Milwaukee County Historical Center

Also known as: Second Ward Savings Bank, First Wisconsin National Bank Second Ward Branch
910 N. 3rd St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

A two-story, wedge-shaped, monumental stone structure of a neo-classic design erected in 1913.


Southest Corner

The wedge-shape of the building fits on the unusual wedge-shaped property. The elegance of the rounded corner is fitting with the elegance of the structure.

Note the sidewalk clock. It was moved here as part of the historical nature of the building.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning




"Erected for the Second Ward Savings Bank in 1911-13, and since 1965 it has served as headquarters of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. This graceful structure is a fine example of the neo-classical revival. It is a two-story, monumental stone structure of a neo-classic design erected in 1913. The building is wedge shaped with the southeast corner rounded.

"The building has walls of dressed buff Bedford limestone set in ashlar construction and resting upon a visible base course of Burre granite. The giant order of fluted Ionic columns set upon base blocks are executed in Bedford limestone. Between some of the bays, there are squared pilasters. The are nine defined bays on the east fašade, nine on the west, one on the north and five on the south. The southeast corner of the building is rounded.

"The projecting cornice line is capped by a stone balustraded parapet. The richly moulded window trim is executed in cast iron. An abundant growth of ivy [formerly] clings to the grayish-brown walls."

~From the HABS/HAER Report of August 25, 1969

The Milwaukee County Historical Center 

Written by J.R. Manning

The Milwaukee County Historical Society was founded in 1935. The organization was set up in an unused, and unfinished, area in the county courthouse. By the 1960s, "Grandma's Attic" was full.

The building was constructed between 1911-1913 and opened on February 3, 1913 as the Second Ward Bank. In 1928, the Second Ward Bank merged with the First Wisconsin National Bank and it became the Second Ward Branch of the First Wisconsin.

In the mid 1960s, the First Wisconsin Bank, which was the largest bank in Wisconsin at that time, had excess real estate in the downtown area it wanted to liquidate. The Second Ward Branch was part of that excess. After turning down several offers on this very valuable piece of real estate, in April 1965 the bank donated the building to Milwaukee County. The Historical Society took possession a few weeks later and the society opened the building in October 1965 as the Milwaukee Country Historical Center.

The building was built to convey strength and security. The interior is finished in black and white marble, and it has six vaults that offer perfect conditions for the storage of artifacts.

The building underwent a five year, multi-million dollar renovation that wrapped up late in 2010.

In 2008, the building returned to its roots as the first floor was returned to the appearance of a bank. The bank was "robbed" by Johnny Depp, as John Dillinger, in the making of the 2009 film Public Enemies.

The Historical Society operates other museum sites, the Lowell Damon House, the Kilbourntown House (also known as the Benjamin Church House) the Jeremiah Curtin House and Trimborn Farm.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on March 14, 1973
Reference number
Architectural styles
Victorian: Renaissance; Other architectural type; French Renaissance
Areas of significance
Commerce; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Financial institution
Current functions
Museum; Library
Period of significance
Significant years
1911; 1913

Update Log 

  • June 28, 2011: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • June 27, 2011: Updated by J.R. Manning: Added Description and Updated Status