Joseph Vilas Jr., House

Also known as: Vilas-Rahr House, Rahr West Art Museum
610-616 N. 8th St., Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Built for the Vilas family, it was the home of the Rahr family until 1941 when it was donated to the City of Manitowoc to be used as an art museum


Overview Looking Northwest

The 13 room Queen Anne style home now serves the City of Manitowoc as an art museum.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in April 2013



Street View 


This beautiful, 13 room Queen Anne home was designed by George Ferry and Alfred Clas of Milwaukee for Joseph and Mary Vilas, prominent citizens of Manitowoc.

The Rahr-West Museum and Sputnik IV Comes to Manitowoc 

Written by J.R. Manning

This magnificent Queen Anne home was built for John Vilas, Jr., a prominent citizen of Manitowoc in the late 19th Century. Vilas was a successful merchant and served as mayor of Manitowoc in two terms. Vilas died in 1905 and the house stood empty for several years until it was purchased by Reinhardt Rahr in 1910.

Reinhardt Rahr was secretary and treasurer of the William Rahr's Sons Company, makers of malting for the brewing industry and brewers of Rahr's Beer. The enterprise was started by William Rahr in 1847. Reinhardt Rahr was also a founder of the State Bank of Manitowoc in 1920. He suffered an unexpected death in October, 1921. Rahr also served one term as mayor of Manitowoc, the city's youngest mayor serving at the age of 27.

The 13-room house was designed by Ferry and Clas just prior to their design of the Frederick Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, home of beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst.

The home was donated to the City of Manitowoc in 1941 by Rahr's widow, for use as a museum.

The museum gained some national notoriety on September 4, 1962 when a 20 pound chunk of Sputnik IV, a USSR satellite, landed in the middle of 8th Street, right in front of the museum. A bronze ring in the pavement marks the spot where officers Ronald Rusboldt and Marvin Bausch found the debris at 4:30 AM. Sputnik IV had been launched in 1960 but the Soviets lost control of the satellite and it went into an elliptical orbit, control was never re-established. The orbit deteriorated until Sputnik IV re-entered the atmosphere, and most of it burned up on reentry. Another piece was found on a nearby church roof, but after an exhaustive search, no other debris was ever found. A replica of the chunk is on display in the museum, the original pieces were returned to the Soviet Union.

The Rahr family sold the malting business to Anheuser-Busch in 1962. Anheuser-Busch painted a large mural of two Budweiser cans and one Budweiser bottle on the grain elevators downtown, that have become a local landmark. Anheuser-Busch sold the property to Riverland AG in 2011. Riverland was going to remove the mural, but local outrage prompted them to leave the mural in place.

In 2004, William Rahr's great-great-grandson and namesake, Frederick William "Fritz" Rahr, Jr., founded the Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. in Fort Worth, Texas.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on April 29, 1977
Reference number
NR name
Vilas, Joseph, Jr., House
Architectural styles
Victorian: Queen Anne; Victorian: Shingle Style
Areas of significance
Commerce; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction; B - Person
Property type
Historic functions
Single dwelling; Animal facility
Current functions
Museum; Theater
Period of significance
Significant years
1891; 1893
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 2
Non-contributing buildings: 1


19th Century (38,050)
Brick (42,466)
Built 1891 (685)
Built during 1890s (7,675)
Ferry & Clas (26)
Have Street View (49,332)
Manitowoc County, Wisconsin (30)
Manitowoc, Wisconsin (5)
Museum (134)
Queen Anne (5,137)
Shingle Style (578)
Theater (3,317)
Victorian (19,703)
Wisconsin (2,627)

Update Log 

  • July 18, 2013: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status and Added Photos
  • June 8, 2013: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • December 27, 2011: New Street View added by Bill Eichelberger