Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Wisconsin Ave. and Northwestern Mutual, 1870s

The company's new headquarters was proof of the city's increasingly cosmopolitan style.

By - Nov 25th, 2015 12:05 pm
Wisconsin Ave. and Northwestern Mutual, 1870s. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Wisconsin Ave. and Northwestern Mutual, 1870s. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

This is a view of the opposite side of Wisconsin St. (now Wisconsin Ave.) from last week’s featured photo. This is the north side of the street, again between N. Water St. and N. Broadway. Look just above the “Diamond Setters” sign in the center. Here you will find the signs for “Photographs” and “E.D Bangs.” E. D. Bangs did the photograph featured in our story last week, probably from the window of his office. Bangs did photography in Milwaukee from the late 1860s to the late 1870s, although this stereoview does not appear to be one of his. His stereoviews are uncommon and many are quite choice.

Another photographer is visible to the right of the Bangs sign. This is the studio of John Hawkins whose name appears in city directories from 1860 until at least the mid 1870s. He first located at this spot in 1866. As we noted last week, this block had many photographers, including Bangs, Hawkins, Lydston & Lydston and Henry Brown, so there must have been plenty of business for photographers at this time.

There are some interesting early buildings in this view. One is built in the Federal style while the building to the left of the Bangs studio has unusual Victorian elements towards the roofline and a very elaborate cornice.

The tall Gothic-revival structure is the Northwestern Mutual insurance building. The company had been founded in Janesville and moved to Milwaukee in 1859, and for some years had offices in the Iron Block Building. The company built this new headquarters in 1870 and with its classic pillars, Gothic window heads, iron balconies and elaborate stone carvings, it was a considered a fine example of the city’s increasingly cosmopolitan style. The company remained here until it built a new and bigger headquarters in 1885 on Broadway and Michigan.

None of the structures in this photo survive today.

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: Wisconsin Ave. and Northwestern Mutual, 1870s”

  1. Here is a link to an 1894 map that shows the buildings’ locations at the time. Note the big “livery” (stable) on the banks of the river at Mason St.

  2. Peter Gordy says:

    The Northwestern Mutual building shown in the photo subsequently had its top floors lopped off, so that only one floor remained above the ground floor. The building remained in this form until it was torn down in the late 1960’s for construction of the 250 East building that now stands on the site. I can remember from my youth–I have just turned 69–that the two-story building housed The London, an establishment that provided shoe repair, leather goods repair, hat blocking (a lost art) and dry cleaning services. After the building’s demolition, The London moved to N. Milwaukee St.,where it remains today.

  3. Richard Prestor says:

    And having been on old photos collector myself years ago, it is fun seeing all the 1860s photographers’ places and learning a bit about them.

    Mr. Beutner; in the photo above, do you have any idea what the curb sign is about, in the photo’s lower left corner, to the left of the barber’s pole? It says, (Hump)ty Dumpty.

    Thanks for sharing !

  4. Tom Miller says:

    I’m looking for a picture of Kitty Williams establishment (43 room brothel) located in downtown Milwaukee. Any idea where I can find one?

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