Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record

400-402 N WATER ST

Architecture and History Inventory
400-402 N WATER ST | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Other Name:
Reference Number:16118
Location (Address):400-402 N WATER ST
Unincorporated Community:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
Year Built:1853
Survey Date:1980
Historic Use:hotel/motel
Architectural Style:Italianate
Structural System:
Wall Material:Brick
Architect:Palmer and Bingham
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished Date:1980
National/State Register Listing Name:
National Register Listing Date:
State Register Listing Date:
National Register Multiple Property Name:
Additional Information:A 'site file' exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the State Historical Society, Division of Historic Preservation.

OWNERS according to a Zimmerman article in the Sept. 13, 1970 edition of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL:
--Baily Stimson (1853-63), Hotel.
--Wm. S. Amos (1863-65), Hotel.
--N.A. Hawks (1865-69), Hotel.
--Geo. Sisson (1869-?), Hotel.
Other sources (found in bibliographic references) state:
--Various owners (until 1875), Hotel.
--Various owners (1875-present), Business establishments.

Was the oldest remaining building on the oldest street in Milwaukee prior to 1980. The painted-over Cream City brick exterior, with stone window sills and lintels, belies the handsome original appearance of the structure. A fourth story was removed in the 1870s, when the building began to lean to the south. The land on which it was built was marsh, also causing it to sink five feet since 1853. A drawing of the hotel (from Zimmermann; no historical source or date) shows the building with four stories, a projecting cornice, multiple panes in the windows, an iron balcony above the first story, large windows on the first floor Water Street facade, and the SW corner of the building. The most interesting remaining detail was a curved limestone slab over the second story window, with the words "B. Stimson, July 4, 1853" chiseled into it.

The Cross Keys Hotel was the last of the historic Water Street inns. When it was built, Water Street was the major commercial thoroughfare of the city, and was lined on both sides with wholesale houses and business establishments. Inns and hostelries were built to accommodate salesmen and travelers in this flourishing center of commercial activity.

The Cross Keys Hotel replaced an earlier Cross Keys Tavern (c. 1843) on the same site, also owned and operated by Baily Stimson. The following is excerpted from Zimmermann's article on the history of the hotel:
"In 1863, after its founder's death, the building was renamed the American House by its new owner, William S. Amos. Only two years passed when Amos withdrew and the doors were closed...The American House was reopened in July, 1865, by a highly experienced and respected innkeeper, N.A Hawks, the son of one of Milwaukee's first and finest hotel men. Hawks brought to the operation a new name, Juneau House, and a style of management which was to make his regime the most illustrious in the hotel's history... The best early description of the Juneau House survives in this MILWAUKEE SENTINEL account of its opening; 'He (Hawks) has fitted up this house in a manner which shows his good taste... We took the trouble to examine his house yesterday from the kitchen to the attic and found every room newly and neatly furnished. The office, reading room, saloon and barbershop are on the ground floor; parlours and dining room on the second; and the third and fourth are neatly furnished for sleeping apartments...' Hawks' stay, while successful, was short-lived. By June 1869, he was gone and the hotel's name was changed again, this time to the Russell House. The new owner, George Sisson, formerly of the Weddell and Angier Houses of Cleveland, Ohio, then 'thoroughly overhauled and renovated' the building... Under the last name, management changed many times until the building finally ceased to be a hotel. From that time until its demolition, it has been occupied by various business establishments."
City directories show no listing for the Russell House or for a hotel at that address after 1875. Fire insurance maps for 1876 and 1888 confirm that by that time the first floor had been partitioned into offices. In the early twentieth century, a banana case company and a tobacco company, among others, occupied the building.

The building has suffered four fires in its history: 1865, 1892, 1923, and most recently in 1979. After the 1923 fire, which completely gutted the structure destroying all windows, doors, and casings, the interior was almost completely rebuilt. In 1967-68, the building narrowly escaped demolition due to freeway construction. Because of potential damage from pile driving, rod braces were added and four front windows were bricked up. The 1979 fire damage damaged the building beyond repair.

Besides the significance of its individual history, the Cross Keys Hotel was also significant to the character of what is called the Lower Third Ward warehouse district.
Bibliographic References:BUILT IN MILWAUKEE, LANDSCAPE RESEARCH, P. 76. Zimmermann, H., Russell, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL, Sept. 13, 1970. Milwaukee Journal, November 25, 1954 Milwaukee Sentinel, March 17, 1853 Milwaukee Sentinel, September 3, 1853 Rascher's Insurance Map, 1876. Sanborn Insurance Map, 1888. Milwaukee City Directories, 1872-1878; 1926.
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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