Vilas Zoo

An Alum

Does Madison’s Vilas Zoo have any connection to the person Vilas Hall is named after?

Abe

It does indeed, though the story is tinged with tragedy. Vilas Hall is named for William Freeman Vilas 1858, one of the UW’s first students. His son was Henry Vilas 1894, for whom the zoo is named. William fought in the Civil War and then taught law at the UW before serving as postmaster general and then secretary of the interior under President Grover Cleveland. He was also a longtime UW regent. Henry was born with diabetes and died at age 27. As a memorial to their son, William and his wife, Anna, donated the land for Vilas Park, on condition that it always remain free of charge — which is why there has never been any cost for admission to Vilas Zoo. William also left his entire estate in trust to the UW to support faculty, students, and the arts. In 1969, when the construction on the UW’s new communication arts building was running over budget, the Vilas Trust provided $1.2 million to ensure the building would be finished.