H. Louis Dousman

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Hercules Louis Dousman II (April 3, 1848 – January 13, 1886), better known as Louis Dousman, was the son of Wisconsin millionaire Hercules Louis Dousman I. After inheriting his father's wealth, Dousman became a prominent Midwestern socialite and art collector.[1]

Louis Dousman was born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the son of Hercules and Jane Dousman. As a child he received private tutoring, and he later attended a preparatory school in Madison, Wisconsin. Louis's education was cut short by the death of his father in 1868, an event which forced Louis to return to Prairie du Chien to take care of his father's estate. In 1870, two years after the death of his father, Dousman began using his inheritance, dismantling the house of his childhood and replacing it with a more modern home. This house, which would come to be called Villa Louis in later decades, was designed in the Italianate style by E. Townsend Mix, but did not function as Louis's home for long. In 1872, Dousman moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota, leaving his mother to occupy the Prairie du Chien estate. Owing to his wealth and his father's previous association with Henry Hastings Sibley, who had earlier served as Governor of Minnesota, Dousman rose quickly in St. Paul's society. In 1873 he married Nina Sturgis, and the couple moved to St. Louis, Missouri, eventually having five children: Violet, Virginia, Nina, Louis, and Judith.

Dousman's father had also had prominent connections in St. Louis, so here too Louis was able to rise into the uppermost social circles. He began a career as an art collector, amassing a collection of nearly a hundred paintings, mostly Academic art from France. In 1879, he constructed a gallery adjoining his St. Louis home to showcase his collection and began opening the gallery to the public. His art collection was eventually published in 1881. Louis received much attention both in St. Louis and across the nation for his collection, and served as art director for the St. Louis Fair for three years. However, in the 1880s Louis' interests began to shift. Following the death of his mother in 1882, Louis sold most of his art collection at auction in New York City, and made plans to return to the Prairie du Chien estate where he had lived as a child. He hoped to convert the property into a stock farm for the breeding of Standardbred horses descended from Hambletonian 10. Dousman had stables and a racetrack built in Prairie du Chien, and began hosting an annual race in July 1883. He named the Prairie du Chien estate the Artesian Stock Farm because of the artesian wells on the property. Louis and his family moved from St. Louis to the Prairie du Chien estate in 1885.

Louis's plans for the Artesian Stock Farm were never fully realized. In January, 1886, he died unexpectedly of appendicitis just thirteen days into the new year. After Dousman's death, his wife Nina sold the horses and closed the Artesian Stock Farm. Nina Dousman then renamed the family estate Villa Louis in honor of her late husband. Today the Villa Louis estate is a museum operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark.