Benjamin Church House
A Family Heritage

Read Milwaukee
Book Review

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National Register

of Historic
1966 to 1994


. Benjamin Church, a young carpenter from New York, arrived in  Milwaukee in 1835, when Wisconsin was still a territory. 

A Greek Revival home that he built for his family in 1844 was rescued and moved to Estabrook Park in Shorewood in 1938, and in 1972 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Benjamin Church House photographs here are by Barbara Bradley Petura.

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Americans Interpret
the Parthenon: The
Progression of Greek
Revival Architecture
from the East Coast to Oregon, 1800-1860


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The Making of

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of Milwaukee


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Cream City
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of Milwaukee's Past

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a review
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The house today serves as an intimate museum of life in the mid-1850s in pioneer Milwaukee.  The furnishings and home equipment are true to that era. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America helped furnish the house with period pieces.

Operated by the Milwaukee County Historical Society, the museum is open to visitors in the summer. Admission is free.

Benjamin Church was born in 1807 in or near New Paltz, Ulster County, New York, and came west via Chicago. He settled  on the west side of the Milwaukee River in Kilbourntown, one of three towns merged to become Milwaukee in 1846. As a consequence, the house is known as the Benjamin Church House and as the Kilbourntown House.

A pioneer carpenter and master builder, Benjamin helped build hotels, houses and more for the rapidly growing city. He brought the Greek Revival style from his native New York.

He and his wife Permilia had six children including the eldest Ann Maria "Hannah" Church who married Sherman A. Bradley. Their son Jesse Charles Bradley was born in the Church house.

Benjamin and Permilia's youngest son John Church married Margaret Legarde Gunyon. Their descendants were still living in the greater Milwaukee area until the year 2000.

Benjamin Church held a number of offices in the west or second ward of early day Milwaukee. He was a Mason as was Byron Kilbourn and they were members of Milwaukee's Old Settlers Club.

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Please check for the current summer's hours here.

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Photographs of the Benjamin Church House were taken with permission of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, following the Society's guidelines for photographers. The photos may not be used without permission.

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About the Benjamin Church House   [ Top ]

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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee
County Historical Society.
Benjamin Church gained his place in history thanks to the distinctive Greek Revival home that he built on Fourth Street between Cherry and Galena Streets on the west side of the Milwaukee River in Kilbourtown. This section of early Milwaukee was founded by Bryon Kilbourn, a developer born in Connecticut.

Here are resources about the house, now a museum. See more on the page about Benjamin Church that also details his ancestors and his family.

Greek Revival Style in architecture connected the democracy of early Greece with the democracy of the new American nation. It spread west  through New York to Midwest America and beyond.

Benjamin Church House in Historic American Building Survey: with four architectural drawings from 1933 survey -- including interior floor plan and exterior details -- plus a photo prior to its rescue. Shows the bedroom wings on each side of the house also visible in this photo.

As the second oldest structure still standing in Milwaukee in 1938, the Benjamin Church House drew the attention of the Milwaukee County Historical Society and the City Council for restoration as a landmark.

The eleventh-hour rescue of the Benjamin Church homestead, its full restoration, the key role of the insulating bricks stamped J.A.M. 1844, the move to Estabrook Park and the pageant are detailed on pages 80-83 of Frederic Heath's article in the December 1947 issue of the  Wisconsin Magazine of History. Photo [plate] shows its Greek temple style.

Remember When? the Kilbourntown House was the Benjamin Church House, located on Fourth, on a hill above a tamarack swamp in early day Milwaukee? Large photo of the house in 1937, before its rescue.

Remember When? Benjamin Church House:  a large photo from the Milwaukee Journal when the house was relocated in 1938, with brief details on the history of the house after it left Church family ownership.

The restored house was dedicated September 14, 1939, with Frederic Heath as emcee. A fantasy pageant by Myrtyl Ross was performed.

The Kilbourntown House was featured at the Wisconsin Historical Society 1943 convention in Milwaukee. The history tour for members included a visit to the restored Benjamin Church House, with a reception hosted by the Colonial Dames in period garb. A photo shows Frederic Heath with two members of the Colonial Dames near the fireplace during the tour.

On the National Register of Historic Places:  recognized for its Greek Revival architecture, the Benjamin Church House of Milwaukee was added to the national register in 1972. See all of Milwaukee County's Registered Historic Places.

Kilbourntown House: one of three pioneer houses operated today by the Milwaukee County Historical Society, with details on visiting times. The alternative name for the house comes from the name of Byron Kilbourn's early town on the west side of the Milwaukee River.

Being a Church House Docent:  Aaron Stockham, a Marquette University history graduate student, describes leading tours at the Church House and the pleasure adults and children alike experience there.

A July 2007 visit to the Benjamin Church House, with a brief depiction of the Milwaukee pioneer era when the Greek Revival house was built.

Benjamin Church House on Wikipedia with details on its owners, the Church and Binzel families. Written by Barbara Bradley Petura. Article is also at Answers.com with photo showing front and bedroom wing.

Church or Kilbourntown House: due to its distinctive Greek Temple style and its hand-hewn timbers and local bricks dated to 1844, the house was rescued in 1938. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America helped furnish the house with period pieces.

The Benjamin Church House, dusted with snow, was on the cover of a 1954-1955 issue of Wisconsin Magazine of History. The  Kilbourntown House name was applied on September 14, 1939, a cover note says.

Called by some the Little White Museum House, the Kilbourntown or Church House rescue and reopening took the combined efforts of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, the Milwaukee Parks Commission and the Colonial Dames of Wisconsin. Driving directions given. The portico has Doric columns. Compare Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders.

Benjamin Church Residence 1844: current photo of the house in Estabrook Park, with note on use of cream city bricks in its construction, with a larger photo as well. The house is included on lists of important structures in Milwaukee architecture and historic Milwaukee.

Estabrook Park experienced significant development in the 1930s, the same decade that saw the arrival of the Benjamin Church House there.

Historical markers in Estabrook Park include the Benjamin Church House as it is known on the National Register] and Kilbourntown House, the same historic structure, as it is known on Milwaukee Landmarks list.

Map of original location of the Benjamin Church House on Fourth Street at Court Street, between Cherry and Galena streets, and map of south entrance to Estabrook Park off Capitol Drive. Go north a short way on Estabrook Parkway to the historic house and parking. Check hours.

Thanks to neighbors who spotted the roof problems and led fund raising, the house got a new roof in 2012 [see photo]. Which entity is responsible for house maintenance is unclear, but the Milwaukee County Historical Society helped raise the funds. Donate here.

Benjamin Church (1807-1887)   [ Top ]

Benjamin Church, from New Paltz, New York, lived in the West Ward or Second Ward on the west side of the Milwaukee River, 1840 Census and 1850 Census records show. See his family of five in 1850 on a transcribed census page.

Benjamin Church, builder, living on Fourth Street in Ward 2, listed in the Milwaukee City Directory 1848-49.

Benjamin Church, a builder, on Fourth between Cherry and Galena, 1858 Milwaukee Directory

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History of New Paltz,
New York, and Its
Old Families from
1678 to 1820

Benjamin was a member of Milwaukee Chapter 1 of the Masons, along with Byron Kilbourn, the founder of Kilbourntown west of the Milwaukee River. Church was aligned politically with Kilbourn.

By the 1880 US Census, Benjamin was retired and living with his son John Church and John's wife Maggie who was born in England.

In an 1881 listing, Benjamin was an Old Settlers Club member, having arrived in Milwaukee before January 1, 1843. His dates: Born July 23, 1807, Ulster County. NY. Came to Milwaukee November 15, 1835.

Wisconsin Name Index: click to search the index for a listing of the biographical sketch of Benjamin Church prepared by the Federal Writers Project (Wis.) between 1935-1942.

Benjamin F. Church died November 29, 1887, and was interred on  December 1, 1887, in the family plot in Section 16 of Milwaukee's historic Forest Home Cemetery.

Founding of Milwaukee   [ Top ]

Solomon Juneau: French-Canadian fur trader who founded Juneautown on the east side of the Milwaukee River, an area merged into Milwaukee in 1846

Byron Kilbourn: Connecticut native and developer who founded Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River, merged into Milwaukee in 1846

George H. Walker:  In 1835 founded Walker's Point on the south side of town, merged into Milwaukee in 1846

Milwaukee's Competing Founders: a brief look at the early days of the city plus the return Byron Kilbourn's remains to Milwaukee

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Then and Now

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