Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Market Square, Late 1860s

The intersection of Water and Mason streets was once Market Square, the civic and commercial heart of the city.

By - Nov 19th, 2014 01:14 pm
Market Square, 1860s

Market Square, 1860s

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.

Market Square was located just south of City Hall which was a much smaller building in those days. That City Hall was originally built as a market building hence the name of the adjoining square. Two signs are prominent in this photograph:  “Milwaukee Mechanics Mutual Insurance Co.” and the “Milwaukee Banner and Volksfreund.” The latter is by far the more interesting. The Banner was Milwaukee’s first German-language newspaper founded by immigrant Moritz Schoeffler in 1844, at a time when the city’s German-born population was quite small. The paper would be published until 1880 when it was consolidated with the competing Freie Press.

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.

4 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Market Square, Late 1860s”

  1. Irene Goedde says:

    Enjoyed the Mitchell Mansion photos and the Market Square. I will be at the Mansion in Dec. for a tea dance from our Centime Nocturne Dance Club. We have been dancing there for many years and Christmas is always the most beautiful in the mansion. The decorations are out of this world. Very enjoyable Sunday afternoon.

    Thanks for the photos:

    Irene Goedde

  2. Gary Rebholz says:

    “… The Banner was Milwaukee’s first German-language newspaper founded by immigrant Moritz Schoeffler …”

    Moritz Schoeffler’s paper lives on in area archives and has been indexed for family research purposes in the independently financed and compiled resource called “Milwaukee’s German Newspapers; an index of death notices and related items” (1844-1950).

  3. Gary says:

    A large archive of both daily and weekly editions of the historic “Wisconsin Banner and Volksfreund” & “Banner and Volksfreund” are found in the microfilm collection of the Salzmann Library on the campus of St. Francis de Sales Seminary. You can access their online catalog (TOPCAT) from
    There is an odd selection of the “Wisconsin Banner and Volksfreund” at the public library.

  4. Danny Schoeffler says:

    I am a descendent of Mortiz Schoeffler. His son Otto was my Grandfather’s Grandfather. Thank you for this information. I will look into the St Francis de Sales Seminary.

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