on November 3, 2012
Anyone visiting Milwaukee is probably aware of the rich German history which includes a tradition of old world breweries and beer. No name is quite as synonymous with this history as that of Frederick Pabst. Ironically, Captain Pabst did not come to Milwaukee to pursue a dream of beer making; rather, he came here from Chicago to follow love after meeting Maria Best, daughter of Jacob Best - the founder of Best and Company (brewery) of Milwaukee.Having arrived to America from Germany with his family in 1848, Captain Pabst became one of the most known and best ship captains to navigate Lake Michigan out of his then home city of Chicago. This was how he met the lovely Miss Best in 1860; they married in 1862 and two years later, he left his life's work as a ship's captain to buy half interest in his father-in-law's brewery. In 1889 the brewery was renamed Pabst Brewing Company and remained operational in Milwaukee until they ended production in 1996. Today the production of their most well known brand "Pabst Blue Ribbon" beer has been contracted out along with the company's other brands which include Stroh's, Schlitz, Colt 45 and Old Milwaukee.Frederick Pabst began construction on his dream Victorian home in 1890. It was completed in 1892 and while the family lived in the home, it became largely known as the place where the Pabst's entertained and celebrated. The remarkable detail that went into every inch of this hand crafted mansion is really beyond description as words simply do not do it justice. Unfortunately, photos are not permitted inside the mansion, so my attempt with words will have to do. One of the first things I realized during our 90 minute tour was the ornate craftsmanship that went into everything from the gorgeous wood doors and cabinets to the detail in the hand painted ceilings and wall coverings. No two rooms were the same and yet each blended gracefully into the next. The other thing that caught my attention was the effort Capt. Pabst made to bring his German heritage home to Milwaukee. From the beautiful paintings to the German proverbs painted into the inlay of his study, reminders of Pabst's Germany could be found throughout the mansion.With the passing of Capt. Pabst in 1904 and his wife in 1906, their children sold much of the furnishings as well as the home in 1908. Serving as the home of Milwaukee's Archbishop until 1975, many modernizations were done to include updates to the plumbing and electrical systems. The mansion was nearly demolished in order to make room for a parking lot adjacent to land acquired for a hotel. After three years, however, a public conservation group was successful in saving the Pabst Mansion and acquiring it to begin the restorative process . . . one that continues today more than 30 years later.During the guided tour, a knowledgeable docent takes visitors throughout the first two floors of the mansion. Each of the rooms on the first floor were toured, with stories told about how the rooms were used and the historical significance of furnishing, artwork and other features. Today many of these rooms appear exactly as they did when Frederick & Maria lived here, thanks in large measure to the number of photos from that period which were used to help with the restoration. Additionally while many of the furnishings had been sold at auction in the early 1900's, a lot of those items have been donated back to the Pabst Mansion or found and repurchased at antique shops or estate sales around the area. One notable piece was found sitting in a Milwaukee Public Library. When it was recognized as having been original to the Pabst Mansion, curators inquired and the piece was donated back.Bedrooms and many bathrooms are located on the second and third floors of the mansion. Our tour included those rooms on the second floor only, including two that are currently undergoing restoration. To see the "before" and "after" photos of the painstakingly tedious work that goes into recreating the precise look of a hand painted ceiling gives visitors a real appreciation for the time and money necessary to bring the Pabst history alive again.As we worked our way back downstairs, we passed the elevator that Capt. Pabst had installed. In failing health, he knew it would not be long before he could no longer climb the stairs to his sleeping chamber. Unfortunately the elevator was not fully completed before his death in 1904. Once completed, the elevator was later used by servants to move laundry and other things.Speaking of the servants, there were around 10 to 15 people who served Capt. Pabst and his family; some of whom lived here in the mansion. During our tour, we got to see a little of the portion of the house where servants lived as well as their dining area. In what would be considered the kitchen area, I loved seeing the beautifully Blue Delft tiled walls. Captain Pabst used the tiles in this room as a reminder of his original Dutch ancestry. (It was the 16th century when the first Pabst moved to Germany.)At a cost of $250,000 in 1892, or roughly $32 million at today's dollar, no detail or convenience was spared. One such example is the carriage arrival hall. Built on the west wing of the house, a separate entrance was constructed so that the fine ladies and gentlemen arriving by horse drawn carriage would not have to step out into snow or rain. The covered entrance allowed guests to step from their carriage (and later automobiles) to the steps leading up and into the mansion's foyer.Another interesting feature of the mansion property is the 1895 addition of the exposition pavilion built for the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago. Capt. Pabst had it designed especially for the event and afterwards had it dismantled piece by piece to be reassembled adjacent to his mansion in Milwaukee. Today this building is open to the public and serves as where visitors first arrive for tours as well as a rather extensive gift shop. Of particular note inside this building are the stain glass windows.I took pages of copious notes during our tour and the truth is now I still find the words incomplete in trying to tell the full story of all that we saw inside the Pabst Mansion. I highly recommend this tour to any visitor to Milwaukee interested in our German culture and the influence that this famous beer family had on this city.For details on their tour offerings and schedule, check out their website: http://www.pabstmansion.com . Additionally, on the website they do a nice job of presenting more about the Pabst family, the mansion and the current restoration efforts (including photos). Please check it out!
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