A Step Back in Time...Into the Pabst Mansion
Stepping into Our Neighborhood’s Past: The Pabst Mansion
We are proud of our unique neighborhood and as part of our anniversary, we are going to highlight some of our more noteworthy neighbors including the Pabst Mansion located at 2000 Wisconsin Avenue.
Captain Pabst was born on March 28, 1836 in the small town of Nicholausreith, Saxony, Germany. In 1848, at the age of twelve, his parents, Fredericka and Gottlieb Pabst, made the momentous decision to immigrate to the United States and settled in Chicago. At the age of 14, young Frederick signed on as a cabin boy on a Great Lakes steamer and by the age of 21, he had become a Captain. That is why, until the day he died, he always retained the title of Captain. Captain Pabst’s vessels regularly traveled the western shores of Lake Michigan between Chicago, Milwaukee and Manitowoc. It was while he was the Captain of a side-wheeler christened Comet, he found his future wife, Miss Maria Best. Maria, born on May 16, 1842, was the eldest daughter of Phillip Best, a brewer from Milwaukee. After a two year courtship the two were married in Milwaukee on March 25, 1862. Two years later Captain Pabst took his father-in-law’s offer to buy a half-interest in the Phillip Best Brewing Company, Milwaukee’s oldest brewery in operation since 1844.
When Captain Pabst assumed control of the brewery annual output increased from 7,000 barrels in 1860 to more than 100,000 barrels by 1873. Then it grew even more to produce more than 1,000,000 barrels by 1893 - placing it first among the nation’s breweries. However, by 1902 Schlitz had surpassed the 1,000,000 barrel output and it remained the nation’s leading brewery (with Pabst in second place) until Prohibition.
When Captain Frederick and Maria Pabst began construction of their new family mansion in June 1890, they could not have anticipated that it would survive and thrive into the twenty-first century as a testament to America’s Gilded Age. Designed by George Bowman Ferry and Alfred Charles Clas, construction at 2000 Grand Avenue (Now Wisconsin Ave) lasted for two years and was completed in July of 1892 at a cost of just over $254,000 -- including the house, furnishings and artwork. (Also worth noting is that in 1895 the family opened the elegant Pabst Theater on Wells Street in Milwaukee another noteworthy landmark in Milwaukee that still hosts many events each year.)
As leading figures in Milwaukee society, both Captain and Mrs. Pabst became consummate art collectors, filling their mansion with priceless treasures. During the years of the Pabst family’s ownership, the house was the scene of many fine parties and receptions, a wedding and, in the end, Captain Pabst’s funeral in 1904 and Mrs. Pabst’s funeral in 1906. After the Pabst descendants sold the house in 1908, it became the archbishop’s residence and the center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee for more than sixty-seven years. When it was sold in 1975, the mansion was nearly torn down to make way for a parking lot for a neighboring hotel. However, after a three-year crusade for its preservation, it was spared demolition and went on to become an award-winning house museum. The Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 21, 1975. It has been open to the public since 1978 and is truly is a remarkable place deserving of a visit while you are in our neighborhood.
For more information on tours of the Pabst Mansion please visit https://www.pabstmansion.com/
Special thanks to Pabst Mansion Exeuctive Director John Eastberg and Ellen Langil and Dave Jen authors of “The Greater Milwaukee Story” for help in putting this post together.