Ludington Building, 1885
On the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Water, center of a booming downtown.
The intersection of Wisconsin and Water in downtown Milwaukee was a popular subject for 19th century photographers as it always was full of activity. This is a stereoview (c. 1885) by famed photographer H.H. Bennett, whose career is discussed here. This view is looking west and a bit north, towards the bridge crossing the Milwaukee River.
This photo offers a fine view of the building in the center – the Ludington Block – which also happens to be the oldest one in the photo. It was the property of Harrison Ludington, who emigrated to Milwaukee from New York in 1838. Two years earlier, at age 24, he became a joint owner of a merchandising business with his uncle, Lewis Ludington. In Milwaukee, this business was conducted out of Solomon Juneau‘s warehouse between years 1839–1851. Harrison Ludington went on to become a very prosperous lumberman and developer. In later years he would discover politics, serving as a Milwaukee alderman, then as mayor of Milwaukee from 1871 to 1872 and again from 1873 to 1876, when he resigned to serve a two-year term as governor (1876-1888).
The corner where the Ludington Block building was located has had quite a history. It was the site of city founder Solomon Juneau’s original cabin and trading post. The Ludington building was built in 1851, lasted four decades, and was replaced by the 14-story Pabst Building, Milwaukee’s first skyscraper, in 1892. That building stood for about 90 years and was demolished in 1981, to be replaced (in 1989) by the 100 East Wisconsin building.
In the 1860s the Ludington building had an interesting tenant on the lower level. This was the Melms’ Beer Hall. Proprietor Charles Melms also was the owner of Milwaukee’s largest brewery at that time, the Melms Brewery. Today there’s a kind of beer hall in the basement of the 100 East building, John Hawk’s Pub.
Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.