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Nineteenth-Century Landscape in Milwaukee: English Garden Design

Milwaukee’s Anthony Mitchell (1817-1887) became the wealthiest man in Wisconsin according to the census of 1860.

Alexander Mitchell (1817-1887)

Mitchell made his money in banking and the railroad. He also served as a member of Congress.

To showcase his wealth Mitchell built a house on Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue, and remodeled it over a period of years. The house still stands and today is known as the Wisconsin City Club.

Mitchell’s early home in Milwaukee

In 1848 he built a modest brick house between 9th and 10th Streets.

He gradually bought up remaining properties on his block.

In 1858 his house was remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style.

In 1872 he transformed the home once again but this time into the mansion it is today.

He included palm trees and many exotic plants in special conservatories he had built to protect them from the cold Wisconsin winter.

According to Milwaukee historian John Gurda in his book The Making of Milwaukee Mitchell cultivated 9000 plants in the 15,000 square feet he had in his glasshouse. His plants included bananas and pineapples, along with both apricot and fig trees.

English Garden Design

By then the house’s landscape showed clear elements of the English garden design, then popular especially among the wealthy in America. The Gilded Age had arrived so showing off how much money you had became a way of life.

Collecting exotic plants, following the example of the English, also became important in that period of the nineteenth century.

Mitchell’s landscape included an extensive lawn, groups of shrubs, borders of flowers, trees to define and link the property, and a single vase at each of the corners of the fence. [below]

Mitchell’s home in Milwaukee by the mid 1870s with its conservatory in the back, left of the front lawn.

The Mitchell landscape and garden offered Milwaukee an example of the popular design style called the English naturalisic garden. Even a gazebo was part of the scene.

I am sure Milwaukeans were anxious to see the property, and so you had people walking by, on horseback, and in buggies who came to vew Mitchell’s treasured landscape.

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