In scouring historic maps and newspaper accounts for clues of the settlement surrounding Fond du Lac Avenue at Walnut Street circa 1850, I stumbled on a church: small, wood frame, labeled “PRESBYT’N CHURCH.1 This small religious institution, the Second Holland Presbyterian Church2, was constructed to serve Milwaukee’s early Dutch settlers, and the origination point of the Fond du Lac plank road was smack dab in the middle of their burgeoning neighborhood. Second Holland Presbyterian was established in 1862 and stood at the corner of Walnut and 13th Streets3 into the early twentieth century.
Significant numbers of Dutch immigrants began arriving in Milwaukee as early as the mid-1840s and 1850s, most settling in cabins on the hillside northwest of the flats along the Milwaukee River.4 The neighborhood that grew here, relatively bounded West Reservoir to the north and Galena in the south between 10th and 18th Streets5, was fondly referred to as Hollandsche berg or “Dutch Hill” by the early settlers.6
The majority of these early Dutch immigrants were Protestant Seceders seeking religious freedom after having broken from the state controlled Reformed Church of the Netherlands. Prior to 1847, these Seceders were subject to fines and other forms of government persecution.7 As such, the church was an important entity amidst the Dutch communities popping up in the newly settled midwest, each forming Dutch-speaking congregations as religious and social centers of the community. An account from the New York Sun published in the Milwaukee Sentinel & Gazette in December 1848 tells of “Hollanders emigrating—Religious persecution continues to drive Christians from Europe to this country. Hollanders…to settlements secured in Wisconsin and Michigan…”8
As such it is no surprise that Dutch Hill was home to at least three congregations established to administer to the religious welfare of the Hollanders. The First Holland Presbyterian Church at 18th and Walnut, later renamed Perseverance Church9, the afore mentioned Second Holland Presbyterian, and the Reformed Holland Church at 10th and Brown.10
Dutch settlement in Milwaukee continued between the mid 1840s and 1890s. However, despite the settlement of Dutch Hill in Milwaukee, the majority of Hollanders arriving in Wisconsin settled permanently in Sheboygan, Fond du Lac, Columbia and La Crosse Counties. In the half century of immigration to Wisconsin, the state was home to the 3rd largest Dutch population in the U.S. behind Michigan and New York.11 While Dutch emigration to Wisconsin began to decline in the 1890s, other states like Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, New York and New Jersey continued to welcome a steady flow of immigrants from the Netherlands.12
1 “Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” 1910. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, 1876-1967-Wisconsin. volume 3, sheet 261.
2 “Religious Calendar, “ Milwaukee Daily Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI), October 13, 1869.
3 Flower, Frank Abial. History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1881), 837
4 Henry S. Lucas. “The first Dutch Settlers in Milwaukee,”Wisconsin Magazine of History: Volume 30, Number 2, December 1946. p. 181.
5 Kathleen Neils Conzen. Immigrant Milwaukee, 1836-1860. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976, pp. 146-147.
6 “Reminscences of Arend Jan Brusse on Early Dutch Settlement in Milwaukee” contributed by Henry S. Lucas. Wisconsin Magazine of History: volume 30, number 1, September 1946. p. 89.
7 “The First Dutch Immigrants in Milwaukee.”
8 “Hollanders Emigrating,” Milwaukee Sentinel & Gazette (Milwaukee, WI) December 12, 1848.
9 “History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin: from pre-historic times…” p. 837
10ibid. p. 942
11 Paul Jakubovich, “Historic Designation Study Report: Van Ells Drug Store” (City of Milwaukee, Department of City Development, Historic Preservation Commission, 2001). p. 8.
12 ibid. p. 9.