Market Square, Late 1860s
The intersection of Water and Mason streets was once Market Square, the civic and commercial heart of the city.
The earliest buildings in Milwaukee tended to be simple wood-frame structures designed in the federal style. But as the city grew, buildings in the downtown area would be replaced by taller brick ones. This city view dating from the latter half of the 1860s shows this transition in progress. This view is of the northeast corner of the intersection of Mason St. and E. Water St. (now simple Water St.). This also was considered the east side of Market Square. Note the smaller two- and three-story buildings wedged in between their newer brick counterparts.
In 1990, a report by the Historic Preservation Commission noted that Market Square was “once the civic and commercial heart of the city.” But that hasn’t been been true for more than a century. Today this entire block is occupied by the BMO/Harris Bank, formerly the Marshall & Ilsley Bank. Market Square today is largely a memory, a casualty of the widening of Water and Wells streets.
Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.