Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Courthouse Square Fountain, Late 1880s

Created by Casper Hennecke, it became the subject of a popular Milwaukee postcard.

By - Dec 23rd, 2014 03:32 pm
Courthouse Square Fountain, Late 1880s. Photo courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Courthouse Square Fountain, Late 1880s. Photo courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

When the new Milwaukee Courthouse was completed in 1873 this grand new building called for improvements to the public square. By 1877 the improvements would be in place with an ornamental fountain as its centerpiece. This is a view of the fountain taken about a decade later by noted photographer H. H. Bennett, who did many classic photos of Milwaukee from this era.

Water nymphs with flutes perch on the larger of the fountain’s two cast iron bowls, and the bottom of the fountain was supported by a cluster of winged cherubs. It was designed by Hennecke and Co. Casper Hennecke was a German immigrant who lived in Milwaukee and specialized in creating art work, statuary and fountains from the mid to late 1800s until his death in 1892. This fountain was a very popular subject of Milwaukee postcards.

Hennecke built another similar, but smaller fountain installed one year later at the Soldiers Home. The two have sometimes been confused.

Unfortunately after the demolition of this courthouse in the late 1930s, this fountain would languish and ultimately be removed. Its fate remains a mystery.

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

7 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Courthouse Square Fountain, Late 1880s”

  1. John Wamser says:

    What a great fountain! It’s a shame that it was lost

  2. Paul says:

    Agreed & its a shame the current fountain has a stage parked on it all summer.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Paul I know the fountain should be brought back to life (so it can be the centerpiece of the park) and the stage moved to the other end.

  4. Gary says:

    Even though there’s a freshly painted concrete fountain basin sitting prominently at that site, there hasn’t been a working fountain in Cathedral Square for 15+ years (a correction to that statement would be welcome).

    The current fountain basin in Cathedral Park was the foundation for a commemorative public art installation in 1976 (?). I remember it from walking through the park on my way to work in the late 1970s-1980s, and time spent at the old Skylight Theater on Jefferson St. The fountain even worked for a while.

    That piece of art is now located near the entrance to the Wisconsin Center offices on W. Wells St., west of N. 6th St. It’s installed there as a working fountain, and includes a commemorative plaque with dedication to Milwaukeean Robt. J. Jendusa, dated May 1976. I don’t remember the plaque from the Cathedral Square site.
    So when someone in the right position wants to accomplish something, it gets done.

    A simple re-installation of a working fountain in Cathedral Square, even one that fits under a concert stage for part of the year, would be welcome. Or how about moving the concert stage to the larger and better-appointed O’Donnell Park & Plaza (it even includes parking!).

    Restoration of the large attractive fountain on the beautiful grounds of the Marcus Center would also be welcome.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Gary I’ve never thought moving Jazz In the Park would be a good idea. A huge part of what makes the event work is the nightlife on Jefferson St. If somebody (I’m not sure who as there is almost no nightlife or activity over there) would want to start a festival at O’Donnell Park that would be great, but I wouldn’t mess with the winner that is Jazz in the Park. That not to say Cathedral Square can’t be improved. I would add the fountain back, move the stage to the other end, paver the area around the fountain, add tables and chairs, and add a small bar kiosk type thing. Now that would be a Square that is activated and an amazing setting, almost European I’d say.

  6. Gary says:

    Dave — seriously, I thought the draw was the concert series, but you’re saying it’s the booze and … (never mind). Of course, there isn’t any night life down in the neighborhood of Maier Festival Park except when the festivals are on and some would claim it’s the concert lineup that draws the crowds.
    (Was that subtext in your posting concerning the influence of the WTL and the Cathedral Square site?)

    Despite returning to the neighborhood in 2005, I haven’t been to the concert series in Cathedral Square. For me, Milwaukee parks are a day time “go to” destination as a green space, hopefully clean and attractive, which is why I use O’Donnell Park and other areas along the lake front from spring through fall.

    But it’s really a moot point for me as Cathedral Square is not always at its best the morning after its weekly summer concert season bender, if you know what I mean. The portajons function like a temporary public art installation in that relatively small greenspace.

    I’ve gravitated to work outside at the MSOE library picnic tables across the street and at the beautifully maintained boulevard gardens and public space on E. Kilbourn Ave. east of N. Van Buren Ave. (BTW, why isn’t Kilbourn Ave., constructed with a boulevard, called Kilbourn Boulevard?

    I don’t want to get off topic, but someone clearly agrees with me about the beauty and suitability of O’Donnell Park green space / garden and Plaza for “events” as there are a couple of weddings there each year in the various plaza and garden “rooms”.

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @Gary Of course the concert is part of the draw, but a big part of Jazz in the Park is the social element (incidentally it is also so at Summerfest). The music ends at 9pm but that’s just the start of Thursday night in Milwaukee. It is far more than some music in a park. Living in the neighborhood for, well, ever JIP is just a part of life. Certainly Cathedral Square isn’t a perfectly manicured lawn, but thousands of people come to JIP ever year, and for me the value of a public space is people actually using the space. I’d love to see Cathedral Square become the amazing Square it can be, with some small changes it could be filled with people even more often, and continue to support the thousands of people that come to JIP every year. Hey if somebody wants to try and start up a concert series at O’Donnell Garage more power to them (I’ll go once), but don’t mess with one of Milwaukee’s great draws like Jazz in the Park.

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