Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Wisconsin Ave. at Milwaukee St., 1862

Back then, much of the city's main street was used for residential homes.

By - May 27th, 2014 01:12 pm
Wisconsin Street, early 1890s.

Wisconsin Ave. (then known as Wisconsin St.), early 1860s.

In the earliest years commercial development in Milwaukee would focus on the river which, after harbor improvements in 1857, became a hospitable place for shipping by water. Before the Civil War railroads in this area were still in their infancy. This is a view of Wisconsin St. (now Avenue) just a couple blocks east of the Milwaukee River looking towards the east and a bit north. The cross street is Milwaukee St.

This photo dates from about 1862 and many of the buildings then were residences. The imposing structure to the left is the Customs House which was had been completed in 1859 and would last until 1901, when it was replaced with the much taller Wells Building. At the right are a few business signs including that of Theophilus Stringfellow, a particularly apt name for a tailor. The residence to the right of the Customs House is that of Erastus Wolcott, a surgeon who arrived in the city in 1839. He was quite eminent and would serve as the Wisconsin surgeon-general during the Civil War. He became a widower in 1860 but would remarry in 1869 to Laura Ross. Ross was a physician, a true pioneer in a field very dominated by men.

In 1893, the Pfister Hotel would be constructed on the site of the old Wolcott residence. Between the residence and the Customs House is a vacant parcel of land at the northeast corner of Wisconsin and Milwaukee. This would be developed in the mid to late 1860s and these buildings — some of the oldest commercial structures in downtown Milwaukee — are still there today. Next week’s photogragh will show how this intersection appeared just a few weeks later.

Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.


One thought on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Wisconsin Ave. at Milwaukee St., 1862”

  1. K A Jautz says:

    I, too, collect images of Milwaukee’s earlier days and thoroughly enjoy your “Yesterday’s Milwaukee” articles and miages.

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