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Bluff living

Dewey and Marge Thompson's 38-acre bluff-top property is a sight to behold. From the spectacular view to blooming flowers to local artisan décor, this Ferryville, Wisconsin, home sets a beautiful riverside scene.
  • Living with the birds

    When you’re as high in the sky as Dewey and Marge Thompson at their Mississippi River bluff-top home above tiny Ferryville, Wisconsin, you’re not far from the hawks and bald eagles. Seeing them at bird’s-eye level, Marge thinks they are simply enjoying themselves, riding the wind, like resident Henry the Hawk, seeing how long he can glide between wing beats.

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
  • Personal paradise

    It was a long shot to think they could be living on this patch of paradise. A couple decades ago it was a rocky point at the end of an old logging road, apparently not suited to hold a home. Today it’s a lush landscape and a place where the Thompsons have switched their workaday brains to the creative side and are using the river valley scenery as inspirational material.

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
  • Renewed hobbies

    Before retirement they had little time for hobbies, let alone themselves. Marge got home from work late. Dewey often got home later. Now, Marge is up and outside early. The sizable holes in her mom’s old straw hat act as vents, keeping it from blowing off her head in a breeze. She applies her green thumb, rebuilding a rock wall here and “editing” plantings there. That’s what she calls pruning, removing and adding plants and trees. The results are “showcase gardens,” says one admiring neighbor. 

    Dewey photographs landscapes, river details, or passing Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight trains below, then prints enlargements himself, displaying favorites on most walls. He’s also the house cook (sometimes working two ovens) and family genealogist. But come five o’clock, they’ll pop open a fresh bottle of wine, sit on the deck, inside the Burr Oak Room (screened porch), or on any number of benches and chairs, to gaze to the west as the view renders river and plants in changing light. That’s when they’ll discuss landscaping improvements and other subjects.

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
  • Local décor

    The Thompsons regularly support local regional artists, buying works and displaying them outside and inside the home. Among those are understated architectural pieces like a clever rusted dandelion, and metal and wicker globes blended into the gardens amid white cone flowers, sedum, sweet woodruff and an annual red grass. An old wood bicycle sculpture made from branches leans against the garage. All things made of rock — benches, walkways, retaining walls — are made from rock uncovered on their property.

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
  • Last stop

    The Thompsons were visiting here, the Mississippi River border of southwestern Wisconsin, mixing bicycling with real estate showings, for three or four years during the early 1990s. At the time they were living in a stilt house built into a ravine in Geneva, Illinois. “It was dark in the woods, with no landscaping,” recalled Marge. And at that time she was making a living as a landscape architect. Then it happened. Dewey tells the story: From a tiny ad in the Chicago Tribune advertising a log cabin for $45,000, they hit pay dirt. It was late September, drizzling most of the day, and they had been looking at property since 11 a.m. By 5 p.m. they were more than ready to head back to their home in Illinois. But the realtor said, “One more piece of property.”

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
  • Building plan

    It was 38 acres of undeveloped land, but with an old logging road leading along its ridge. When they got to the end of the ridge, they couldn’t believe their eyes. “We stood on that rock. It didn’t matter if it was raining. It could have been snowing,” Dewey says. Looking out, Marge couldn’t believe how much river you could see. “Why would a property like this be for sale?” Dewey wondered. Maybe it wasn’t a buildable site, way out there. There wasn’t a clear answer. A bit later, it was pouring rain while they ate dinner at a supper club in Prairie du Chien, the county seat. Marge wanted to look at the plat map showing a survey of the land, so Dewey got the map from the car, in the rain. “I know we can build on this property,” Marge said, after seeing the lay of the land.

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
  • Proud owners

    Back home they considered all the obstacles involved — excavation, utilities — not to mention, cost of the lot. An offer was made and they eventually closed the deal in fall of 1994. Marge designed the site layout, tucking the house down into the bluff, protecting it from the north. At first glance, you might not see that it’s based on a tepee design with one beefy center pole. There are countless windows, offering even more river views. And it’s hardly visible from the river. It has become as much a part of the landscape as the birds and the trees. Every morning, the couple ask themselves, “how the heck did we end up with this? — It’s special, and we’re the caretakers of it, they answer.

    Date Published: September 26, 2012
    Date Updated: September 26, 2012
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