postcard photograph of the Governor’s Mansion was taken after the 1899 addition of a wrap-around porch in Classical Revival style. Only the portion over the entry door remains, without its balustrade. (Collection of the author) [Click photo to enlarge]


Now the Governor’s Mansion Inn & Café, the house at 130 E. Gilman St. will be the site of a special soirée and fundraiser for the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation on October 17. Visit the event page for more information & to buy tickets.

Madison Trust