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Benjamin Church, Pioneer
A Family Heritage

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Benjamin Church, a young carpenter from New York, arrived in what would become Milwaukee on November 15, 1835, when Wisconsin was still a territory.  A pioneer carpenter and master builder, he helped build hotels, houses and more.  He was born in 1807 in or near New Paltz, Ulster County, New York, and came west via Chicago. He settled on the west side of the Milwaukee River in Kilbourntown, one of three towns that were merged to become Milwaukee in 1846.

He and his wife Permilia had six children including the eldest Ann Maria "Hannah" Church who married Sherman A. Bradley. A Greek Revival home that Benjamin  built for his family in 1843-44 was rescued and moved to Estabrook Park in Shorewood in 1938, and in 1972 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. He was a Mason and a member of Milwaukee's Old Settlers Club.

GO TO:  Church House | History | Church Family | Genealogy | Maps

Benjamin Church House   [ Top ]

Benjamin Church gained his place in history thanks to the distinctive Greek Revival home that he built on Fourth Street between Cherry and Galena Streets in Kilbourntown, part of early Milwaukee. Four columns graced the portico. He brought this new style with him from his native New York. See photos of the Benjamin Church House.

Greek Revival Style in architecture became so popular it was also known as national style. It connected the democracy of early Greece with the democracy of the new American nation. It spread west  through New York to Midwest America and beyond. Shown in 41 illustrations.

Church House in Historic American Building Survey: with four architectural drawings from 1933 survey-- including interior floor plan and exterior details -- plus one photo of its condition prior to rescue and two data pages that connect the house with the Binzel family.

As the second oldest structure still standing in Milwaukee in 1938, the Benjamin Church House drew the attention of the Milwaukee County Historical Society and the City Council for restoration as a landmark.

The eleventh-hour rescue of the Benjamin Church homestead, the role of the bricks stamped J.A.M. 1844 and the move to Estabrook Park are recounted in Frederic Heath's article, December 1947 issue, Wisconsin Magazine of History, pages 80-83. Photo shows its Greek temple style.

Remember When? Church House:  a large photograph from the Milwaukee Journal when the house was relocated in 1938, with brief details on the history of the house after it left Church family ownership

The restored house was dedicated September 14, 1939, with Frederic Heath as emcee. A fantasy pageant by Myrtyl Ross was performed.

Church or Kilbourntown House: due to its distinctive Greek Temple style and constuction materials including hand-hewn timbers and local bricks dated to 1844, the house was rescued in 1938. The Colonial Dames of America helped by furnishing the house with period pieces.

Benjamin Church Residence 1844: current photo of the house in Estabrook Park, with note on use of cream city bricks in its construction, plus a larger photo. The house is included on key lists of important structures in Milwaukee architecture and historic Milwaukee

Cream City Bricks were a famous Milwaukee product made from the red clay of western Lake Michigan and used for many city buildings, and more on the composition and color of Cream City brick.

The Benjamin Church House, once moved to Estabrook Park, was "the pride of the city" in Milwaukee.

Kilbourntown House saved by move northa 1995 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story gives the history of the house along with list of other pre-Civil War houses in Milwaukee.

Kilbourntown House: one of three pioneer houses operated today by the Milwaukee Historical Society, with details on visiting times. The alternative name for the house comes from the name of Byron Kilbourn's early town on the west side of the Milwaukee River.

On the National Register of Historic Places:   recognized for its Greek Revival architecture, the Church House of Milwaukee was added to the national register in 1972. See all Registered Historic Places in Milwaukee County. See a summer photo and more photos.

Church House on with notes about its quality 19th century furnishings, and a mention in the December 1940 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History [p. 243] that House and Garden magazine had an illustrated article by Walter J. Harris on the Benjamin Church House in its September 1940 issue.

Church House Wikipedia article with details on its owners, the Church and Binzel families. Article also at with photo showing front and bedroom wing. Written by Barbara Bradley Petura.

Kilbourntown House in Winter: a 1953 photo of the Benjamin Church house in Estabrook Park with skiff of snow. More details.

Benjamin Church's Kilbourntown House: scroll down for two Fall 2006 photos of the house, one of a column, another of the portico

Benjamin Church House exterior and interior photographs, taken by Barbara Bradley Petura, July 2007, plus one of Benjamin Church himself, the pioneer who built the house.

Dining Room of Kilbourntown House:  inside the house Benjamin Church built, photo courtesy of  Ms. Crow, a former tour guide there

Being a Church House Docent:  Aaron Stockham, a history graduate students, describes leading summer tours at the Church House.

The Herb Society of America in 2000 created a "kitchen herb garden" for the little white house.

Fourth Street Neighborhood: photo looking north from Galena Street in 1895. The Benjamin Church House -- his family residence -- was originally located on Fourth just south of Galena, an address now 1533 Fourth Street across from Court Street, as shown on this  map

Milwaukee Streets: name changes vital to understanding old records in view of today's city

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Benjamin Church (1807-1887) in Documents   [ Top ]

Benjamin Church arrived in Milwaukee on November 15, 1835, his membership records in the city's Old Settlers Club state.

Benjamin Church lived in the West Ward or Second Ward on the west side of the Milwaukee River, 1840 Census and 1850 Census records show. See his family of five in 1850 on a transcribed 1850 Census page. The Robert Luscombe family was next door. Read on Wikipedia a biographical sketch about Benjamin F. Church written by the author of this webpage.

Benjamin & Family as seen in the 1850 and 1860 census records including his  wife Permilia and their children Ann Maria, later called Hannah, Mary or Maria; Ann Augusta, later called Anna, Annie and Nannie; Charles B.; John; and Susan. A sixth child, a son, died young. The family in 1860 and 1870 also included Hannah's husband Sherman A. Bradley, a carpenter from Connecticut.

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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee
County Historical Society.

Benjamin Church, builder, living on Fourth Street in Ward 2 as listed in the Milwaukee City Directory 1848-49

Benjamin Church, builder, on Fourth between Cherry and Galena, as listed in the 1858 Milwaukee Directory

Benjamin was a member of the Masons, Milwaukee Chapter 1, with Byron Kilbourn, founder of Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River and eventually part of Milwaukee. Church was aligned politically with Kilbourn. 

In 1836, Church was boss carpenter for Kilbourn's Washington House, a hotel later the Republican House. In his Pioneer History of Milwaukee p. 104, James S. Buck says Church was contractor for the Washington House that opened in 1837, built by Archibald Clybourn. On p. 70, Buck lists Benjamin Church among those who arrived in Milwaukee in 1835. On p. 92, Buck lists Benjamin Church among the 20 men who were "boss carpenters" in charge of construction in early Milwaukee.

In February 1850 in Madison, Benjamin Church helped establish the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for Wisconsin, pp. 1288-1289.

On January 6, 1859, Hannah M. Church, the eldest daughter of Benjamin and Permilia C. Church, married Sherman A. Bradley, born in 1835 near New Haven, Connecticut, records show.

William De Loss Love, noted Congregational clergyman, author and abolitionist,   married Hannah and Sherman. He served Milwaukee's Spring Street Congregational Church from February 1858 through 1871.  Its new Church at 6th and Spring streets had first services in 1857. Confusion about its location occurs because Spring Street was later renamed Grand Avenue, then West Wisconsin Avenue.

Benjamin's second daughter, Anna Augusta Church, on April 14, 1875, married Henry Moore. She was called Anna, Annie or Nannie.

On September 10, 1879, Benjamin's youngest son John Church married Margaret Ledge Gunyon. Family sources say her middle name was Legarde and she was Robert Gunyon's adopted daughter.

By the 1880 US Census, Benjamin was retired and living with his son John Church and John's wife Maggie who was born in England

In an 1881 listing, Benjamin was an Old Settlers Club member, having arrived in Milwaukee before January 1, 1843. His dates: Born July 23, 1807, Ulster County. NY. Came to Milwaukee November 15, 1835.

Wisconsin Name Index: click to search the index for a listing of the biographical sketch of Benjamin Church prepared by the Federal Writers Project (Wis.) between 1935-1942.

Benjamin F. Church died November 29, 1887, and was interred on  December 1, 1887, in the family plot in Section 16 of Milwaukee's historic Forest Home Cemetery.

In his book Pioneer History of Milwaukee, p. 281, James Smith Buck  lists Benjamin Church among those members of the Pioneer and Old Settlers Clubs at whose funerals he officiated as marshall. Buck was a New Hampshire.native.

Benj. Church's Parents & Descendants   [ Top ]

Caleb and Hannah Baker Church were the parents of 10 children, including Samuel and Benjamin, born in 1807. Caleb was a farmer and cooper. Hannah was a Quaker minister and both were Orthodox Quakers in Ulster County, New York. They lived in or near New Paltz in Ulster County.

Hannah Baker Church -- Benjamin's mother -- was a highly respected Quaker preacher, connected to the Clintondale Friends Monthly Meeting in Ulster County, New York. She was the wife of Caleb Church and the mother of many children..

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History of New Paltz,
New York, and Its
Old Families from
1678 to 1820

Hannah Baker Church is mentioned as an early Friends minister in the book Quaker history and genealogy of the Marlborough Monthly Meeting, Ulster County, N.Y., 1804-1900, with an excerpt online.

Caleb Church's descent from Richard Church of Plymouth, Mass., has been suggested but lacks documentation. Caleb, Hannah and their children including Benjamin are in the Unplaced Members section of the book Descendants of Richard Church of Plymouth, Mass. This Richard Church arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1630 and moved to Plymouth in 1632.

Jesse Charles Bradley:  grandson of Benjamin Church through his daughter Hannah M. Church who married Sherman A. Bradley.  Active in Masonic groups, Jesse here is Worthy Grand Patron of the Order of Eastern Star, Wisconsin Grand Chapter. In 1905 he was elected Grand Master of the Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin. He married Caroline Belle Speich. Her father Joachim came from the Glarus Valley in northeast Switzerland; her mother Marianna Stocker came from that country's Simme River Valley in Canton Bern.

John Church, youngest son of Benjamin and Permilia Church, married Margaret or Maggie Legard, a relative of William Legard of Yorkshire, England. John was a tax assessor for Milwaukee. Descendents note that Maggie was adopted by Robert Gunyon whose will is mentioned here. The Edgar B. Church mentioned is John and Maggie's youngest son.

Robert Gunyon Church (1882 - 1944?):  grandson of Benjamin Church through his youngest son John. Robert G. Church was the father of Robert Smith Church and several other children.

Robert Smith Church (1921-2000):  a great-grandson of Benjamin Church, his obituary mentions his wife Helen; sons William, John and Paul; and daughter Anne.

Milwaukee History   [ Top ]

Timeline of Milwaukee History: from its founding to today -- follow links to the "bridge war," Socialist era, more

Beginnings, Dates and Events:  Chapter 16 of The History of Milwaukee, City and County, Volume I, [pdf format] edited by popular historian William George Bruce.

Letters from Early Milwaukee: Increase A. Lapham's 1836-1846 letters portray rapid growth of the young city, much more

Milwaukee 1835-1851: part of an emigrant's handbook from this period, showing the city's economy, imports and exports, ship building, the 50,000 people arriving by ship in 1850, and more. The ad section at the end shows the city's goods and services in 1851.

Solomon Juneau: French-Canadian fur trader who founded Juneautown on the east side of the Milwaukee River, an area merged into Milwaukee in 1846

Byron Kilbourn: Connecticut native and developer who founded Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River, merged into Milwaukee in 1846

George H. Walker:  In 1835 founded Walker's Point on the south side of town, merged into Milwaukee in 1846

Milwaukee's Competing Founders: a brief look at the early days of the city plus the return Byron Kilbourn's remains to Milwaukee

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