Spring Green originated as a railroad village in 1856 with the building of the Milwaukee and Mississippi rail line. Construction workers built log cabins to live in which soon afterward became the homes of the village’s first settlers. Platted during the spring of 1857, Spring Green and the surrounding countryside languished until the prosperity brought by the Civil War years encouraged agricultural development. Then Spring Green began to flourish as a village where farmers brought their crops for sale, storage, and shipment, and as a center supplying their needs for goods and services. Originally incorporated as a village in 1869 largely to facilitate taxation and make street and sidewalk improvements possible, it was reincorporated with a revision in governmental structure in 1878. The village grew very modestly during the late 19th century and numbered about 800 at the time of World War I. Its 2013 estimated population is 1,647.
Spring Green has a dual character, on the one hand as a very attractive rural Wisconsin town, and on the other as the place near where internationally respected architect Frank Lloyd Wright built his home, Taliesin, in 1911 and where he trained architects of the Taliesin Fellowship. More recently Spring Green has gained national recognition for good classical summer theater. The American Players Theater performs in an open-air theater located on a 70-acre woodland site near the banks of the Wisconsin River. Now securely established as part of Spring Green, the theater is but one in an apparent series of changes developing in the community. The Wisconsin Taliesin Commission is working on plans to restore the badly-deteriorated Taliesin and to make it available to the public as a significant historic landmark in American architecture. This mammoth project will require possibly $16.4 million according to preliminary estimates prepared by the Governor’s commission. Another possible change for the community may emanate from recently announced commercial plans to construct a combined recreational and housing development. According to its advocates, the project will complement the Wright tradition and the natural beauty of the Wisconsin River Valley.
Currently there are a number of places of historic interest to see in the Spring Green area. The Wright-related ones include:
Taliesin, Hwy. Wis. 23, 2 miles south of Spring Green
Named for a 3rd century Welsh poet and meaning "shining brow", Taliesin is beautifully sited on a low hill overlooking the Wisconsin River Valley. It includes 3 major groups of buildings. In one group near the intersection of Hwy. 23 and County Trunk C are the Wright home and offices, originally built in 1911, twice rebuilt after fires and many times expanded and changed over the years. The Hillside Home School is farther south off Highway 23. Wright built it in 1902 for the use of his aunts, Jane Lloyd Jones and Helen Lloyd Jones. They had founded the experimental home school in 1887 to teach students in an atmosphere combining classroom, garden, farmyard, and workshop with a well-rounded course of study. Remodeled and expanded in 1933, the Hillside School became work-study space for the Taliesin Fellowship. The third component of Taliesin is the farm building complex built in 1938 and standing between the school and the home-office group. One other structure built much earlier by Wright is quite well-known, the Romeo and Juliet Windmill built in 1896. Henry-Russell Hitchcock considers it "still one of the conspicuous landmarks" of Wright’s career. Sixty feet tall, the wind causes it to sway several inches at the top.
Wright, born at Richland Center in 1869, internationally-known as the proponent of "organic architecture" – structures designed in harmony with users and environment – has always been controversial. With the passage of time, he has gown in stature as a critic, reformer, and pioneer in architecture. He returned to his native Wyoming Valley in 1911 at the age of 44 after his Chicago and Oak Park years at a period of both personal and professional turbulence in his life. In characterizing Taliesin, the National Register nomination papers note: "Taliesin was the home, workshop, laboratory, and retreat for one of the world’s most renowned architects and certainly one of Wisconsin’s most significant historical personalities." He died in 1959 and was buried in the cemetery of Unity Chapel, a short distance from Taliesin. His remains were carried to the gravesite by horse and wagon. In March of 1985 his grave was opened, the contents cremated, and the ashes taken to Taliesin West at Scottsdale, Arizona in accordance with the wishes expressed in his widow’s will. The only building in the Taliesin group open to the public at the present time is the School which is open during the summer months when the Taliesin Fellowship is in residence.
Unity Chapel, County Trunk T, .2 miles east of Hwy. Wis. 23
This charming Unitarian Church, built in 1886 following the design of Joseph Lyman Silsbee, was part of Jenkin Lloyd Jones’ plan to develop a summer vacation-retreat for ministers and at the same time to establish a church and burial place for the many Lloyd-Joneses of the Wyoming Valley. In the perspective of America architectural history, the chapel is significant for its relation to Silsbee, a major Midwestern architect and to Frank Lloyd Wright, who moved to Chicago to work for Silsbee soon after the chapel was built. For years the chapel suffered from very poor maintenance. Renewed family interest in the early 1980s led to the establishment of Unity Chapel, Inc., to restore and maintain the cemetery and the sanctuary. In 1984, when the restoration had been completed, the chapel graveyard contained the burial sites of Frank Lloyd Wright and 84 members of the Lloyd-Jones family. Thus in another historical perspective, the chapel is a monument to Wyoming Valley’s creative, independent Welsh.
Wyoming Valley School, Hwy. 23
In 1957 Frank Lloyd Wright designed this public school for the children of Wyoming Valley, donating both the architectural plans and the land to the community.
Riverview Terrace Restaurant, Hwy. 23
Planned by Wright as a teahouse for Taliesin guests in the late 1940s, the Spring Green, as it is now called, is the only restaurant he designed. The plans for it and the land became part of a larger project for a hotel, homes, and golf shop as well as the restaurant, which was undertaken in the 1960s by the president of the Johnson Wax Company. The Taliesin Fellowship drew up a master plan but only the restaurant was completed. It opened in 1967 at a gala affair with First Lady Ladybird Johnson as the special guest. This beautiful 300-foot-long structure overlooking the Wisconsin River affords diners an opportunity to see a local Wright structure in detail inside and out.
Bank of Spring Green, Spring Green
In the shopping area of the village of Spring Green stands an unusually beautiful stone bank, built in 1972 and designed by William Wesley Peters, chief architect, and the Taliesin Associated Architects of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.