Historic Structures

All Saints' Episcopal Cathedral, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Date added: November 1, 2009 Categories: Wisconsin Church Gothic Revival

All Saints' is one of the nation's earliest Episcopal cathedrals. Gothic Revival in style, it is one of Milwaukee's older surviving churches and an important early work of the architect, Edward Townsend Mix. Noteworthy features of the interior are the stained glass windows, dating largely from the nineteenth century and forming, through the consistency of their compositions and color schemes--dominated by deep, rich hues--an exceptionally harmonious ensemble.

The edifice was built as Olivet Congregational Church, and, according to a contemporary newspaper account, it was acquired by the Milwaukee Episcopal diocese June 1, 1872 for $35,000. Contracts for the construction of Olivet Church were signed on July 16, 1868, and the cornerstone laid on August 27 of that year. Dedication services were held in November of the following year. The Milwaukee Sentinel for November 26, 1869, reports that the church, lots, and organ cost, in all, some $66,000.

Church historian, the Reverend Harold E. Wagner, writes in The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin 1847-1947 that All Saints' history began with the mission established in Milwaukee in 1857 by Bishop Jackson Kemper. Ten years later the parish conveyed its property to Assistant Bishop William E. Armitage who, soon after, reopened it as All Saints' Pro-Cathedral--foretunner, Wagner states, of the first Episcopal cathedral organization in the United States. In 1869 the congregation bought lots on the northwest corner of Division Street (now East Juneau Avenue) and Prospect Avenue and laid the cornerstone of a chapel on All Saints' Day of that year. In 1871 they sold these lots, purchased the old Townsend homestead on Division and Cass streets, moved their chapel and school to the site, and after remodelling and enlarging it, formally reopened the chapel on September 3, 1871. Adjoining All Saints' property on the east was Olivet Congregational Church, dedicated in 1869 and by 1871 an edifice of a congregation burdened by dissension among its members and beset by grave financial problems. Finally obliged to part with their property, the Congregationalists sold the church to All Saints' in 1872. According to Wagner, it was in the same year that the Diocesan Council passed the resolution accepting All Saints' as a cathedral, though it was not until 1877 that a provisional canon was passed and five years later that the cathedral as a diocesan rather than parochial organization "came into being as it is today."

Acquisition of Olivet Church gave All Saints' title to all the property along the north side of Division Street between Marshall and Cass streets, and in 1873 cathedral buildings on Division included the newly acquired church, the chapel and school of 1869-70, and a frame house on the northeast corner of Division and Cass, which served as the rectory and bishop's residence. In the late nineteenth century the chapel and school were razed to allow construction of the present Guild Hall, a Gothic Revival structure built in 1891. The cornerstone from the old chapel was incorporated into this new fabric. Altered and enlarged over the years, the Guild Hall now contains the sacristy, offices, the library, an apartment, Sunday school, choir, meeting, storage rooms, and kitchens. Interestingly, there is a window attributed to Tiffany's firm in the former auditorium-gymnasium room on the second story of the Guild Hall. In 1902 the frame house at Division and Cass streets was moved to a site just behind the cathedral on North Marshall Street and was given a brick veneer and generally refurbished. Named Armitage House, this structure survived until the 1960s, when it was razed to provide parking space. After the frame house was removed the Bishop's House, designed by Kirchoff and Rose, was erected in 1902-03 on the site at Division and Cass Streets. Today this building serves as the diocesan office.

A certificate displayed in the Guild Hall gives the date of All Saints' consecration as November 1, 1898.