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Milwaukee's oldest house reopened

The Kilbourntown house, built in 1844 by Benjamin Church, is open for public tours on the weekends.

The Kilbourntown house, built in 1844 by Benjamin Church, is open for public tours on the weekends.

July 16, 2014

Shorewood — The oldest house in Milwaukee will be open to the public again this year.

The Kilbourntown house in Estabrook Park opened for weekend hours starting on Saturday, July 5. The white house was built in 1844 by Benjamin Church, a carpenter. Originally located on Fourth Street between Cherry and Galena streets, the house was moved in 1938 to Estabrook Park as part of a Works Progress Administration project.

Kilbourntown house was last open to the public in 2012. The house was closed last year because the Milwaukee County Historical Society and Friends of Estabrook Park were unable to find funds for an attendant. This year, Friends of Estabrook Park is providing funds for a college student to tend to the house on weekends.

Church, a carpenter from New York, was one of the first settlers of Milwaukee, along with Solomon Juneau, Byron Kilbourn and George Walker, said Milwaukee County Historical Society archivist Kevin Abing. After coming to Milwaukee in 1835, he built what became the original Republican Hotel on 3rd Street and Kilbourn Avenue. Church was also involved in local politics, Abing said.

An example of Greek revival architecture, the building also features a unique method of insulation, constructed with a brick core and covered with wood siding.

"In early Milwaukee I can't imagine there were too many buildings like this," Abing said.

After Church passed away in 1887, the building changed ownership several times before falling into tax delinquency and city ownership in the 1930s, Abing said. The building was going to be razed, but it was preserved by the joint efforts of the Milwaukee County Park Commission and the National Society of the Colonial Dames in Wisconsin.

In 1970, the building and its entire contents were severely damaged by fire. Private funds made it possible to restore and refurnish the house to reflect the 1844-64 time period. The National Society of the Colonial Dames in Wisconsin was instrumental in outfitting the home with a collection of mid-nineteenth century furniture and decorative artwork. The roof was also reshingled last year, thanks to the efforts of Shorewood residents Mary Kamps and Diane Buck.

The house will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

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