St. Paul’s American Protestant Episcopal Church (original title) was officially founded on May 23, 1838, making it the first Episcopal parish in Milwaukee third in Wisconsin.
In the early years the congregation rented the Milwaukee County Court House judicial chambers for Sunday services until the first church was opened in January of 1845 on the northeast corner of Jefferson
and Mason in downtown Milwaukee. This building was expanded in 1856 as the congregation and Milwaukee grew. The congregation remained at that location until September of 1884 when they moved into the current church on the corner of Marshall and Knapp. By 1884 membership exceeded 1,000 people and three services were held each Sunday, with Christian education held on Sunday afternoons.
St. Paul’s was historically a low church in the Episcopal tradition. A significant aspect of St. Paul’s has been a strong music program with a highly regarded Men’s and Boy’s Choir from 1890 to 1956. Today’s choirs continue the music history of the church.
In December of 1950 the church had a significant fire and the chapel, community room and choir rooms were destoryed. The main church had some damage in the altar area that required rebuilding. The chapel that was behind the main structure was not rebuilt and a “Great Hall” with a stage replaced it. A kitchen was added as were more offices on the second level. The restructuring of the church in the early 1950s moved the altar forward away from the back wall and expanded the area by removing some of the pews to create more space for the choir. The organ was moved from its original location. This was an attempt to “modernize” the 1884 design.
In 2011 St. Paul’s installed a new organ locating it in the original altar area. The altar was again moved forward, closer to the congregation. The choir location was changed to the space in front of the organ. With the installation of the new organ additional renovations were made to restore the look of the church to the original 1884 design of E. Townsend Mix, the architect of the current church.
St. Paul’s as a congregation has changed over the years, reflecting the many social and demographic changes of the past 177+ years. The current location of the church reflects the fact that in 1884 most members lived in the neighborhood and walked to church on Sunday. In the early years there was no office for the Rector, but rather people would go to his house for meetings or he would come to their residence. With the advent of the automobile, members began to move further away, mostly to the upper East Side of Milwaukee and by the 1950s the move to the suburbs began to change the nature of the congregation to what today is referred to as an “urban” or “downtown” church.
The series of pictures in the hallway near the Great Hall tell the story of the church by highlighting some of the significant factors that defined St. Paul’s Church. The history of the church and congregation continues to unfold and upcoming activities and practices may also be displayed by future generations.
In celebration of the 175th Anniversary of St. Paul’s Church in 2013, Paul A. Haubrich, PhD, published a thorough and engaging book entitled “A Journey through the History of St. Paul’s Church 1838 to 2013.” Copies are available, inquire with Paul Haubrich or Fr. Brad Toebben, whom history notes to be the 23rd rector of St. Paul’s!