Reader Questions

What is the oldest building in Milwaukee?

-Anonymous

This is a question I have got several times. Because I could not answer it on the spot, now is the time. If you want the trick answer, then it is the Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University campus. It was built in the 15th century in France and moved to its present home in 1964.

I believe the oldest, whole building in Milwaukee is the Benjamin Church house which now sits in Estabrook Park but originally was near 4th & Galena. Several downtown churches, St. Mary’s on Broadway and Kilbourn and St. John’s at Wells and Jackson have been around since the late 1840s although they have had many major changes over the years.

The oldest, whole building in downtown which probably hasn’t had as many changes is the James Brown residence at the northeast corner of Astor and Juneau. It was finished in 1851 and has recently been restored to its original style.

Death of Emma Uihlein

The area around 5th, 6th & Galena was known as “Uihlein Hill” due to a number of Uihleins living in the area during the heyday of the Schlitz brewery. The Alfred Uihlein mansion sat at 1639 N. 5th St, and the home of Charles Uihlein and his wife Emma was at 609 W. Galena St.

This article tells about her death – the last of the Uihleins to live in this declining neighborhood. After her death, the city purchased the property and moved ahead with their redevelopment plans of the neighborhood.

Milwaukee Journal
August 20, 1946

Death Closes Cover on a Milwaukee Era

An era came to an end in Milwaukee Monday, an era which represented the Milwaukee that was truly half German. Mrs. Emma Uihlein died and the house on the hill is dark and silent.

Mrs. Uihlein lived for many years alone in the old brick home — alone except for the devoted housekeeper, Theresa Schmidt, who now cannot quite comprehend what has happened. Her mistress was 88 and she is – ach, let’s see once — well, maybe 72 and life is strange in the quiet house.

Miss Schmidt could not talk very much when the reporter called. All she could say was that her mistress was gone after being sick for “a long time already” and that she didn’t want to do much “speaking.” It will be very hard for the elderly spinster in the old home at 609 W. Galena st.

Charles Uihlein’s Widow

The determined old lady who now is gone was the widow of Charles Uihlein and mother of the late Oscar L. Uihlein, who headed the Uihlein Electric Co. here for 30 years. She died at Milwaukee hospital following a severe five week illness.

The old home in the city’s earlier years was one of a row of fashionable, ornate houses in the neighborhood that now has slipped into the worst blight of the city. It is in the southern corner of the sixth ward, where now the Negroes dwell in the ramshackle, tumble down houses that for years have mocked the old brick castle.

Mrs. Uihlein’s home was truly her castle. She would not leave it, come what might. She and the faithful Theresa held their ground behind the iron railing serving as fence and defied time to budge them. They shopped in the neighborhood – Theresa did most of it – and Mrs. Uihlein took long walks when her health was good.

Walks Remembered

Dwellers in the ward tell of watching the round old lady as she strolled in the warm afternoons around the neighborhood, looking with disapproving eye at what time was doing, but making no complaint. From the front veranda she could look across the street at the Philadelphia church. Back of her home, in the recent years, has been a firm of car movers.

The prospect was anything but beautiful, but nothing could have persuaded the old lady to surrender to the changing years. She kept her home in spotless order and dreamed of the days when the old home, was one of the best, and the finest people frequently dropped in for something from the cellar.

The home was built to be timeless. Its rich old woods would cause a twinge of envy to any antiquarian. A beautiful grandfather’s clock stands silent in the hallway. Portraits of the family stand in the living room, close to a lovely upright piano that may not have sounded music in a decade.

“Nein, nein.” Theresa Schmidt struggled to say Tuesday morning, “not much company we had for a long time.”

The housekeeper has lived in the home 45 years. She came from Germany as a “kleine maedchen” a long, long time ago. She worked in the Niedecken family five years, then was idle for a spell, but most of her life has been passed in the quietness of the hill.

Lower Their Voices

When they passed the old home, the Negro children were lowering their voices Tuesday, just as they have done for a long time. The old lady was thought of as patrician and her wishes were respected. The yard is as clean as any on Lake dr., even though the grass has trouble staying green under the protective trees.

Mrs. Uihlein is survived by Mrs. Oscar Uihlein of Grafton, another daughter-in-law, Mrs. Arthur C. Uihlein. of 2230 E. Bradford av.; a brother. Frank J. Kohn of Chicago; grand-daughter, Mrs. Kdward A. Banner of Grafton, and two great-granddaughters, Barbara Ann and Susan Banner.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday from the Weiss funeral home at 1901 N. Farwell av. Burial will be in Forest Home cemetery. The body will be at the funeral home from 1 p.m. Wednesday until the hour of the funeral.

Few of the old friends can call at the funeral home, to share in the hushed reminiscence. An era has passed and gone. Only the dauntless could have remained as long as the little old lady just gone.

Reader Questions

What is the history of the name Locust St? I found that E. Locust used to be called Folsom, but why is Locust St. named after an insect?

-Diane

The original name of Folsom came strangely enough from Miss Frances Folsom, bride of President Cleveland. She caught the nation’s imagination in the 1880s as some sort of Amazon princess and was very well celebrated.

Folsom Place was the name of the street on the east side of the Milwaukee River while the street west of the river was always known as Locust Street. When the bridge was built in 1894, it was named the Folsom Bridge. The great street renaming of 1930 changed Folsom Place along with many other streets around the city. Milwaukee wanted to keep one name for one street so one of the names had to go and it was decided to keep Locust Street. Locust Street was named, not for the insect but for the tree which is still planted along streets all over the city.

“Masonic Building” at Jefferson & Wells Sts.

Here’s an architecturally significant Milwaukee building (center of the photo) without much in the way of a historic photos or archives  to fill out its history:

"Masonic Bldg.", N. Jefferson & E. Wells

This view looks south on Jefferson from E. Kilbourn with Cathedral Square on the left, the old Wis. Gas Co. bldg on the far left, Pfister Hotel in the far distance on the right. (photo-copy from MPL’s Jefferson St. file, annotations are mine.)

The two postcard versions (UWM and WHS digital collections) show the handsome building much better – it has distinct similarities to the old Downer College buildings on the UW-Milwaukee campus.  The postcard links below also infer the similar red sandstone.  Was this built in the same era or designed by the same architect?

http://collections.lib.uwm.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/gfmmke&CISOPTR=690&CISOBOX=1&REC=1

http://collections.lib.uwm.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/gfmmke&CISOPTR=28&CISOBOX=1&REC=3

I thought this may have been what was called the “Ethical Building” which housed the Milwaukee Ethical Society at 558 Jefferson St. (1899 city directory) But newspaper 1895 adverts show a different (earlier?) building:

Does anyone know which Masonic organization can take credit for the building that stood on the south-east corner of Jefferson & Wells?

For extra credit: can anyone sing the old jingle … “On the corner of Jefferson and Wells, you can hear Cathedral bells, ….”

Police Court Stories

Strange stories from the police blotter one hundred years ago.

Milwaukee Journal, August 12, 1912

Police Court News

Michael Tornic, 4104 Grand-av, arrested as the result of statements made by Mary Reonlaka, 15, in juvenile court, was found not guilty in district court, Monday.

Walter Austin, 45, was standing on Kinnickinnic-av, Sunday night, when a man passed, carrying three jugs of whiskey. The bearer of the jugs accosted Austin and the two sat down upon the sidewalk. “I am going to West Allis,” said the man with the whiskey. “Will you go with me?” “I’ll go anywhere with a man who has three jugs of whiskey,” declared Austin. The three empty jugs were used as evidence against Austin, Monday, when he was fined $5 and costs.

Neither Calvin Whittington nor William E. Hunt, who engaged in a fist fight in front of the Plankinton, Saturday night, while Miss Ruth Gwendolyn Shaw, said to be a Chicago heiress, acted as referee, appeared in the district court, Monday, when their names were called. Judge Neelen fined each $1.

For raising a disturbance and using profane language on a street car on Eighth-av and Mitchell-st, Sunday night, Joseph Klutz, 25, was fined $25 and costs Monday.

“Your wife must be a wonder.” Judge Neelen told James Heina, Chicago-rd, arraigned Monday for being drunk. “She must certainly be economical.” Heina said that he had a wife and six children and that he earns $60 per month. His wife said he kept the family well on that sum. “Because of your wife I’ll let you go.” the court told Heina. “Do your part by keeping away from whisky.”

Misericordia Hospital

I wanted to cross post this recent post from the old forums to here.

I recently came upon an old postcard, 1911 of the first Misericordia hospital. I’ll try and upload the image.

I found some info on the nuns that started it. This was originally the Bishops residence until he moved to the Pabst mansion. But it looks very much like it is several houses interconnected judging by the varying styles. Does anyone know if these were individual homes. The site is 22nd and Juneau. The hospital moved here in 1908.

Thanks in advance.

Ellen

The Closing of TA Chapman’s

There was a question during Saturday’s presentation on Missing Milwaukee about the dates involved of the closing of TA Chapman’s downtown store at the intersection of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Ave. An article in the Milwaukee Sentinel from Thursday, January 22, 1981, detailed the final sale of all merchandise in the store.

By 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, there wasn’t much left in Downtown Chapman’s and the doors closed for the last time.

Like many of the unsold fixtures, many of the clerks and managers will be distributed to Chapman’s stores in the Northridge, Brookfield Square and Bay Shore malls.

The owners of Chapman’s are negotiating with the Milwaukee county Historical Society to see if historians can’t find a safe spot for T.A.’s fireplace and portrait.

A Sentinel article from September 26, 1984 talked about the opening of the now complete 411 Building. The article was entitled, “New Building Comes to Life With Fireworks, Party” and was in the Local News section.

The Wikipedia page for the T.A. Chapman Co., links to an article about the company finally going bankrupt in 1987, a few years after the downtown store was closed.

This should help to clarify some of the dates that I talked about.

Old Milwaukee.net Visits the Chudnow Museum

Milwaukee has plenty of good museums but for people that want to enjoy the city’s history there is always a need for more. The Streets of Old Milwaukee at the Public Museum have been around for almost 50 years, believe it or not! The Milwaukee County Historical Society has cleaned house after their renovation so remains nearly empty of displays. The Jewish History Museum and Black History Museum both offer various glimpses into Milwaukee’s past but otherwise there is a need of more displayed history.

The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear helps to fill in that gap by showing some glimpses of life in 1920s and 1930s Milwaukee. It is set up in the old Avrum Chudnow home at 839 N. 11th St. It doesn’t look like a museum from the front but step to the back door on the right side to gain entrance. Limited parking is available off a driveway on Highland, west of 11th Street otherwise metered parking is on the street. Beware the street parking restrictions or face a ticket!

The museum takes objects from the large collection of the Chudnow family and gives them context by displaying them in rooms that are built as if they are shops or offices. One room is the Grafman Grocery store, another the Augusta Hart shoe store, and it goes on and on through the two floors of the very large home. There is plenty on display here and it is worth an hour or so to slip into Milwaukee’s past. There are some surprises on the tour and a secret room on the second floor I won’t tell too much more about.

The first days it was open to the public were the past few days of July 20th and 21st but the official grand opening won’t happen until August 18th. Stop by and help to support the Chudnow Museum! Admission is a reasonable $5 for adults. Check the website for more information.


http://www.chudnowmuseum.org

Father is Missing – July 21, 1912

100 years ago today, life could be harsh for poorer Milwaukeeans. The husband was the only one supporting the family and when he failed in his responsibilities, the rest of the family were in dire circumstances. This case

Milwaukee Sentinel July 21, 1912

CHILDREN STARVING; FATHER IS MISSING

Loaf of Stale Bread Is Food of Family of Six for Two Days With Mother Ill.

FOUND BY THE LANDLORD

Police Now Searching for August Grabowski for Second Time on Abandonment Charge.

“The Milwaukee police department got me once, but they will never again. I was foolish enough to let them nab me, but I am too wise for them now,” said August Grabowski, 675 Sixth avenue, as he left his wife and five children destitute for the second time and started for his present hiding place.

The Grabowski case came again to the attention of Supt. Spindler of the county poor department on Friday and is one of the most pitiable that the department has ever found in Milwaukee. Poverty stricken and nearly starved, Mrs. Julia Grabowski, who is in poor health, was found trying to comfort her children in the little, damp basement rooms that they occupied.

Live on Stale Loaf.

For several days the mother and her five children, Mary, 9 years old; Frances, 7 years old; Anna, 5 years old; Amelia, 3 years old, and Stacy, 2 years old, had lived on one loaf of stale bread.

When the landlord went to the place to collect $5 due for rent he found the entire family in bed and only a single crust of bread in the house. Not knowing where to go for assistance, the woman had lived in her destitute condition and when the landlord came he had to force open the door. Mr. Spindler was called at once and he is now taking care of the family.

This is the second time that Grabowski has left his family. On April 15, last year, he took with him the savings of the family and left without a word to his wife. He went to Columbus, O., where he enlisted in the United States army. His company was sent to Fort Bliss, El Paso, Tex., where he was arrested by Detective Hammes for abandonment.

Draws Two Weeks’ Pay.

He was brought back to Milwaukee on Nov. 8, in full army regalia, and was sent to the house of correction for five months. When released he went to work and supported his family for three months.

Drawing two weeks’ pay, all that he had coming, on July 10 Grabowski went to his home and put on his best clothing. He then told his wife that he was going away and that the Milwaukee police would not be wise enough to find him. A warrant charging the man with abandonment was sworn out on Saturday.

Open Mic

From time to time I want to leave the microphone open at the front of the stage, as it were so anyone can make a comment or ask a question, tell a story or just talk about yourself. This is going to be the first attempt at the Open Mic. Who wants to be first?

The world is your stage!