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History of Bascom Hill in Madison, WI


The quadrangle at the core of the UW-Madison campus. | Photo by @chrislinephotography

Table of Contents

Grab your books and find your seat, we’re heading back to class today. With graduation behind us and summer term just around the corner, now feels like a good time to study up on one of our favorite UW-Madison campus spots — Bascom Hill.

🍎 History 101

This land — an ancestral place called Teejop — originally belonged to the Ho-Chunk Nation during the 19th century. In 1832, the Ho-Chunk were forced to surrender the territory. Just a few years ago, the university + the Ho-Chunk dedicated a plaque honoring this history and the resilience of the Nation.

🍎 Geography 101

Located at the end of State Street, opposite the Wisconsin State Capitol, Bascom Hill represents the beginnings of the UW-Madison campus. Plus, it’s an example of a glacial drumlin.

The location’s steepness made it desirable as a place elevated enough to oversee the village of Madison. For reference, it’s 850-ft long (roughly 90 Spotted Cow beer bottles) with an elevation gain of 86-ft. The hill itself is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Bascom Hall, in all its glory — literally basking in the light. | Photo by @sekretempire

🍎 Architecture 101

North Hall — the university’s first building —was completed in 1851, just three years after Wisconsin’s statehood + the university’s establishment.

Perhaps the most famous of the buildings — Bascom Hall — was constructed in 1859 and originally opened as University Hall or Main Hall. Over the next 50 years, the building underwent minor reconstructions, tweaking designs + creating more space for a growing student population. In 1916, the building’s dome caught fire and burned down. While the dome was not restored, the building was renamed just a few years later in 1920 to Bascom Hall — in honor of former University president John Bascom.

Class dismissed. Time to cut loose and connect with some of the hill’s more fun traditions like Fill the Hill + traying during the winter months. Got any Bascom Hill stories from your time at UW or in the 608? Your turn to teach us.

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