The Faries-Rood-Yale tower house at 3011 W. State St. is perhaps the most distinctive and recognizable house in the city (its image is on neighborhoods all around the Concordia district).
It just might also be the oldest, too.
The home – sans tower, which was added later – was built in 1850-51 for Dr. Robert Faries, Wisconsin's first dentist. Faries had come to Milwaukee from Youngstown, Ohio, in 1844. Faries was also a telescope maker and engraver, as well as an amateur astronomer, which is reportedly what led him to built an Italianate house with a flat roof. Up there, he could gaze at the stars.
Bookseller and book binder Sidney Rood owned the home from 1854 until 1863, and it is believed that he expanded the home's footprint, which would change a number of time across its long history.
But the biggest and most recognizable alteration came under the ownership of the colorfully named Philetus Yale, a clothing merchant, who added the mansard roof, the tower and the west wing of the home beneath that tower.
The Yale family kept the home until 1947, when it was sold to the Milwaukee Bible Institute. In 1960, nearby Concordia College purchased it and built a dormitory out back. During the Concordia era, which lasted until 1987, the home was used as offices for the college and for a law firm.
Its most recent past owner, who was just about to close on the home's sale, invited me over to take a peek. He showed me the spot at the alley where the dorm building once stood. There's still a sidewalk, but now it's a path to nowhere.
He also showed me marks on the exterior that explained where a once-impressive wrap-around Victorian porch once stood. And where a large east section had been located before being pulled down for some reason during the Concordia era (see photo below).
(PHOTO: Courtesy of Rick Stabler)
Fortunately, the beautiful bay out back survives, providing an aurora of warming sunlight to the breakfast nook downstairs and a great enclosed porch room on the second floor.
We saw the thick interior east wall of the entry hall – with its grand staircase – which was the west exterior wall before Yale put on the tower addition, and of course we went into the basement, where I saw a giant photographic reproduction machine so big you could stand inside it.
But, of course, the real fun was the tower.
On the first and second floors of the square cream city brick tower, there are rooms. On the first floor, the space is part of a sitting room, and upstairs there is a small bedroom.
The first set of stairs up looked a bit like a stairway up from a basement, with a window at the top proving a stream of light, and some bead board wainscoting.
At the top is the attic, inside that mansard roof you can see from the outside. There's a big open space above the original portion of the home. Here a quirkily built chimney takes a bit of a detour, but it looks intentional. I'll trust one of you masons out there to explain this.
Along the west side is the brick wall of the Yale-era addition, with a doorway leading into another attic space at the left and the entrance to the tower on the right.
In here – the third window up from the ground – there's a small space with a staircase up to the next level of the five-story tower. As you climb, the construction gets less ornate, of course, since few would've been expected to see these areas of the home.
At the same time, however, the view keeps getting more and more dramatic.
And then, suddenly, we're at the top, peeking out the fifth story window at the view toward Downtown and reading some of the graffiti written on and carved into the joists up here. Some of these are from the era when my friend – the former owner – used to host big parties here. Other scrawls are from the Concordia era.
There might be older names engraved up here but I wasn't able to find them. That'll be a task, perhaps, for the new owners, who are the latest stewards of what might be Milwaukee's oldest private home.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.