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Historic Third Ward District - Milwaukee, WI
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member onfire4jesus
N 43° 01.912 W 087° 54.359
16T E 426192 N 4764751
Quick Description: The Historic Third Ward is Milwaukee's oldest center of commerce and warehousing and it was the site of Milwaukee's most devastating fire and a remarkable rebuilding effort. It is Bounded by the Milwaukee River, C and NW RR, St Paul and Jackson Sts
Location: Wisconsin, United States
Date Posted: 12/27/2008 3:13:14 PM
Waymark Code: WM5EBF
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 7

Long Description:
From the Historic Third Ward Association Web Site (visit link) :
"The Historic Third Ward (HTW) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Milwaukee's oldest center of commerce and warehousing and it was the site of Milwaukee's most devastating fire and its most remarkable rebuilding efforts.

In 1892 "The Great Third Ward Fire" devastated sixteen square blocks of Milwaukee's vital, riverfront commerce area. The dollar value of property damage was estimated at $5 million, which is the equivalent of $60 million by today's standards. Reconstruction began almost immediately and within 30 years, the district was rebuilt into the bustling and vital commerce district it had once been. Designed by local well known architects, the neighborhood's buildings have a visual continuity that creates a unique urban expression.

Today the Third Ward is home to over 400 businesses and maintains an unparalleled position within the retail and professional service community as Milwaukee's showcase mixed-use district. The neighborhood's renaissance is anchored by many extraordinary shops, restaurants, art galleries, theatre groups, dance companies, photographers, advertising agencies and graphic artists.


The Third Ward was a relatively flat, swampy area during the early years of Milwaukee. After the land was drained, Irish immigrants settled in the area. Houses covered the east side of the Ward, while factories and warehouses were built along the Milwaukee River. The Ward developed a reputation for colorful fistfights and thus became known as the "Bloody Third."

In 1856, the first railroad linked Milwaukee to the Mississippi River, enabling the wholesalers to supply necessary goods to settlers in the West.

The Ward's Irish settlers suffered two major tragedies. First, the ship Lady Elgin sank when returning from an excursion to Chicago in 1860 with over 300 fatalities, many from the Ward. Then, in the late afternoon on October 28, 1892, tragedy struck the Third Ward. A fire broke out in the Water Street Union Oil & Paint Co. Strong 50 mph winds help to spread the fire to adjacent buildings that also burst into flames. In a short time, the blaze had gone out of control. Cities as far away as Chicago and Oshkosh sent horse-drawn units by rail to help Milwaukee's fire department fight the flames. By midnight, when the fire was finally contained, 440 buildings were destroyed and 1,900 people, mostly Irish immigrant laborers and their families, were left homeless.

Soon after the 1892 fire, prominent local architects stepped in to design many of the commercial structures. Construction continued over the next 36 years and because of this relatively short span of development, the buildings exhibit an interesting continuity that unifies the neighborhood.

During this period of reconstruction, Italian immigrants replaced the Irish, who had moved to a new area of the city. The Italians became active in the warehouse businesses, establishing the grocery commission houses that come to be known as Commission Row. In 1915, there were 45 Italian groceries, 29 Italian saloons, two spaghetti factories and an Italian bank in the Ward. Once again grocery warehouses, manufacturers, liquor distributors and dry goods businesses prospered.

Following the Great Depression and World War II, the trucking industry boom and the growth of suburbs contributed to the decline of warehouse operations and light industry. Then in the 1960s, highway construction displaced the close-knit Italian Third Ward community. Milwaukee 's first architectural landmark was named in 1967, the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Catholic Church. Later that same year, the church was demolished, also for freeway construction.
During the late 1970's, business owners joined together to successfully combat a proposed "red light" district in the neighborhood. Their dedication and spirit helped renew interest in the district's potential commercial viability and entrepreneurs began to renovate the dilapidated buildings. This, in turn, attracted residents and new types of businesses.

In 1984, the National Register of Historic Places accepted 70 buildings spanning approximately 10 square blocks as "The Historic Third Ward District." Along with the designation came economic development and promotional efforts by the Historic Third Ward Association, attracting attention to the area. Local government, private investors and historic preservationists have all helped to bring about the ongoing progress of the district.

The HTWA made an effort to stop the City from removing the Buffalo Street Bridge and unfortunately lost the battle. Losing the bridge eliminated a valuable access point to the Ward. Because of its geographical location, the Ward is somewhat isolated from downtown; however, it has helped to maintain a unique atmosphere within the district."
Street address:
Bounded by the Milwaukee River, C and NW RR, and E. St. Paul and N. Jackson Sts
Milwaukee, WI USA

County / Borough / Parish: Milwaukee

Year listed: 1984

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Event, Architecture/Engineering: Style: Late Victorian

Periods of significance: 1875-1899, 1900-1924, 1925-1949

Historic function: Commerce/Trade: Restaurant, Warehouse

Current function: Commerce/Trade: Business, Warehouse

Privately owned?: yes

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Hours of operation: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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Recent Visits/Logs:
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