Christmas Day Trips: Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion and the Pabst Mansion

We went to a couple of festive places this past week. The first was the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion on Lake Monona, and the other was the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee.

My daughter and a good friend were the first people through the holiday display at the Governor’s mansion. ( It was a bright freezing day in the teens Fahrenheit, and we walked briskly up to the front door as soon as the gate was opened. I pulled the door open, stuck my head in, and asked if we could come in because it was freezing outside!

The governor’s mansion was conservatively decorated. There was a tree in the dining room with ornaments from each county and another in the room next to it where the state’s First Lady Jessica Doyle was shaking hands. I was a bit surprised to be at the head of the receiving line—the poor woman had to introduce herself! There were a couple of trees in the living room area covered with Wisconsin products ornaments , another In the den/library, and then one in a sun room on the way out with ornaments representing nonprofit groups. It was a nice bright house, and it really felt like a family home in an upscale residential neighborhood with some extra big public rooms for entertaining.

There were nice lake views from every room on that side of the house. I saw geese, ducks, and a pair of big white swans feeding in the water. It could have been any wealthy person’s home on a nice lakeside, estate-size lot. (I can’t believe the incoming Governor is talking about selling it! Where are we going to entertain visitors to our state—in a well-insulated Morton pole shed or some tacky hotel banquet room?)I’m a museum and historical site nut. The Pabst Mansion was grand! ( This is one mansion I’ve always wanted to visit during the Christmas season. They had the music room filled with a collection of nutcrackers, and there were Christmas trees decorated like the family had enjoyed them during the early part of the twentieth century—totally covered with tinsel and old ornaments. One of the upstairs bedrooms had one of the neatest doll houses I’ve seen, complete with an attic full of bedsprings and trunks and a cellar with a boiler room and an old guy cracking crabs on newspaper for dinner! It had been the bedroom of a granddaughter they adopted and raised.

The Pabst family had the mansion built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style. Capt. Frederick Pabst only lived there for four or five years before his death in 1904. The family sold the mansion in 1908 to the  archdiocese of Milwaukee. The new owners painted most of the wood and fancy plastered ceilings above the first floor WHITE. They did leave the woodwork on the main floor alone, and the original colors and fixtures are still in place on the upper floors, though under several layers of paint. The upper floors are not totally renovated because a lot of the donations and grant money have been put into conserving the foundation and exterior of the building. The main floor rooms and the stairwells and the main hall on the second floor are all finished, and the master suite is the next area in line for attention.

One of the best things about the house was the guy who had it built: Capt. Frederick Pabst. You can judge rich people by how well they treat the servants. The servant dining room and butler’s pantry were much nicer than even than those I’ve seen in a Vanderbilt mansion. Frederick Pabst was by all accounts a really decent, generous, and kind human being.  What greater legacy can we leave behind than a good name and reputation? Begonia

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