Chapman’s Biggest Department Store
The third Chapman's store was built in 1885 and would remain in business nearly a century.
As our story last week noted, the second T.A. Chapman department store, built in 1873 at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, was a great success. But in 1884, a fire destroyed his dry goods emporium, and Chapman would quickly rebuild, creating a new store that would open in a quick six months, in 1885.
This store was taller and longer than the second one, which in turn was larger than the first one, which had been located on Water St. next to the Iron Block Building. Although the exterior of the third store would suffer from various remodeling over the years, this is the same Chapman’s that survived until the early 1980s when it was demolished to make way for the 411 Building. Though this third store lacked some of the character of the second one, it was still an impressive structure.
Chapman would soon find rivals for his business. Espenhain’s Dry Goods had already opened a department store at 4th and Wisconsin in 1879, which would last until the early 1930s, and in 1887 the first Gimbels store would open just a few blocks to the west of Chapman’s and would last exactly 100 years, until 1987. Its end was preceded by that of Chapman’s, which closed in 1981. The two closings ended a long era in Milwaukee’s retailing history.
The Site Today
Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.