Historic Structures

Edward Diederich House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Date added: November 8, 2009 Categories: Wisconsin House

Edward Diederichs bought the lot from George C. Wood of Kentucky on October 11, 1852, and was living at this address at the time the Milwaukee City Directory for 1854-55 was compiled. It appears that fire all but destroyed the dwelling in December, 1859. Diederichs had the house rebuilt and was residing there once more by June, 1860.

The house was built for Edward Diederichs c. 1852-54 and rebuilt in 1860. On February 15, 1862, he sold the heavily mortgaged property to Maurice Grashof of New York for $8,200. It changed hands again on March 2, 1864, when Henry Mann bought it from the State Bank of Wisconsin for $10,000, Mann sold to Ethelinda (Mrs. John) Johnston in August, 1895. The home's fifth owner purchased it in 1943.

Three of the home's occupants have been prominent businessmen. A native of Bohemia, Henry Mann (1827-1905) settled in Milwaukee in 1848 and became a wholesale grocer, railroad director, wooden-ware and furniture manufacturer, and land owner. Humboldt Park on Milwaukee's south side was developed on property purchased from Mann by the city in 1892. John Johnston (1836-1904), banker, writer, and philanthropist, came to Milwaukee from Scotland in 1856 to work in the Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Bank owned by his uncle Alexander Mitchell. He remained with the firm until 1893 and during these years also served as an alderman, as president of the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce, as a trustee of the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee and Carroll colleges, and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, and as a director of the Milwaukee Cement Company. He was, further, a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. A published historian, Johnston was elected president of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. He donated the land for Johnston Emergency Hospital and numbered among the founders of Calvary Presbyterian Church. The present owner, Eliot Fitch, is chairman of the board of the Marine National Exchange Bank, president and board chairman of the Marine Corporation, chairman of the board of the Marine Capital Corporation, a director of Northwestern National Insurance Company, Brownberry Ovens, Inc., and the Nordberg Manufacturing Company, past president of the Citizens Government Research Bureau, and a member of the Board of Regents of Marquette University.

A front-page story in the Milwaukee Sentinel for December 5, 1859, reported:
"Saturday evening a fire broke out in the large and handsome mansion of Edward Diederichs, on Franklin Street . . ."
"The firemen, when they arrived on the ground, worked manfully to arrest the progress of destruction; but owing to the strong wind and the combustible nature of the edifice, the most strenuous exertions seemed unavailing to save the building, or indeed the contents, and we were told that the greater part of the furniture was destroyed."

Then, on June 22, 1860, the same paper stated:
"The house of Mr.Diedrichs on Prospect street, which burned last December, is now rebuilt and makes as fine an appearance as ever. It is a unique and handsome structure."

The newspaper accounts leave unanswered questions as to the precise extent of the fire damages (though the implication is that the house was almost demolished) and the degree to which the rebuilt residence depended upon its predecessor for size, plan, and appearance.

Soon after they purchased the residence from Henry Mann in 1895, the Johnstons set about remodelling and enlarging it at a total cost, according to the present owner, of $45,000. They added the second story and rebuilt much of the interior. (A newspaper interview of c. 1920-27 with Mrs. Johnston states that the "... interior was completely changed. A library of noble proportions, a spacious dining room, reception room and household offices replaced the small and more numerous rooms that occupied the first floor.") The present central hall plan and the ceiling height on the main floor seem, however, to predate the Johnston project. Fitch has stated that the majority of the floors, woodwork, and hardware date from the 1890's, as do the broad staircase leading from the hall to second story and the one story alcove on the south wall. So, too, in all probability, does the single-story alcove at the rear. The Johnstons had two fireplaces removed-- one from the northwest room (their library, the present kitchen) and one from the dining room. For the Johnstons, the entrance porch was also altered, a third column having been added to the original pair on each side of the porch. Architect for the project was Rowland Russel of Milwaukee.

Edward Diederich House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Edward Diederich House, Milwaukee Wisconsin