Historic Structures

St. Paul's Episcopal Church and Parish House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Date added: November 21, 2009 Categories: Wisconsin Church

The second church built for Milwaukee's pioneer Episcopal congregation (organized in 1838), St. Paul's is the city's outstanding Richardsonian Romanesque church and is further distinguished by a splendid collection of stained-glass windows.

Early in 1882 the building committee of St. Paul's vestry invited five prominent architectural firms to submit designs for the new church to be built at Knapp and Marshall streets. At a meeting of the vestry on May 13 the competition was resolved in favor of Milwaukee's E. T. Mix and Co., and the contract with Mix was approved on June 24. Excavations for the foundation commenced in the autumn of 1882. Ceremonies on June 19, 1884, marked the laying of the cornerstone, and on October 12, 1884, the first services were held in the still-unfinished church. Construction of the chapel was completed in 1884-85, of the southwest tower in 1888-89, and of the two-story parish house adjoining St. Paul's on the northeast in 1890. Consecration services, signalling completion of the building and payment of all debts, were held on November 11, 1891. The cost of the church, including lots and furnishings, had come to $229,613.22. During the period of major construction various minor alterations and repairs had been carried out--among them, pointing in 1886, repairs to the roof and addition of a wooden partition with double door in the southeast tower vestibule in 1887, raising the chancel floor in 1888-89, construction of a doorway into the chapel basement (north end, west elevation) and stone carving on the Marshall Street (west) elevation--both in 1890.

Through the years St. Paul's has received innumerable gifts of fine furnishings and art objects. A particular treasure, acquired in 1957, is an early sixteenth century Flemish tapestry, representing the betrothal of Mary of Burgundy, which hangs in the east transept (morning chapel).

St. Paul's Church is Richardsonian Romanesque in style. The exterior was based on a published project by Richardson, an unexecuted design for Trinity Church, Buffalo, which appeared in the Architectural Sketch Book for July 1873. At least one detail of the exterior as originally planned was drawn from yet another Richardson church: the angel frieze on the southwest tower closely resembles that on the tower of the Brattle Square Church in Boston. When completed, St. Paul's tower incorporated only the four corner angels from this design. The extent to which the interior was also dependent upon Richardson has not yet been ascertained, although it should be noted that the original color scheme, dominated by deep reds and golds, with accents of rich blue and green, was similar to that of Richardson's Trinity Church in Boston. The original interior was unlike the present one in several respects: The transepts were open to the nave; the chancel had a different form and was more elaborately furnished and ornamented. The nave arcade consisted of polished red granite columns of varying diameters with yellow sandstone bases and foliate capitals (a scheme consistent with the granite Romanesque-derived colonettes flanking the entries and the columns ornamenting the west porch of the exterior); the walls and furnishings presented a variety of colors, with red and golden tones predominating and echoing the exterior color scheme.

The depth (north-south) of church and great hall (formerly chapel) is 177 feet, with the one-story parish house wing of 1951-52 on the northeast extending an additional 21 feet to the north. Width of the church at the nave is 67 feet, at the transepts 96 feet; and the total width on Knapp street of church and parish house is 128 feet. The nave ceiling is reportedly 67 feet high at the ridge.