Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Water Street in 1880

Looking south from Wisconsin, this was a prime business district dominated by Victorian buildings from the 1850s.

By - Jun 30th, 2015 01:31 pm
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee
Water Street in 1880. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Water Street in 1880. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

When H.H. Bennett first began photographing his stereoviews of Milwaukee he focused on the most built-up areas of the city, especially downtown and east of the Milwaukee River, where the Iversen store that sold his views was located. This view (circa 1880) was taken exactly one block south of the store, and shows us Water St, just south of Wisconsin St. (now avenue) and looking south.

At the time this was prime property in the busiest area of the city. Notice the beautiful Victorian structures in the foreground. These were built in the 1850s and have very fine period detailing. One of these does survive today, an addition to the Bank of Milwaukee building located at the northeast corner of Water and Michigan. Across the street from it is the building that steals the show: the Mitchell Building which also housed Alexander Mitchell’s bank. This building, of course, still stands today, with its exterior remarkably intact.

Notice the abundance of advertising signs especially the transparent silk banners suspended over the street. They advertise the Goodyear Rubber Co. (in the years before automobile tires) and Goldsmith Carpets (whose warehouse was destroyed in an 1888 fire).

The horse-drawn streetcars on Water St. would see a lot of use as this line would lead to the Union Depot, the city’s primary train station that was located on 2nd St. south of the Milwaukee River.

Keep in mind that the Mitchell Building was only a few years old when this photograph was taken. It had been completed in 1876, with a design by noted local architect Edward Townsend Mix and was located on land where it is believed Solomon Juneau once had a residence. The Mitchell Building was the most magnificent building Milwaukee had ever seen.

Bennett would photograph many of the newest buildings during his years here.

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

3 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Water Street in 1880”

  1. mbradleyc says:


  2. Tom D says:

    Does anybody have any idea what material sidewalks used back then? (Today’s view of Broadway looking north from Wisconsin Avenue shows sidewalks better than this photo, but that page doesn’t allow comments.)

    Was concrete being used by then for sidewalks? If so, why wasn’t it being used for streets instead of bricks or cobblestones?

  3. Pepi says:

    The Goodyear Rubber Company location on East Water Street (listed as 382-384 East Water in 1913) was the site of a tragic fire on October 26, 1913 that killed at least eight Milwaukee fireman, and injured at least 19 people. I always wondered where it was located. It appears from the photo that it was in the area that is now a parking lot for the Public Market (SE corner of Clybourn and Water?), but interestingly, I don’t see the Button Block building which was built in 1892. Even if the Goodyear Rubber Company was located N of the Button Block building (it’s hard to tell from the photo where the Goodyear banner is really located) I still don’t see the Button Block building’s distinctive roof line. Am I missing something?

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us