Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion At 125

Museum celebrates home's 125th anniversary. Open for tours since 1978.

By - Aug 2nd, 2017 03:23 pm
Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion

Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion

In July, 1892, after two years of planning and construction, Captain Frederick Pabst and his wife, Maria Best Pabst, moved into their new Flemish Renaissance residence at what was then 2000 Grand Avenue.

The 56-year old brewer and his 50 year old wife had been married for 30 years when they moved into their $254,000 mansion.

On Saturday, July 29th, 2017, the mansion celebrated its 125th anniversary with a picnic held on the grounds. Since 1978, the home, which narrowly avoided demolition for the construction of a parking lot, has been operated as a museum.

“During the years of the Pabst family’s ownership, the house was the scene of many fine parties, receptions, a wedding, and in the end, Captain and Mrs. Pabst’s funerals,” writes historian John C. Eastberg in a history of the home.

Pabst died on New Year’s Day, 1904, and his wife followed him to Forest Home Cemetery after her death on October 3rd, 1906. By 1908, with its sale to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where it was to serve as the residence of five bishops over 67 years, the home was removed from the tax rolls.

In the nearly forty years that the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion has been open to the public, the operators had to balance accessibility to the public with the never-ending demands of maintaining an aged property. Although the home was in fine shape, thanks to having never been converted into a rooming house (or worse), its mechanical systems were archaic, its air conditioning non-existent, and its roof porous.

Eastberg, who is Executive Director of Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, Inc., has engaged in a non-stop program of keeping up with the needs of the structure by engaging in campaigns to restore, repair and replace certain rooms, as well as to endow their future maintenance.

A current plan calls for work to be done in Elspeth’s Room, which was occupied by the Pabsts’ orphaned granddaughter, raised by the couple as their own child.

The work will entail repairing original woodwork and recreating lost paneling. Silk wall coverings would be reproduced using the original pattern, period-appropriate furniture is to be located, and stenciled borders are to be recreated in Elspeth’s bath and dressing room. The total budget, including a $40,000 endowment, is $380,000. More information can be found here.

Eastberg and the board are expected to announce other initiatives to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the home, said Cecilia Gilbert, a board member who attended the picnic on Saturday. The house was filled with visitors, and Gilbert noted a number of them were from Chicago, here in town to watch a baseball game between the Brewers and the Cubs.

A polka band added an appropriate touch to the gathering, reminiscent of the beer gardens that Pabst and other brewers ran in the past. A genuine descendant of the Blue Ribbon dynasty was on hand in the form of James Pabst, the board secretary, who affably greeted visitors and spoke on-camera to a television reporter doing a segment for WISN. The “remote” was then broadcast from the station, which is located immediately to the north of the mansion, where its satellite dishes provide a discordant note to the old building that was built before the age of radio.

June Moberly, Cecilia Gilbert and James Pabst. Photo by Michael Horne.

June Moberly, Cecilia Gilbert and James Pabst. Photo by Michael Horne.

Pabst posed for a photo with Gilbert and June Moberly, the retired Executive Director of the Avenues West Association, and mansion board member.

The Pabst Mansion includes a “musicians’ nook” on the first floor, and a “trumpet tower” on the staircase landing, a grand piano (with two stools for duets) and an old mechanical music box on display in a hall. This is how 19th century millionaires took care of their musical needs.

Eastberg, the historian and executive director, kept up an active pace during the event, strolling the grounds and greeting visitors. The major draw of the building, as in the case of nearly any grand house mansion, lies in the overwhelming ornateness of the public rooms, laden as they are with paneling, marquetry, decorative plaster and $60,000 silk wall coverings that need to be replaced every century and a quarter. Here is a home where you have to go through a small vestibule and its adjacent large vestibule just to get into the place.

Eastberg balances the tour experience with a look at the “rear of the house” rooms where the numerous laundresses, maids, cooks, bakers, servers and other domestics labored under the direction of the butler. You can see rooms within rooms where dough was set to rise, and pies set to cool. You can also see the safe where the cooled pies were locked up, away from hungry laundresses, maids, cooks, bakers, servers and other domestics.

The original ice box is in place, although one of the bishops got around to electrifying it some years ago. Eastberg has located some period crockery from the stores of the era, including Steinmeyer’s Grocery, where the German elite shopped. You can also see where the laundry was hung to dry, and the back stairs which the servants used on their rounds.

The home tour was guided by a number of volunteers, including restaurateur Gary Strothmann, who greeted folks at the door. For many, the best room in the house is Captain Pabst’s study, which is located at the porte cochere entrance. Pabst liked to keep an eye on things at his home as well as his plant, where his office projected over Juneau Avenue. The wood-panelled room with its hidden cigar humidor and secret movable panels was described by the guide as a “late nineteenth century man cave.”

This one’s for you, Captain Pabst!

The Pabst Mansion is open for its regular season through November 17th. The mansion is decorated for the holidays.

Tour Information

Adult tickets are $12. Tickets are available here.

Regular Season

January 12, 2017 – November 17, 2017

Guided Tours Only – last tour of the day at 3:00 p.m.

On these docent-led tours visitors will see the first through third floors and learn about the Pabst Mansion and family. Tours are 75 minutes-long, and visitors must go on a guided tour to see the museum. Reservations are not accepted for groups with fewer than 15 people.  Tours are first come first serve.


Monday – Saturday: Guided Tours start at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00

Sunday: Guided tours start at 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00

Photos from the Event

One thought on “Plenty of Horne: Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion At 125”

  1. June Moberly says:

    Thanks for the wonderful article about the Pabst Mansion! Our board of directors is both enthusiastic and dedicated to preserving this fabulous piece of Milwaukee’s history for all to enjoy. It was fun seeing a large number of them doing just that at the Open House Anniversary Celebration!

    June Moberly

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