If you’ve ever been to the East Side of Milwaukee, chances are you’ve seen the name DOWNER on street signs and business marquees.
It’s the namesake of an influential judge, Jason Downer, who was an affluent Milwaukee resident in the 1870s. A Vermont native, Downer moved to Milwaukee and worked as an attorney, a newspaper editor, and eventually a judge. The mansion was originally intended to be a church; in fact, the foundation had already been built, but congregation leaders abandoned the plans in favor of purchasing an already existing church.
That’s when Downer swooped in and built his home atop the foundation.
For years, he and his wife lived in the house — with a stunning view of the lakefront — until their deaths. Then, the mansion was converted to a rest home for the elderly, among other uses.
And after years of restoration, the mansion today is home to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s library, a hub for research and archiving.