How the historic Mitchell Mansion from the 1800s turned into today's elite Wisconsin Club

NOW: How the historic Mitchell Mansion from the 1800s turned into today’s elite Wisconsin Club

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- One of the oldest architectural treasures in Milwaukee still stands where it was built in the 1800s, providing a hub for today's local elites.

If you live in Milwaukee, it's likely you've passed by it. The estate's rich history remains intact even after years of remodeling and changing ownership.

"It began as a modest, you know, brick house," explained Jordan Hoffmeier, the current clubhouse manager.

The white, European-style estate surrounded by an iron fence, is anything but modest.

The Wisconsin Club is located between 9th Street and Wisconsin Ave., but back then it was Spring Street and that would later become Grand Avenue--where the wealthiest local families lived.

"The Mitchell mansion was built in 1848, (as a) matter of fact, it was when Wisconsin became a state as well," Hoffmeier added.

The mansion was owned by Alexander Mitchell, an immigrant from Scotland.

"(He) ended up being one of the wealthiest people in Wisconsin," Hoffmeier said.

In the 1870s Mitchell became a member of Congress, and by 1876 Mitchell controlled the banking and insurance industry in Milwaukee.

"He eventually was the president of the Milwaukee Railroad Company, which actually became one of the biggest railroad companies in the United States," Hoffmeier explained.

Mitchell made another architectural impact on the city with the Mitchell Building, which still stands today in downtown Milwaukee. Mitchell consolidated his ventures in railroads, the grain trade, and banking under one roof.

"Over time, his wealth would grow, his house would grow," recounted Hoffmeier. "He bought out his neighbors houses and would demolish them to have virtually the whole block."

His fortune was said to have been over $20 million at the time.

Mitchell's house underwent some changes between 1848 to around 1870, and in 1872 he hired a well-known Milwaukee architect: Edward Townsend Mix to transform the home into the elegant French Second Empire-Style mansion it is today.

"About a 15,000 square foot glass building attached for his wife's plant collection, she had about 9,000 plants...there was a stream, there was palm trees, there was fruit bushes," Hoffmeier added.

Expansions were made, including the addition of bay windows, the dining room known as the 'Library' and the Belvedere--a one and a half story wooden structure built for the purpose of viewing their extensive gardens.

"The main entrance, the tile there is original, the south lounge is as well…the walls in this room were all imported from Europe, they're all hand stamped and brought over so that's still original, the staircase in the east entry was all hand carved by a single craftsman, took him seven years," Hoffmeier said.

Twenty-four lions' heads were carved in the grand, elaborate mahogany woodwork- because rumor had it, it was Mitchell's favorite animal.

"Alexander Mitchell died in 1887…he died suddenly of pneumonia," Hoffmeier said. "Martha, his wife, actually, they had a home in Florida, she spent most of her time there."

In 1891, a new social group called the 'Deutscher Club' was created to welcome German American immigrants in Milwaukee. Their hub, which was at what we now know to be the Pabst Theater, was destroyed after a fire broke out.

"They were looking to move, they were either going to get rid of the club because they weren't fully, you know, financially stable, or find a new place," Hoffmeier added.

By 1898 an offer to purchase the mansion for $165,000 was made and accepted by Martha. In 1917, it officially became the elite Wisconsin Club.

More than a century later, the home still stands with some of its original stained glass, tile and marble interior decor.

"We have technically 11 solid standalone rooms," Hoffmeier said.

In the North Lounge lies the 'Persian Room,' otherwise known as the 'Smoking Room,' and the 'Roosevelt Room,' a private library study that once housed Mitchell's personal collection of more than 2,000 volumes of books. In the South Lounge, there's the 'Oriental Ladies Room.'

The Deutscher Club converted the conservatory into a dining room. They added a grand ballroom, with an adjacent dining room to host members and their wives. A bowling alley was also built, but later became a casual sports bar in 1994.

"I do believe we have the best food in town, we host the best events, whether it's weddings, company parties," added Hoffmeier.

Hoffmeier said they have close to a thousand members, mostly in their mid-60s. Over the years, the mansion has entertained famous guests including Presidents Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Wisconsin Club has also become an official RNC partner venue for the 2024 summer.

"I think it's just a grateful thing that we have a building like this still standing in Milwaukee," Hoffmeier said.

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