Washington Heights, a neighborhood which advertises itself as "In the City -- Out of the Ordinary!" lies along Milwaukee's western border. Now only minutes from downtown and close to all the amenities of urban living, this location was once considered quite remote from the city.

Development of the area began in 1838 when the Federal government gave a parcel of land to the State of Wisconsin. The land was intended to be used for a canal connecting the Rock River to Lake Michigan, but that venture soon failed, and the land was sold to private investors.

In 1839, roughly two-thirds of what is now known as Washington Heights was purchased by George Dousman and turned into a huge farm. In addition to farming, the Dousman family founded the Ne-Ska-Ra Mineral Springs Company which sold bottled water from a spring on their property. Today an elementary school named Neeskara occupies the land where the spring flowed. The Dousman land was resold in several parcels between the 1880's and the 1920's.

Early settlement of the area owed much to two major 19th Century projects -- the extension of the streetcar lines to Wauwatosa and the construction of Washington Park. The park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, architect of New York City's Central Park, was opened in 1892. It soon proved a major recreational haven for the entire urban area, drawing people to its lagoon, band shell, deer garden and, eventually, to its zoo.

In the same year that Washington Park opened, a new streetcar line running along Lloyd Street (then called Pabst Avenue) was extended west to the Pabst farms in the Town of Wauwatosa. With this line in place, the land just west of Washington Park became an easy commute from downtown Milwaukee, and developers saw the possibilities for new housing subdivisions in the area.

A building boom began shortly thereafter, and by 1930 more than 95% of Washington Heights' homes were completed. Many who built in the new subdivisions were of German heritage, and most were middle-class Milwaukeeans moving from older parts of the city. A few, though, were industrial pioneers who built large and impressive homes along Hi Mount and Washington Boulevards. Many of their names are still familiar in Milwaukee: William Harley; Arthur and William Davidson; lumberman Alfred Steinman and his wife Emma, the daughter of brewer Adam Gettelman; and Theodore Trecker, founder of toolmaker Kearney & Trecker, who built a 17 room mansion at 1735 N. Hi Mount Blvd.

The building boom also saw the construction of six religious buildings, three parochial schools and two public elementary schools. St. Sebastian's Catholic congregation was formed in 1911, and construction of their church at 55th and Washington Boulevard began in 1912. In 1923, the Mt. Olive Lutheran congregation moved to its new church on Washington Boulevard, and in 1925, the St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church was built on 60th Street. Two other Lutheran churches, St. Thomas and Washington Park, also built churches in the 1920's. In 1923, Milwaukee's first conservative Jewish synagogue, Beth El, was built in Washington Heights.

Whether middle-class or upper-class, the early residents of Washington Heights demanded quality construction in their homes and public buildings. Stucco or brick construction was common; interior appointments showed careful attention to detail. That original concern for quality continues, attracting people who appreciate an established neighborhood with historic homes.

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