PEWAUKEE — St. Mary’s Church at 449 W. Wisconsin Ave. may be eligible for the State and National Register for Historic Places after a Pewaukee resident applied to have the property listed.
“It would be eligible in the area of architecture as a fine example of the Gothic Revival style in Pewaukee,” National Register Coordinator Peggy Veregin wrote in an email. The 161-year-old property has generated much attention since Capri Communities, a senior housing developer, proposed razing St. Mary’s to construct a 200- unit senior living facility.
St. Mary’s is owned by Queen of Apostles, which currently operates a church on Capitol Drive in Pewaukee. Agape Community Church, which rents St. Mary’s, has offered to renovate the church, but would need permission from Queen of Apostles. Queen of Apostles, which once inhabited St. Mary’s, mentions the St. Mary’s Church on their website’s “about page,” calling it a “historic treasure” to their community and adding that while their current church was built in 1999, “its spiritual cornerstone was laid in the mid 1800s.”
St. Mary’s history December 16, 1858 marks the birth of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church parish. The church was donated by Thomas Flanagan and operated at 227 Main St., Pewaukee, according to the “St. Mary’s Centennial,” a document authored by the Pewaukee Historical Society in 1958.
This church was then moved to West Wisconsin Avenue where it was turned sideways and converted into a white pillared home abutting the street adjacent to 449 W. Wisconsin Ave. However, the home, which had several features of the original church, no longer stands.
The present church was born from a second stone church erected on the property in 1868. As the parish grew, the need for a larger church followed. By 1887, all but the sidewalls were torn down to construct the church and belfry as it stands today, except for the side chapel and basement hall.
However, the boiler room is original and many of the stones from the previous church were used in constructing St. Mary’s. The 1,000-pound bell hangs in the belfry 50 feet from the foundation like a sentry overlooking Pewaukee Lake. As it turns out, this bell is both older than the parish and the church.
The bell once occupied parishioner William Caldwell’s home in 1839, a time when Masses were held twice in different languages due to the heavy Irish and German population in Pewaukee. Buildings in Pewaukee with Gothic Revival style architecture mark a shift in the style of buildings that began in the 1870s.
Some log-constructed buildings transitioned to Colonial, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and other architectural styles during this time, according to Book One of “Pewaukee Landmarks, Then and Now,” by Lauretta Larson Weiland and published in 1980. In Weiland’s book, she reminds readers that both citizens and elected officials are responsible for preserving a community’s character.
Weiland also warns that “just because a structure is placed on the National Register of Historical Landmarks, does not mean that it will be preserved, that is up to the community to do so.” Pewaukee resident Jeannette O’Toole is putting together a petition to preserve the church. For more information, email O’Toole at HistoricStMarys@gmail.com