Heights, a neighborhood which advertises itself as "In the
City -- Out of the Ordinary!" lies along Milwaukee's
western border. Now only minutes from downtown and close to all
the amenities of urban living, this location was once considered
quite remote from the city.
Development of the area began in 1838 when the Federal
government gave a parcel of land to the State of Wisconsin. The
land was intended to be used for a canal connecting the Rock
River to Lake Michigan, but that venture soon failed, and the
land was sold to private investors.
In 1839, roughly two-thirds of what is now known as Washington
Heights was purchased by George Dousman and turned into a huge
farm. In addition to farming, the Dousman family founded the
Ne-Ska-Ra Mineral Springs Company which sold bottled water from
a spring on their property. Today an elementary school named
Neeskara occupies the land where the spring flowed. The Dousman
land was resold in several parcels between the 1880's and the
Early settlement of the area owed much to two major 19th Century
projects -- the extension of the streetcar lines to Wauwatosa
and the construction of Washington Park. The park, designed by
Frederick Law Olmstead, architect of New York City's Central
Park, was opened in 1892. It soon proved a major recreational
haven for the entire urban area, drawing people to its lagoon,
band shell, deer garden and, eventually, to its zoo.
In the same year that Washington Park opened, a new streetcar
line running along Lloyd Street (then called Pabst Avenue) was
extended west to the Pabst farms in the Town of Wauwatosa. With
this line in place, the land just west of Washington Park became
an easy commute from downtown Milwaukee, and developers saw the
possibilities for new housing subdivisions in the area.
A building boom began shortly thereafter, and by 1930 more than
95% of Washington Heights' homes were completed. Many who built
in the new subdivisions were of German heritage, and most were
middle-class Milwaukeeans moving from older parts of the city. A
few, though, were industrial pioneers who built large and
impressive homes along Hi Mount and Washington Boulevards. Many
of their names are still familiar in Milwaukee: William Harley;
Arthur and William Davidson; lumberman Alfred Steinman and his
wife Emma, the daughter of brewer Adam Gettelman; and Theodore
Trecker, founder of toolmaker Kearney & Trecker, who built a
17 room mansion at 1735 N. Hi Mount Blvd.
The building boom also saw the construction of six religious
buildings, three parochial schools and two public elementary
schools. St. Sebastian's Catholic congregation was formed in
1911, and construction of their church at 55th and Washington
Boulevard began in 1912. In 1923, the Mt. Olive Lutheran
congregation moved to its new church on Washington Boulevard,
and in 1925, the St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church was built
on 60th Street. Two other Lutheran churches, St. Thomas and
Washington Park, also built churches in the 1920's. In 1923,
Milwaukee's first conservative Jewish synagogue, Beth El, was
built in Washington Heights.
Whether middle-class or upper-class, the early residents of
Washington Heights demanded quality construction in their homes
and public buildings. Stucco or brick construction was common;
interior appointments showed careful attention to detail. That
original concern for quality continues, attracting people who
appreciate an established neighborhood with historic homes.