A familiar sight: St. Peter’s Church, 1839

I had a fine day last month walking through our state’s wonderful outdoor living history museum, Old World Wisconsin, where I enjoyed this familiar view:

Photo credit: Reed Perkins, 2022.

There among the trees stood Milwaukee’s old St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, a building that was certainly well-known—at least on the exterior—to our Clark and Turck families.

The church was built in 1839, two years after young Mary Turck arrived in Wisconsin Territory with her parents, Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck and her six siblings, and the same year that Jonathan M. Clark and the Bonniwell family first appeared in the Milwaukee-Mequon area.

A steady presence in a changing landscape

Photo credit: Reed Perkins, 2022

When it was first constructed, St. Peter’s—originally named St. Luke’s—stood out as one of the larger and more significant buildings in the sparsely settled but rapidly growing town of Milwaukee. The 1839 church at the corner of Jackson and Martin (now State) streets served as southeastern Wisconsin’s first cathedral. And for its first few years it may have been surrounded by trees and grass as it is now at Old World Wisconsin.

By the time widowed Mary (Turck) Clark moved with her children to the city of Milwaukee, sometime in 1860 or ’61, St. Peter’s was still there, but no longer dominated the skyline. It had been replaced as the city’s Catholic cathedral by the newer and larger Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, begun in 1847 and completed in 1852.

Neighbors, but probably not visitors

How do we know that this building was part of the Clark and Turck families’ world? I have not seen any written references to St. Peter’s—or any other Milwaukee buildings—in the few family documents that we have from the period. And as devout, 19th-century, protestant Christians it seems unlikely that members of the family ever attended Mass there.

But they couldn’t have missed its exterior, as it was only a few blocks from the 1860s and ’70s residence of Peter Turck and the family of daughter Mary Clark and her children.

Walling, H. F., Map of the City of Milwaukee, 1859, detail showing possible location of Clark-Turck house, 474 Jefferson, in 1861/62. Click to open larger map in new window.

Map Key

  1. Original location of St. Peter’s Church, Martin (now State) and Jackson streets, Milwaukee’s first Roman Catholic church and, subsequently, first cathedral
  2. The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee’s cathedral since 1847
  3. Probable location of Peter Turck’s house at 474 Jefferson Street. From c. 1860/61, Peter Turck shared this house with daughter Mary (Turck) Clark and seven of her eight children (eldest daughter Caroline Clark married William Woodward in May, 1861, and lived with him in the Town of Granville in northern Milwaukee county).
  4. Summerfield Methodist Church was a known place of worship for several Mequon families that had moved to, or frequently visited, Milwaukee, including Rev. James W. Woodworth. And although Peter Turck was known to be a full-immersion Baptist (when not “backsliding”), there is evidence that Mary Clark and her children favored Methodist churches and pastors. I think it’s likely that they worshiped at Summerfield in the 1860s, ’70s and ’80s.
  5. The “Public School” on this map is Milwaukee’s Seventh Ward School. We know that Caroline Clark attended high school here, and I think it’s almost certain that this is where her younger siblings completed their schooling as well. For more on this school, including a link to a photograph of the building that as Clarks knew it, see our post Caroline M. Clark’s classroom & curricula, 1858-1860
  6. Milwaukee Female College was a notable institution in its day, providing post-secondary education to the trailblazing young women of “the West.” Mary Clark’s niece, Josephine Turck (daughter of James B. Turck) attended for two years and was awarded a B.A. there in 1878.

Milwaukee Female College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image from college catalog, 1870, via Ancestry.com, used for limited educational purposes under free-use provisions of U.S. copyright law.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the Clark family’s mid-19th-century neighborhood.

Back soon. See you then.

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