Historic Milwaukee, Inc. Upcoming Events

Historic Milwaukee, Inc. has a few events that are coming up that may be worth your while to enjoy.

The first event is “The East Side Commercial Historic District: From Controversy to Catalyst” which will be held next Thursday, January 17th.

When: Thursday, January 17
Where: Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c.
1000 North Water Street, 17th Floor
6:00-7:00pm: Networking Reception
7:00pm: Panel Discussion
Reception and Panel: $25 Non members; $20 for members
Panel Only: $10 Non members; $5 Members
Parking available for a fee: Enter the parking garage on Market Street
RSVP Required: Sign up on-line or contact HMI for tickets, 414-277-7795.

Learn about the East Side Commercial Historic District’s past, present and future from the stakeholders who are growing this important Milwaukee cornerstone. Panelists include Steve Schwartz, CEO of the First Hospitality Group with the Loyalty building; UWM Professor Matt Jarosz; Mark Demsky of Dental Associates and the Iron Block Building; Josh Jeffers, owner of the Mitchell Building; and Bruce Block, Co-Chair of Reinhart’s Real Estate Practice, as the moderator.


The second event is a big fundraiser on February 25th that will be held at The Grain Exchange Room in the Mackie Building. It is a little pricier but is for a great cause and is worth going to at least once in your life.

Check the HMI website for more information and to register.

North Shore Interurban History – Milwaukee Public Library

There will be a presentation and video on the history of the North Shore Interurban line which ran from Milwaukee to Chicago. The event will coincide with the abandonment 50 years ago this month and will be held on Saturday, January 19th, 2:00 p.m. at Centennial Hall, 733 N. 8th St.

Please call 414-286-3011 to register. This will be a great event, as always!

School Sign History

Here is a sad story of how the original school zone sign came to be. This article is from a January 1921 issue of Safety Engineering magazine.

Safety Engineering, January 1921

“School, Drive Slow”

How did this effective and widely prevalent traffic sign near schoolhouses originate? Who was the inventor? What led to the invention?

In October, 1914, a little boy in Milwaukee, coming out of school, saw his father waiting for him, in an automobile across the street. His father calling, “Come quick,” he ran across the street as fast as he could. Neither the father nor his little son noticed a heavy truck that was coming along at full speed. Its heavy wheels killed the boy instantly. The father’s grief was beyond description. He was a physician, a specialist for children. The boy was his only child. The unfortunate truck driver tried his best to stop but he was driving at a speed that made stopping impossible. The driver was heart-broken over the accident.

The circumstances of the distressing fatality came to the attention of Miss Emma M. Selle, a friend of little children. The thought came into her mind that signs should be placed near schoolhouses calling attention of drivers to the nearness of the school and commanding them to drive slow and look out for the children. If a sign of that kind had been placed near the school where the little boy was killed, the driver of the truck could have stopped his machine and the child’s life would have been saved.

Miss Selle wrote the pathetic story to a city official, who turned the letter over to the Safety First Committee of Milwaukee, recently organized. There was an 8-mile speed limit ordinance in force in the city and a sign giving that information had been placed near one school in the city. When Miss Selle’s letter came before the City Council, suggesting that the signs, “school, Drive Slow,” be placed in several places near each schoolhouse, money was appropriated for that purpose and the signs were erected.

On December 12, 1916, Miss Selle wrote to President Wilson, asking him to suggest to the governors of the different States, then meeting in New York, that similar signs be placed near all schoolhouses throughout the United States. On December 14, Mr. Tumulty, private secretary to the President, sent an acknowledgement of her letter and said that her suggestion would be brought to the attention of the President. On December 18 Miss Selle received a letter from the office of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, signed by Mr. D. J. Donovan, secretary, saying that the Commissioners of the District had received her letter to President Wilson, which the President had referred to the Commissioners, and that due consideration would be given to the placing of signs in streets near schoolhouses in order to protect the children.

On December 15, 1916, Miss Selle wrote to Governor Phillips of Wisconsin telling of the accident that had happened. Through the influence of Governor Phillips, the signs, “School, Drive Slow,” were placed near every schoolhouse in the State of Wisconsin—public, parochial and even small country schools.

“school, Drive Slow,” conveys three distinct thoughts:

“School” suggests the near presence of children.

“Drive” arrests the attention of drivers.

“Slow’ is a command which makes every driver involuntarily grip his wheel to slacken his pace.

In some cases, warning signs, made up according to the ideas of city officials, had been placed near schoolhouses. But most of them were complicated, containing many words, and were either not read or not heeded.

Hence, the first real safety sign to protect school children was Miss Selle’s “School, Drive Slow,” which is now being rapidly installed everywhere throughout the United States. Other signs have been developed from the original “Drive Slow” idea, such as “Keep To The Right, Drive Slow,” seen on bridges; and “Danger, Drive Slow,” seen near sharp turns in roads.

WHS Online Map collection

The Wisconsin Historic Society is a great resource for online research with its collections of images, books, newspaper articles, historic buildings, etc. Now they have added online browsing to a portion of their map collection which includes several amazing old maps of Milwaukee. The Increase Lapham drawing of the city from 1836 shows all of the landholders in the town. An 1856 birdseye map will keep you occupied with the amazing detail as you zoom in.

View the page for their online collection here.

Chapman Department Store

Someone who attended one of my presentations this fall was kind enough to send me some pictures she took of the old Chapman Department Store downtown before it was torn down. These pictures are attached along with a short history of the building. A big thanks to Gwen Mickey!

On the south side of East Wisconsin Avenue between Milwaukee and Jefferson Streets there stood one of the earliest and longest standing department stores in the city. Chapman Department stores were located there since its founding in 1857 until it finally filed for bankruptcy in 1987. The store was built in 1885 after a fire destroyed the previous Chapmans Dry Goods store that stood there since 1872. The design was a modern commercial style of white brick with decorations of terra cotta in a French Renaissance style. Mr. Chapman had the best materials used to build his store including highly polished granite for columns, Ohio sandstone and Tennessee marble. Beautifully painted frescoes adorned the store with classical figures that made the customer feel as if they were in a place of elegance. This was no ordinary store and even the offerings were of the best quality so that it became known as the “Palace of Trade”.

In 1911, several adjacent buildings to the east were combined in a large-scale renovation. The Wisconsin Avenue facade was modernized in 1930 but the Milwaukee Street elevation remained as it had originally with the large bay window on the upper floors above the Greek inspired portico at the side entrance.

The store expanded into Madison and Appleton and a few other locations in Milwaukee during its last 9 years. The downtown Milwaukee store closed in 1981 and was torn down to make way for the 30 story 411 Building which was finished in 1985. A few items from the Chapman’s building remain, most notably the fireplace which is on permanent display at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

Some of the last pictures taken inside the building were by Gwen Mickey. The fireplace stood in the center of the main floor and cost $6,000 back in 1885. It had three identical sides which were used to warm shoppers on cold days. In the back of each fireplace there was the symbol of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. A picture above the mantel was of Timothy Appleton Chapman himself.

Italian muralist and painter, Vergilio Tojetti painted several of the murals which can be seen here. This was one of two skylights which were originally above an atrium which opened all of the way to the main floor. The murals represented Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter with classical motifs.

Plankinton Mansion Woodwork Auction

The City of Milwaukee managed to salvage many items of historical interest when it demolished the Elizabeth Plankinton mansion in 1982. These doors, windows, and other pieces of woodwork have been in storage all these years in a Housing Authority warehouse. Finally the city is selling most everything they saved in an online auction which can be found here.

This is your chance to own a piece of history. Some doors are going for a relatively low cost while some items are already over $1,000.

The Sisters of the Divine Savior convent

Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, Inc.  posted a link to an article (unavailable unless you subscribe to the news outlet) about this old convent on 35th & Center St.

their comment:

“What’s wrong with this picture and why can’t the City of Milwaukee see it?
Has the city advertised this building to developers?
Where is the leadership from elected officials?

Milwaukee scours coffers for costly demo job | The Daily Reporter

It would cost Milwaukee an entire year’s demolition budget to tear down the former St. Mary’s convent on West Center Street, but vandalism and the fear of squatters setting fires this winter have pushed city officials to scour their coffers and schedule demolition for December.”


Taken from The Sisters of the Divine Savior  website:  http://my.dsha.info/page.aspx?pid=416

“The Sisters of the Divine Savior opened their convent school at 35th and Center Streets to lay students in 1948. Three years later Divine Savior High School moved to a new building on 100th Street near Capitol Drive. Holy Angels Academy was founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 12th and Cedar Streets in 1892. In a spirit of cooperation and good will, the two schools affiliated in 1970 and continued the mission of both by joining together their names, traditions, students and alumnae.”

So we can trace the 35th & Center location to 1948  (which they moved out of in 1951).   So has this complex sat vacant for  61 years?   Does anyone know any stories, or have older pic of the complex?


Judging by the Google Streetview, at least the exterior looks like it’s in decent enough shape.

Old School Discussion Forums

For those of you who are newer to the Oldmilwaukee.net site, there is a whole other side to the website than what you see here. It is more or less hidden. The old discussion forums are still underground and open but you will need to be separately registered to that unless you are one of the old time site users who can always use it. If you want to register to that section of the site, email me and I will get you online. You can browse the articles without being registered but sometimes the fun is in making your own posts.

There is also the very old Gallery section with many pictures. That used to be an integral part of the forums but after it wasn’t supported anymore by newer forum updates I had to separate it forever. It can still be accessed and images can be viewed but it is stuck in a time capsule.

I hope you enjoy looking at some of the old sections of the site. What is a history website without some of its own buried history?

1948 Milwaukee River View

For today’s Gigapan view, this is something I posted previously but will post again. This view is looking southwest along the Milwaukee River from above the Dam that used to be just south of North Avenue. Much of Commerce Street can be seen in its industrial glory with coal yards and railroad tracks of the Beerline where condos now sit.

Milwaukee Bookmobile

Hello,  I am looking for a color photo/postcard of the Milwaukee Public Library bookmobiles, as painted in the 1970s or perhaps the later 1960s. As I recall, these were light blue with other trim colors on them. Maybe brown or yellow.

Does anyone know of a site with an image or perhaps could post one or share one with me?



The images that I have found of the bookmobiles are much older than that and don’t have the aqua blue paint.

Thank you.