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The North House (left), The Swenson House (right) 

This Historic Landmark home was part of the expansive Thorstrand estate owned by Magnus Swenson (1854-1936), a Norwegian who immigrated to America at age 14, and made his way from working as a blacksmith’s helper to a career as a chemical engineer, an internationally known inventor, businessman and humanitarian.

Originally 50 acres of cornfield, the land was purchased in the 1890’s by Magnus.  He named the property “Thorstrand” (which means “Thor’s Beach” in Norwegian) after the place where he was born in Norway.  The road from University Avenue through this land still bears the name Thorstrand Rd. 


Magnus, his wife Annie and their four daughters, lived in downtown Madison and would make regular trips to the property to picnic and plant a variety of trees, many of which still stand today.  In 1922, Magnus had two Mediterranean Revival style homes built there, designed by Madison Architects Law and Law.  One house was for Magnus and his wife Annie, the other, this home, for his married daughter, Mary North. 

In its heyday, the estate was quite a sight to see:  two beautiful homes overlooking the lake surrounded by a wide variety of trees and shrubs, multiple ornamental fish ponds, and colorful flower gardens everywhere that Mary lovingly tended.  Magnus, Annie and their daughter Mary had a deep love for the land and the lake which was passed on to Mary’s 3 daughters.   After Mary passed away, her daughters agreed that their goal would be to preserve the land in its natural state.  The remaining estate was sold to the City of Madison to be preserved as an addition to “Marshall Park”, for use as a passive recreation area in 1978.  Shortly thereafter, both homes were declared Madison Historic Landmarks. 

The homes were subsequently sold to individuals, but the land continues to be owned by the city and a portion associated with each home is leased to the homeowner through a 99 year land lease agreement.  Mary Swenson North’s daughter, Mary North O’Hare, bought back her mother’s home, and it has remained in the family since that time.  In 2011, Mary North O’Hare passed away, and the home is currently in the ownership of her children (in trust).  

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1.     "NAHA // Norwegian-American Studies". Retrieved 2018-09-13.
2.     "Madison Landmarks". Retrieved 2018-09-13.
3.     "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form". NP Gallery. 1980.
4.     "HMI template". Retrieved 2018-09-13.
5.     "History - Marshall Park - Madison Parks - City of Madison, Wisconsin". Retrieved 2018-09-13.
6.     Based on the recollections of the adult children of Mary North O'Hare.


Wisconsin Historical Society   (608) 264-6502   816 State Street

Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office

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