Milwaukee County Historical Society: Museum Edition

In the movie Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the Banks' children take a day excursion to the bank to see what Father does for a living.  They pass the old woman on the steps of Saint Paul's selling her "bags full of crumbs" and asking passers by to "feed the birds, tuppence a bag."  They hurry on their way, following Father to the prestigious bank, and are dazzled when they get there.

Today, banks are mediocre at best when it comes to appearance, and I haven't felt dazzled by any banks.  Mostly I've been dazed by credit card offers with "low" interest rates, high finance charges, and tired service, and corporate carpeting.

Obviously when I decided to go visit the Milwaukee County Historical Society's museum on Old World Third Street I was not expecting it to be housed inside a beautiful bank.

Which is across the street from the Journal (not pretty) and next to Pere Marquette Park (pretty), where the Milwaukee Riverwalk Cruises pick up.

So back to the dazzling.  The museum of the Milwaukee County Historical Society is housed in the Second Ward Savings Bank which was completed in 1913 by architects Charles Kirchhoff and Thomas L. Rose.  The vault doors weigh 22 tons each.  The building was donated to the Historical Society in 1965, entered to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and went through some renovations six years ago to bring the building back to its former dazzling glory.  

You'll be dazzled if you go visit this beautiful building in person, but I'll try to show you the dazzle with my amateur photos....  Ready?

This conference room was furnished in 1967 by the HIstorical Society in memory of Albert Elser, the president of the bank in 1928, and Alfred Elser, a member of the board of directors.

These letters are from the "Welcome Milwaukee Visitors" sign that was on City Hall.

The mission statement of the Historical Society references a need to preserve local history, and I think this building is a big part of that.  Upstairs is the Harry H. Anderson Research Library where you can access naturalization records until 1944, county and city directories, jail registers until 1964, incorporation records until 1960, census records, manuscript collections, and in a vault are thousands of marked and unmarked photos from Milwaukee past.  

In the basement vault are oil paintings of the men who facilitated the building of the Harley plant alongside  a lego model of City Hall among other historical items the museum has once had on display.

I enjoyed my time here, mostly because it was something new and different to do for a short afternoon.  I was the only visitor there so I was able to meander instead of being herded by a crowd.  It's not an overwhelming museum, there's not too much to see, but the building makes up for it.

(For this article, I referenced pamphlets distributed at the museum, as well as the Milwaukee County HIstorical Society website and blog.)