A few weeks ago, after publishing a response to a reader’s question about Milwaukee’s so-called “secret sidewalks,” I got a question from another reader that piqued my curiosity. This one, from Michael Wittig, asked what’s up – if anything – at the red barn located just outside the entrance to the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Whitnall Park.
I was surprised to find out how little information is out there on the barn and that what I was able to find feels sketchy at best. So, if you know more about this structure, drop me a message.
An 1876 map, shared by the Milwaukee County Historical Society, shows that the land upon which the barn and its attendant silo sit was owned, at that time, by a J. Kating.
But the barn appears to have been built later, though the exact year isn’t clear. Based on the dates I’ve heard from various sources, somewhere around 1900-1915 seems to be the best guess.
What we do know, thanks to the Hales Corners Historical Society, is that when Milwaukee County purchased the land around 1929-30 for the Boerner Botanical Gardens, it bought it from Prussian immigrant August Pauers and his Wisconsin-born wife, Mathilda.
The Pauers lived there with their adult son George, his wife Alma (nee Mahn) and their children, George Jr., and LuVerne.
After selling, the Pauers moved to Raymond, in Racine County to continue farming and by 1940 owned a farm in Franksville.
Later, LuVerne married Allen Palmersheim and returned to Hales Corners, where she taught Sunday school to pre-schoolers and kindergarteners at Whitnall Park Lutheran Church.
LuVerne, who died in 2014, was also known locally as “The Egg Lady,” because she delivered fresh eggs to customers in the area from the 1960s to the 1990s.
As an interesting aside, the Hales Corners Historical Society notes that there was also another Palmersheim farm on Highway 100 and College Avenue. It was acquired by the Palmersheims in 1912.
That house, in which LuVerne apparently lived for a time, was torn down the same year she died and the barn moved to East Troy. Wittig believes that County Executive John Doyne lived in the house for a time.
After this story posted, I received this info from Chris Pauers Jablonski, which I'm adding here as an update.
"August and Matilda were my great grandparents," Pauers Jablonski wrote. "Their other son August Jr. built his home several feet north across the street at 6060 S 92nd St. His barn he built and home still stands today. I lived many of my childhood years there. George Pauers Sr. was my great uncle.
"August Sr. was killed in a farming accident working with his son August Jr. The Pauers family sold much of their property to what became Whitnall Park. The land just north of the barn housed the government group that built the older village of Greendale originals homes. A government-funded project. My grandfather owned much of the land that was sold and built into Overlook Farms."
The red barn, says Pauers Jablonski, stood on what the family called its "homestead." She's unsure of the fate of the related house, of which only a derelict fireplace seems to remain.
In any event, the Whitnall Park red barn – which appears to have served some use when the Civilian Conservation Corps was building the park during the Depression – has long served as a storage facility for the Boerner, which was named for Cedarburg’s Alfred L. Boerner, who designed the original gardens.
But that has changed in recent years, according to gardens Director Shirley Walczak, and as for what’s going on there now, the answer is “not much.”
It's not even used for storage anymore.
“We're really not even going in it because it's in rough shape,” Walczak says. “It had been used, but we've taken the majority of everything out of there.”
The problem is that the barn badly needs a new roof and there are some issues with the back wall, according to Walczak.
And no one needs to be reminded of the financial strains on the Milwaukee County budget.
“It's an old barn; it's over 100 years old,” says Walczak.
“I love barns,” says Walczak. “I grew up on a farm, but right now we’re kind of holding our breath and trying to get money for a new roof and to repair that back wall that needs to be redone.
“So, if anyone is interested, they could give me a call.”
Seriously, if you have the skills or money to lend a hand to save this Whitnall Park treasure, admired by most everyone that passes by on their way to China Lights or Holiday Lights or to admire the gardens, drop me a line and I’ll connect you.
“We want to make the repairs, but we need outside money to do it,” Walczak says. “The roof is the first priority because without a roof a barn will just fall down.”
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 has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.