Magnus Swenson

Magnus Swenson was a brilliant scientist and inventor. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1880 and went on to become a successful entrepreneur, business man and civic leader of historic importance locally, nationally and internationally. He held hundreds of patents and founded a company based on many of them that is still doing business as Swenson Technology in Illinois. His work as a student on sanitation motivated the development of Madison’s municipal water system supplied from deep artesian wells. He helped found the School of Agriculture and Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin and later in life served as chair of the Board of Regents for 10 years. He promoted the University of Wisconsin Extension which was the first in the United States. He built hydroelectric dams on the Wisconsin River at Kilborn and Prairie du Sac. During WWI he served as the federal food administrator for Wisconsin. After the war, he was director of food supplies in northern Europe and built rail systems to move them inland from sea ports. He started the Norwegian-American steamship Line, chaired the commission responsible for building the present state capitol of Wisconsin and founded the U.S. Sugar Beet Company on the east side of Madison (now the restored Garver Feed and Supply building). He was prominent in the Madison business community serving as a director on several boards including that of the First National Bank.  

For more detail on the life of Magnus Swenson check out the Norwegian-American Historical Association.

Swenson - o'hare family tree

Mary North O'Hare and Friend

The North House

A Historic home with a fascinating story, hidden in 15 acres of wooded parkland overlooking the shores of Lake Mendota and located on the near West Side only minutes from downtown Madison; the North House was built for Magnus Swenson's daughter, Mary Swenson North and her husband Kent North in 1922. Mary North raised her three daughters in the home and lived there until her death in 1977. After her death her daughters sold the land to the City of Madison for parkland. One daughter, Mary North O'Hare, maintained ownership of the home now situated on a leasehold within the park. After Mary North O'Hare passed away the house passed to her children, Charles, Anthony and Mary who are the current owners. The North House is listed on the State Register and National Register of Historic Places and is a designated Madison Landmark. A Historic Structure Report concluded that the property is exceptional because of its historical character, status and integrity, its current condition and its unique location.

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

The Swenson House

Built by Magnus Swenson when he retired to Thorstrand in 1922. Like the North house it was designed by Madison architects Law and Law in a Mediterranean Revival style. It occupies a site above and overlooking the North house with a view of the lake. For the rest of their lives, Magnus and his wife Annie lived there near their daughter Mary North and her family. Over generations, Thorstrand and the two houses were the gathering place for a growing extended family rooted in Madison and the life of the city.