The Brisbane House, an important historic home in Arena, WI, has recently undergone an extensive and twice commended restoration. Wisconsin River Valley residents know the stone house as “the house that splits lightning,” on 18 wooded acres. William Henry Brisbane, a man we’d call a human rights activist today, built the house and surrounding buildings in 1868. Because there’s no other house like it in Wisconsin, it is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. In fact, the State Historical Society just presented the Brisbane House with the 2023 Board of Curators Restoration Award. Because of Brisbane’s legacy and the home’s singular form—impossibly tall and skinny, carved out of the stone from the nearby bluff—it’s a place worth highlighting.

Samantha (originally from Milwaukee’s North Shore) and Bruce Crownover (from Los Angeles) and a business partner (in Madison) purchased it in April 2021 after Samantha had her eye on it for nearly 30 years. It was her vision to stabilize, restore, and rejuvenate this three-story gem. With over 30 years’ experience, she created a team of expert advisors, enthusiastic local crafts people, and volunteers, over 150 in all. Samantha led the full restoration of the main house in four and a half months, and the adjacent summer kitchen in another two and a half. She received State tax credit for the restoration, which adhered to National Park Service standards.

Brisbane came from Beaufort County, South Carolina, where his family had enslaved 33 people on rice and cotton plantations. He came to believe slavery was wrong and was forced to move north in 1835. A man of many professions, including minister, doctor, pharmacist, and State legislature clerk, he was most noted for his ardent abolitionism. He eventually manumitted and helped to establish the people his family had enslaved. 

As a tribute to Brisbane’s work, Samantha created a library of anti-racist literature and books by Black authors. She and Bruce (an artist and master printmaker formerly with Tandem Press) showcase contemporary art created exclusively by internationally-known artists of color. The Crownovers hope guests will depart inspired by Brisbane’s courage. Samantha adds, “In the spirit of Brisbane, we want Brisbane House to be a place of peace, inclusion, creativity, and joy. We celebrate those who speak out against injustice. We are honored to be the next stewards of this important legacy.” It is now open for overnight guest stays. Visit for more information.