John Plankinton (1820-1891) the original owner and builder of the house was not only a pioneer in the development and origins of the City, but a leader in establishing Milwaukee as once the foremost city west of Cincinnati in the meat packing industry. Born in Delaware, he came to Milwaukee in 1842 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Within the same month of his arrival, he had opened an ordinary meat market. By 1849 he added slaughtering and packing to his business and in the following year established a partnership with Frederick Layton known as Layton and Plankinton Company. This business lasted for 10 years, upon which Layton retired and Plankinton continued alone until 1863 when Plankinton and Armour was formed. Phillip D. Armour retired in 1884 and the company was reorganized as John Plankinton and Company with Patrick Cudahy as his partner. In 1888 this firm was dissolved, with the Cudahy Brothers Company succeeding Plankinton and Company.
Elizabeth Anne Plankinton. John's only daughter by his second wife, continued in her father's tradition of philanthropy and was known as the "municipal patroness." Her gifts included the YWCA hotel for women, the bronze statue of George Washington which stands in the court of honor (West Wisconsin Avenue between North 9th and North 11th Streets), and the pipe organ in the Auditorium. She was to have been married to Richard Hamilton Park, the British sculptor of the above, but was deserted in favor of a dancer from Minneapolis. Totally distraught, she completely rejected her wedding gift house and was never to occupy it.
The house was vacant until 1896 when Mrs. Margaret Johnston purchased it for her residence. She was the widow of Hugh L. Johnston of Johnston Bros., a noted local baking and confectioners firm. She died in 1904. In 1910 it was acquired by the Knights to Columbus, Milwaukee-Pere Marquette Council. Founded in 1904 it is the oldest and largest council in the state. It served as their headquarters and club house until 1978.
West Wisconsin Avenue was originally a dirt road named Spring Street after the numerous natural springs which were once found along its length. Until the late 1840's when a high bluff near 8th Street was graded down, the upper and lower street did not connect, and it was necessary to go blocks out of the way to avoid this interruption. In the 1850's James Higson Rogers purchased 160 acres on western Spring Street and subdivided the land for sale. To encourage what he guessed would become a choice residential area for the city's wealthy merchants, Rogers built a $60,000 mansion on 15th and Spring Street. He guessed correctly, and in the 1870's the street was lined with so many imposing mansions that it was considered necessary to give it a more appropriate name. Grand Avenue was chosen and remained the title until March 1, 1927 when it became West Wisconsin Avenue by ordinance of the Common Council.
This home was one of the last surviving mansions that once predominated the former Grand Avenue residential area.