The Milwaukee County Historical Society was founded in 1935 to collect, preserve, and make available materials relating to the history of the MKE community.
This elaborately detailed neoclassical revival structure was completed in 1913 after two years of construction for the Second Ward Savings Bank on the corner of West Kilbourn Avenue and North Third Street. An early financial institution, the bank was reorganized in 1866, eleven years after its incorporation. Among its board members were the famous brewers, Phillip Best, Valentine Blatz, and Joseph Schlitz which led to its moniker, the “Brewers’ Bank.”
Purchased by the First Wisconsin National Bank in 1928, a long tradition of banking service continued in this “temple of commerce” for another 37 years. In 1965, the bank turned the building over to Milwaukee County specifically for use by the Milwaukee County Historical Society as a center for the study of local history and a headquarters for the activities of the Society.
The building’s architecture is in the French Renaissance style. The entire interior finish is black and white Paranozzo Italian marble. There are six massive vaults located in the basement, main floor and mezzanine levels of the building that never fail to generate awe and amazement. The one located in the south end of the building has a door and vestibule weighing 27 ½ tons, while the door and frame of the safe deposit vault in the basement weighs 42 ½ tons.
The total cost of the structure was $400,000, a very substantial amount for that time. The largest single expenditure of $75,000 was for the doors, frames and other fixtures for the six vaults. Over 600 pilings, each a foot in diameter, were needed to carry the immense weight of this huge building.
In addition to being a City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County Landmark, the Milwaukee County Historical Center has also been listed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places.
In it's current iteration as the home of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, the building holds a museum the Harry H. Anderson Research Library, preserving Milwaukee County history through photographs, records, and artifacts.
The Research Library of the Milwaukee County Historical Society has a wide variety of information about the history of the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. As the official repository for Milwaukee County, the MCHS research library contains more than 10,500 cubic feet of records from various county agencies such as naturalization records, civil court records, coroner’s inquests, marriage applications, jail registers and probate records. In addition, the library contains more than 3,000 separate manuscript collections from various businesses, organizations and families/individuals – some of whom are among Milwaukee’s earliest settlers. The photograph collection is also housed in the research library and includes more than one million photographs.
Whether you are researching your family history or have an interest in a particular part of our local history, our collections may have the information you are looking for. The key to getting the most out of your trip is to come prepared, keep good notes and ask for help. All materials are for reference use in the library only and may not be checked out.
Cover image source: phonephotography_wp on Instagram