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Joseph Bower—The Man Who Built Whitewater’s Downtown

Joseph Bower. Image from the Collections of the Whitewater Historical Society

During the 1840s and 1850s, Whitewater’s downtown consisted primarily of small, frame buildings and a few brick buildings. Only about three of these buildings are still standing.

Fire was the main culprit in the destruction of pioneer-era downtown buildings. Almost the entire north side of Main Street west of First Street burned in 1867. In 1868, three large brick buildings across the street burned down. In 1870, buildings on Center Street burned, including the community’s main meeting place, Metropolitan Hall. It was no coincidence that the first volunteer fire department was formed in 1873.

One of the most important developers of downtown Whitewater, Joseph Bower, both suffered from and profited from the fires, losing a major building to fire in 1870, but rebuilding several buildings on Main Street after the fires. He continued to build brick blocks in Whitewater’s downtown for 20 years.

Joseph Bower was born in England in 1821 and came to New York State with his parents in 1827. When he was 20 years old he came to “the west” to make his fortune. Between 1841 and 1843, Bower farmed in Racine County, then went to Milwaukee to learn the brick mason’s trade. In 1846, he came to Whitewater and helped build the first brewery.

Bower could have been the “poster boy” for the industrious Yankee settler. He worked on several buildings and built for himself a large brick block on Center Street with an upstairs meeting place known as the Metropolitan Hall. It was the site of many local events and dances and Bower enlarged the building in 1860. But, in early 1870, the large fire on Center Street destroyed his Metropolitan Block.

He soon rebuilt, though, even bigger and better. By the late fall of 1870, Bower had constructed a five-storefront building with three stories and a bigger and better Metropolitan Hall. Its large skylight and other large windows in the building drew the photographer J. P. Whipple, who advertised the advantages of his business with such wonderful natural light. Unfortunately, the third story was lost in a fire in 1922 and the building was renovated into a two-story block. But, the building still has a large presence on Center Street (123-133 Center St.).

How many buildings did Bower construct in Whitewater? Here are 14 that are currently

identified. There may be more!

Bower’s New Metropolitan Block, 123-133 Center St., 1870

130 Center St., 1881

140 Center St., 1873

137 W. Main St., 1870

139 W. Main St., 1868

143 W. Main St., 1871

144 W. Main St., 1876

146 W. Main St., 1868

150-154 W. Main St., 1886

174-176 W. Main St., 1883

175-177 W. Main St., 1883

179 W. Main, 1863

182 W. Main St., 1886

183-187 W. Main St., 1880 (Built as Bower’s Hotel)

*If using this article, please cite, Carol Cartwright, “Joseph Bower—The Man Who Built

Whitewater’s Downtown”, 2018, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.

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