Happy 100++ Year Birthday
By Cynthia Sommer
For those who appreciate, respect and maintain the character of houses with hardwood floors, stained glass and leaded windows, high ornate ceilings, plaster walls, built-in wood cabinetry, stained natural woodwork, unique architecture and more, the age of their house is a matter of pride and enjoyment.
There are almost a dozen houses in Murray Hill that were built from 1873-1889 and thus have reached the significant ages of 125-141 years. People in Europe would be amused by our perception of “this old house” but we need to take into historical perspective that our area was created just a few generations after the Civil War (ended 1865), statehood (Wisconsin-1848) and Milwaukee establishment as a City (1846).
The driving force for growth and movement north of the city was the rapid rise in the population of Milwaukee, going from 71,440 in 1870 to 285,315 in 1900 to 457,147 in 1920. Many residents are aware of the age of their individual house through publicly available City property records but they may not be aware of trends in our area. Greater than 70% of the houses (excluding apartments, businesses and churches) in Murray Hill are 100 years of age or older. Even the TV commentator, Willard Scott, would have difficulty in recognizing each and every one of these significant and interesting places that many owners cherish.
If we look at the pattern of homes built before 1900, we see the logical progression of development from south to north with an occasional outlier of some early farmhouses. The clustering of homes around Cramer and Murray were impacted by the streetcar route that ran by 1882 along Murray to Park Place and still more growth occurred further north as the route was extended in 1889 to Oakland Avenue. The establishment of St. Peter & Paul’s Church in 1885 also impacted the early growth; 1893 parish records “lists 19 members”, The building of the Sisters of Charity hospital at Northpoint in 1858 (now Columbia-St. Mary Hospital), establishment of Lake Park in 1890, the development of homes along Prospect and Northpoint further influenced the building of homes along Prospect and Stowell in Murray Hill in those early years. The availability in 1888 of the interurban train that took residents to the Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort for a sunny Sunday afternoon excursion was an added bonus to residents in the area. The slower start of new housing in the 1880-90’s was followed by a rapid building boom such that the majority of the houses south of Kenwood were built before 1915 and thus are at least 100 years of age. Most houses north of Kenwood Blvd., on Newberry Boulevard and Downer Avenue were built in the 1920’s.
Not only is the age but the quality of many of these homes is noted through their listing in the Wisconsin National Registry of Historic Places. Several of these early pre-1900 houses are fine examples of Queen Anne, High Victorian Italianate Cream City brick and clapboard houses. You may find it interesting to check your home for potential listing and descriptions in the state historic registry.
Milwaukee residents interested in researching the history of their home might consider registering for the popular House History Program offered this May by the Milwaukee Public Library Central Library Humanities Department (www.mpl.org). If you just want to check the age of neighboring houses in Murray Hill, click here for the tabulation of City Property Data for the year that structures were built on North Murray Hill addresses and here for tabulated East Murray Hill addresses.
While older homes may not be for everyone, they still deserve much admiration for the skills and care of the individuals that built them and the sense of place created by the lives of the families who live within their walls. We hope our and future generations will continue this respect for quality older homes.