The Fountain Building - 402 West Main Street
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Located on the corner of Broadway and West Main Streets, the Fountain Building is one of the city's most well preserved and stately Italianate homes. Built in 1873 by Captain Nathan Powell, a prominent Madison businessman, this home was never meant to be his primary residence - he lived in a home at the other end of the block on the corner of West Main and Elm Streets.
The Powell's had eight children - six sons and two daughters. Local records indicate that at various times many of the grown children took turns living in the Fountain Building. Thanks to local realtor and amateur photographer, Harry Crawford Lemen, we can see that the building today does not look very different than it did in 1930 when he combined his love of photography with his profession as a realtor and documented many of Madison's most notable homes.
The Fountain Building 1930, Lemen Collection
Did you know?
The Fountain Building has had many names and functions throughout its history that has helped to ensure its continued viability. It has also been know as the Powell House, for its first owner and builder, and as the Vail Holt Funeral Home. Today, thanks to a stunning restoration, most of the building's original architectural features have been preserved.
The Powell Family
Captain Powell would be know today as a local "mover and shaker." His accomplishments included lucrative river trading, involvement in the pork-packing business (one of Madison's most important businesses during the nineteenth century), service as the president of the Madison Life, Fire, and Marine Insurance Company, and president of the National Branch Bank.
Powell's residence on the other end of the block was his home for much of his adult life. Although he died in 1882, his wife Mary and their son Edward continued to live in the home until 1929. The year after they moved out, the building was sold and became the library and remains so today although the many additions have rendered the home almost unrecognizable from most elevations.
Captain Nathan Powell Home (now the Jefferson County Public Library, below)
The Building Transformed
At one time, this location served as the Vail Holt Funeral Home for nearly a century. Today, after an extensive renovation and rehabilitation project, the only two things that remain to remind visitors of this phase of its past are the doors to a small room that served as a private prayer area and a colorful mural that depicts several of Madison's well-known buildings and features.
A New Purpose:
Before The Most Recent Renovation
In 2012, native Madisonians Bob and Tammy Courtney purchased the nearly 8,000 square foot building. (Today, Bob Courtney serves as the Mayor of Madison) They meticulously oversaw the complete restoration of the home's architectural features and adapted the building to house professional offices, a wedding chapel, an event space for meetings or parties, and a guest suite apartment. Check out the amazing interior pictures taken after their work was completed (and the awards they won for their dedication to preservation including the Dorothy Inglis Reindollar Historic Preservation Award):
Did you know? - The Courtney's have single-handedly preserved nineteen buildings around Madison. They are truly preservation heroes!!
Thank you to local historian Betsy Lyman and the Madison Main Street Program for their significant contribution to the materials in this post.