Historic Structures

Jason Downer House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Date added: November 9, 2009 Categories: Wisconsin House

Designed by a highly skilled local architect for a well known Milwaukee attorney, this ninety five-year old former residence is an appealing, relatively well preserved example of the Victorian Gothic style. Its last know use was office space.

Originally a single-family residence, the building was erected for Jason M. Downer, and after his death on September 1, 1883, belonged to his widow Alcy Eliza Miner Downer. On her death it passed, in 1889, to Immanuel Presbyterian Church of Milwaukee and in accordance with the terms of Mrs. Downer's will was used as a rest home and guest house for Protestant clergymen. Early in 1966 Immanuel Presbyterian Church sold the home to James V. Welch, a Milwaukee land developer. Documents on file at Records and Research, 509 City Hall, identify the structure's owner of record since February, 1966, as the corporation named above.

Located on property that once belonged to All Saints' Episcopal Church, the Downer house stands near the eastern edge of an area just north and east of downtown Milwaukee that was, one hundred years ago, a prosperous residential neighborhood, (A Milwaukee Sentinel story of March 27, 1875, described it as "the most sightly and valuable part of the residential population.") Milwaukeeans had begun building homes in the region, once called Yankee Hill, as early as the 1830's, but the finest houses were those erected during the period 1865-90, many of them, like Downer's, designed by E. T. Mix, who built his own residence here In the late 1860's, Today, most of the mansions are gone, replaced by apartment and office buildings, hotels, parking lots, and the like, and of the survivors, which number less than thirty, the majority have been converted into apartment and rooming houses, clubs, shops, and offices and, in the process, have been significantly altered. Downer's house, though no longer a residence, has seen fewer changes than most of its contemporaries and survives in reasonably good condition.

A native of Vermont, Jason M. Downer (1813-1883) studied law in Louisville, Kentucky, and in the early 1840's established what soon became a highly successful law practice in Milwaukee. In 1845 he served as proprietor and editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel; from 1864 to 1867 he was a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and during 1869-70 served as a circuit judge. Keenly interested in higher education for women. Downer was a benefactor of the Wisconsin Female College at Fox Lake and from 1866 to 1871 was president of the school's board of trustees. Both he and his widow left generous bequests to the institution, which later transferred operations to Milwaukee Downer College (since 1964 Downer College for Women at Lawrence University in Appleton).

Jason Downer House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Jason Downer House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Jason Downer House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Jason Downer House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Jason Downer House, Milwaukee Wisconsin