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:

“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 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.

1948 Westown Milwaukee Aerial View

This is a great aerial view of the Westown section of downtown looking west along Kilbourn Avenue. It is from sometime in the late 1940’s before the Arena was built and after the area east of the Courthouse was cleared out in 1941. It gives an interesting view of an area of downtown that was already past its peak and was succumbing to an urban renewal frenzy that eventually nearly cleared it into oblivion.

Note: This link will take you to the Gigapan page with a high resolution view.

A comparable view from 1967 is shown here with many more buildings magically turned into parking lots. This view was before MECCA was built in 1974.

Police Court Scenes 1914

These are a few stories from the police court of cases which made the court a busy place back in 1914. The Milwaukee Daily News had a regular feature which reported on each day’s cases. Some were funny, others were sad

Milwaukee Daily News, March 13, 1914

After tracking one of the women by the marks of her bare feet in an underground passage and pursuing a man up a dark alley, Detectives Hartman and Stout succeeded in apprehending all of the inmates of an alleged disorderly house at 604 Edison Street last night.

When Julia Washington, 30 years old, colored, alleged keeper of the place heard one of the officers ascending the front steps, she sought safety by fleeing into the cellar and entering an adjoining building through an underground tunnel. After tracking the footsteps in the dust in the passage, the detective found his quarry hiding under a bed in the building next door, according to testimony.

Joseph Woligarski, 18 years old, alleged inmate, is said to have made his escape by climbing through a back window, sliding out on the long porch and dropping into the alley. He was seized by the other detective who had stationed himself in the back yard.

Julia Washington was fined $25 and costs by Judge Page, Woligarski was let off with a reprimand and Lulu Williams, alleged inmate, was fined $10 and costs.

Milwaukee Daily News, April 6, 1914

One hundred and twentythree prisoners, the largest number ever appearing in court in a day in the history of Milwaukee, were arraigned before Judge Page. Seventy persons were charged with being drunk and disorderly.

Judge Page held the blame for the immorality wave at the door of the election, holding that discussions of candidates are prone to make men thirsty, and that thirst is the one great factor in the downfall of the over-zealous voter.

About 500 people appeared in court as witnesses. The consultation room had to be used as a temporary “bullpen” to accommodate the prisoners awaiting trial and “coppers’ row” had a sky blue tint which came from sixty “cops” squeezing into a gallery that was made to hold that number.

Johann Lembeisser was tried for being drunk.

“Your honor,” he pleaded after the judge had imposed a fine of $5 and costs. “Seeing there is so many people here may I make a speech?”

“No.” said the court.

Undaunted, Leimbeisser jumping upon a chair, waved a tattered hat in the air and yelled;

“Whurrough! I got drunk, drinking of Hading and not ashamed a bit, am I. The Socialists may eat cabbage but the blamed staff went to their heads instead of their stomachs and that’s why the whole kaboodle of ’em are cabbage heads.”

At this point Deputy Fitzgerald interfered and led the gifted orator away, but not before the man had been rewarded by a deafening round of applause.

TMER&L Auditorium

A high resolution view of the auditorium of the Public Service Building as it looked when finished in June 1906 via Gigapan.

Open Mic

Time again for the open mic. Here’s your chance to ask questions or tell a story, preferably related to Milwaukee history! I encourage you to participate!

You must be registered and logged in to leave a reply. This will keep out the spammers selling viagra and watches. If you can’t see the comment box, then click on the “Open Mic” headline. The comment box should appear at the bottom of the page.