Pabst Mansion


Something I try to do each holiday season is visit a Victorian mansion all decked out in grand style.  This year it was the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  As we toured the three-story home, we were treated to beautiful decorations in all of the main rooms.




The Pabst Mansion opened to the public in 1978 and welcomes thousands of visitors a year.  We had an excellent guide, Carolyn, who shared many stories about the Pabst family and their home.

Captain Frederick Pabst

Captain Frederick and Maria Pabst completed their thirty-seven room mansion in 1892.  It was built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style of architecture that reflected their German heritage.  Frederick Pabst began his adult years as a river boat captain, but is best remembered today for his company that brewed Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Success with his business ventures allowed Pabst to build a luxurious home.  Along with the brewery, he had a real estate empire that included hotels, theaters, and resorts.    Pabst and his wife only enjoyed their mansion for about twelve years before they passed away.  By then, the neighborhood was changing, and their children choose to sell the property out of the family.  The buildings and grounds were purchased by the Milwaukee Roman Catholic Archdiocese in 1908.  They owned it for almost seventy years until a non-profit group, Wisconsin Heritages, Inc., bought the home in the mid-1970s.  To this day, they continue to restore the mansion and offer tours on a daily basis.

Captain Pabst’s study was a splendid room.  The intricate ceiling was stained with several different colors to give the appearance of inlay.  Four of the Captain’s favorite German proverbs were worked into the ceiling design.


A feeling heart suffers pain.

Bread eaten with thankfulness inspires a joyful heart

Never have I found anything more priceless than a quiet and true heart.

Never soft, never loud what a friend has told you in confidence.

In the study, our guide also gave us a handout to read later.  It was a copy of a letter written by Pabst in 1899 to his children.  He kept it with his will, and it was to be read in the event of his death.  The letter was encouragement and advice.  By all accounts, Frederick Pabst was a decent man and had these last words for “My dear Children” – two sons and two daughters:

“Be generous and unselfish to each other in Case of need and above all, be honest and noble, in all your dealings, not only with each other, but with the World.

I want you to always have a good Name.

It is better than riches, and your greatest happiness will come from your Knowledge of doing right.”

One surprising thing I learned is that although Pabst would drink beer and had a thorough knowledge of beer brewing, he actually preferred wine.  In the basement of the home is a wine cellar that held an extensive collection of bottles.  A display sign on the cellar door reads: “The inventory from the estate of Mrs. Pabst in 1906 lists the contents of the wine cellar –  261 cases of wine plus 219 miscellaneous bottles for a total of 3,351 bottles plus one case, valued at over $2,500.  Not a single bottle remains – we checked.”


We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Pabst Mansion and seeing all the beautiful holiday decorations.  But it would be a worthwhile tour any time of the year.  Frederick Pabst was about much more than beer brewing.

Merry Christmas!

Lots of Color

Fall is a popular time in the Midwest for festivals, and every weekend in September and October is busy.  We’re celebrating apple and pumpkin this-or-that, along with the beautiful autumn colors.


Fall seems to bring out the decorator in all of us, too, almost more so than Christmas.  Here are some decorations, large and small, that can put a smile on our faces, and add to the enjoyment of the season.





Pumpkin grain bin


Teepee, Pumpkins


In the category of fall insects, my favorite is the woolly bear caterpillar.  Folklore says he can predict the weather.  According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the wider the caterpillar’s rusty-brown segment, the milder the coming winter will be.  I found a woolly bear in the neighborhood recently, and I’m afraid we might be in for a rough winter.

Wooly bear 2

Fall in the Midwest –  enjoy the beautiful leaf colors, the bounty of the harvest, and crisp, cool days!


Cruzn Abroad

We were doing some real cruising recently, but far from the Midwest . . . it was a trip on the Danube River from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary.

Our ten-day cruise was labeled the “Delightful Danube,” and the adventure began in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.

Old Town Square and Tyn Church

Prague managed to escape much of the bombings of World War II and is considered one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities.  There’s plenty of good sites and architecture to see.

Municipal House
Prague Castle


Charles Bridge
King Wenceslas statue

Wenceslas Square features a large statue of good King Wenceslas, whom we sing about in the Christmas carol.  He was really just a Duke, but after his brother murdered him (!) in 935, the Duke was elevated to Sainthood and considered a king.

Wenceslas Square is an important place in the modern history of the Czech Republic.  It was here that thousands of people gathered in 1989 to demand the end of Communist rule.




It was Rosh Hashanah when we were in Prague so museums and other sites in the Jewish Quarter were closed, but we walked around the neighborhood and saw buildings from the outside, including the oldest synagogue in the city.


You can take the usual horse and carriage rides in the Old Town Square, but a popular way to tour Prague is in a vintage car.  Drivers zip over cobblestone streets in these open-air vehicles while pointing out the sites to their passengers.  We noticed most of the cars were Fords.

After leaving Prague, we boarded our ship in Passau, Germany.  We were supposed to get on in Nurnberg, but the water level of the Danube was so low that we needed to go further east to Passau.  Europe was experiencing a drought which greatly affected river traffic.  Passau is a city where three rivers meet – the Danube, the Ilz, and the Inn – so I guess the combined rivers gave us enough water to sail.

Our home for the next nine days was a river longship named the S.S. Beatrice, owned by Uniworld Boutique Cruises.  The ship was registered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and our Captain was a Dutchman named Jord Zwaal.  We shared the boat with 136 other passengers.

S.S. Beatrice
Captain Zwaal

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served on the ship.  The food was delicious, and the daily menu reflected the country we were in.  We enjoyed apple strudel, weiner schnitzel and spaetzle, Mozart cake, and Hungarian goulash. There was unlimited drinks and a 24/7 coffee lounge.  In the lower level was a spa that was always very busy.  Life was grand.

Executive Chef Michal Furka and Dining Room Manager Sorin Cutui

When the ports were busy, ships were sometimes docked three across.  If your ship was on the outside, you would walk across the tops of the other ships to get to shore.  One time we went through the lobby of another ship rather than the top.  It was fun to check out the other boats.


A well-known landmark in Passau is St. Stephens Cathedral.  We enjoyed looking around at the fancy baroque architecture.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral


We returned to the Cathedral Square later that night to see a spectacular light and sound show projected onto the facade of the church.  The 20-minute production reviewed 1,500 years of the church’s involvement in the region.


Our ship, based in Passau, acted as a floating hotel while we were bused to different cities upriver where the water was low.  We got out on the Autobahn to visit the Bavarian city of Regensburg.  Buses and trucks have a speed limit, but cars can go as fast as they want.  Our guide told us the auto makers like Audi, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, etc. lobby the government hard to keep that privilege for their customers.  But we also learned that the speed issue is somewhat self-regulating.  Gas is expensive there (it was about $7.00 a gallon) and people tend to drive slower to conserve fuel.  At the German-Austrian border, car owners engage in “tank tourism” – they cross over from Germany to Austria to fill their tanks because gasoline is cheaper in Austria.

The Bavarian countryside was interesting to see.  It was harvest time, and heaps of sugar beets lay in the fields.  And the cows grazing in the fields looked much larger than the ones we have here in the States.

Sugar beets

In the 1800s, Bavaria was the poor region of the country.  Many of the citizens immigrated to the United States to seek a better life.  Then the two World Wars happened and industry took over.  Now it is the most prosperous area in Germany.  The auto industry is big and so is logging and making things from wood by-products.

Regensburg is a picture-perfect European town; the medieval city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The stone bridge there was completed in 1146.

Regensburg, Germany


For a taste of the city, our guide recommended her favorite place, the historic Wurstkuchl (Sausage Kitchen.)  It’s considered one of the oldest continuous restaurants in the world, dating back to 1320.  The sandwiches are fairly simple and made up of a bun, two smoked sausages, sauerkraut, and mustard, but they are absolutely delicious.

Historic Sausage Kitchen


Interesting sidebar: When the Danube threatens to flood the area, owners of the sausage kitchen empty it out, seal up the building, and flood it with fresh water.  When the flooding subsides, they open the building and let the fresh water out.  Clean-up is much easier than if flood water had gotten inside.

Just down the river from Regensburg, in the lovely little town of Straubing, we visited an old cemetery and heard a story of the worst in-laws ever.

St. Peter’s Cemetery

The tale involves Agnes Bernauer, who was born the daughter of a barber in 1410.  She became the mistress and perhaps the first wife of Albert III, Duke of Bavaria.

Albert’s father, Ernest, who was the ruling Duke of Bavaria at the time, considered Agnes beneath his son’s social standing.  While Albert was away on a hunting trip, Duke Ernest had Agnes arrested for witchcraft and drowned in the Danube River.

Upon his return to Straubing, Albrecht was furious to learn what had happened to Agnes, and left for the neighboring town of Ingolstadt.  Everyone was afraid it would literally be war between Albert and his father, but after a few months, the two were reconciled.

In 1436, Duke Ernest had a Bernauer Chapel erected in the cemetery of St. Peter in Straubing, probably to appease his son.

Bernauer Chapel

Today Agnes Bernauer is celebrated as Straubing’s most famous daughter.  Since 1935, the Agnes Bernauer festival club has presented an historic play about the life and death of this unfortunate young woman.  It’s performed every four years with the next being in 2019.

Agnes also has a dessert named for her that can be found at the Café Kroenner in downtown Straubing.   Agnes Bernauer Torte is a layered cake, filled with almond meringue and mocha butter cream, topped with roasted almonds and nuts, and dusted with powered sugar.  We bought a couple of pieces and enjoyed them later on the ship.

Agnes Bernauer Torte

We docked one night in Austria at a small village called Grein.  We had a chance to get off the ship and explore the town.  The main attraction there is Greinburg Castle.  If you’re a fan of “Victoria” on PBS Masterpiece Theater, you’ll recognize this as the home where Prince Albert grew up, along with his older brother, Ernest.  The castle was built in 1493 and purchased by Prince Albert’s father in 1823.  It’s still owned by a member of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family and open for tours.

Greinburg Castle

One of my favorite stops was the handsome Melk Abbey in Melk, Austria.  It’s situated in another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The abbey dates back to 1089, but the grand baroque architecture was done in the 1700s.  Their library contains medieval manuscripts and a globe from 1622.  (They owned a Gutenburg Bible at one time, but sold it to Yale University because they needed money to maintain the property.)  Maria Theresia of the ruling Habsburg family said after a visit in 1743, “I would regret if I had not been here.”  I couldn’t agree with her more.

Melk Abbey

After a visit to Melk, the afternoon was spent strolling around the charming little village of Spitz.  It’s a wine producing region with vineyards everywhere.  The “Hill of a Thousand Buckets” is so named because of all the grapes grown there.  Apricots are also a big crop in this Wachau Valley area.  We brought home apricot jam and apricot liquor that we purchased at Melk Abbey.

Hill of A Thousand Buckets; Spitz, Austria

A couple of afternoons were spent cruising the Danube to get to our next port.  The scenery of country churches, castle ruins, and green forests was always idyllic.


Durnstein Abbey

We came across a Viking party boat one day, and as we passed by, one of the Vikings wearing his plastic helmet with horns yelled out, “Give us your women!”


From the quiet Austrian countryside we arrived in the capital city of Vienna.  I found Vienna to be rather crowded and noisy, and too much graffiti on the canal walls.  The culture and architecture in the historic areas, though, made it a worth-while stop.

St. Stephens Cathedral in the city centre is magnificent with its patterned tile roof.  It dates back to 1160. The roof is so steep it rarely holds snow in the winter time.  Mozart was married here in 1782 and later his funeral took place in one of the chapels.


Interior of St. Stephen’s

Our walking tour of Vienna took us to their famous music hall, the Musikverein.  Inside is the Golden Hall that is the site for the annual New Year’s concert shown on PBS.  Every year when I watch the concert, I always wonder how the lucky people attending got their tickets.  We learned that the tickets are sold through a lottery process.  Each year about 500,000 people apply for the 1,200 seats available.

Vienna is home to the Spanish Riding School.  Our tour didn’t take us inside, but I got a peek at the stables and some of the Lipizzaner Stallions.


We spent an afternoon at the Habsburg summer palace, Schonbrunn, about four miles outside of Vienna.  It has 1,441 rooms.  The gardens are well-kept and beautiful.  Schonbrunn is the most popular tourist attraction in Vienna.


At night we were treated to a Mozart and Strauss concert at the palace for Architects and Engineers.


It was on to Budapest, the capital city of Hungary.  I liked Budapest. It had an exotic, Eastern European feel.


The Houses of Parliament, sitting there on the Danube River, is the most spectacular building I have ever seen.  It was the architectural highlight of the trip for sure.

In the Middle Ages, the fish market was here in Fisherman’s Bastion, and this area was defended by the Fishermen’s Guild.  You have a great view of Budapest from the terraces.

Fisherman’s Bastion


Matthias Church

Like St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Matthias Church has a colorful, ornately patterned roof.  The building, completed in the 15th century, is Roman Catholic, and has been the site of several coronations.





Budapest has its own version of the Statue of Liberty.  Locals have nicknamed her “the Bottle Opener.”  Liberty Statue was built in 1947 to thank the Soviets for liberating  Hungarians from the Nazis.  Then the Communists took over and stayed for 40 years.  After they were driven out in 1989, the statue was covered for three days and unveiled as a memorial to all those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom and prosperity of Hungary.  Liberty’s new stance is that of waving good-bye to the Soviets.

Along with interesting history and architecture, Budapest is also the home of Erno Rubik, the fellow who invented the Rubik’s Cube.  He’s lived there all his life.

Our journey on the Danube ended in Budapest and during the final evening, the Captain took us on a night cruise of the city.  Budapest rivals Paris for lights, and it was a memorable good-bye to my favorite city and a delightful trip.


I love traveling abroad and taking in the centuries of history, but it’s always good to come home.  International travel helps me appreciate my country even more.  God Bless America!

Farnsworth House

Sitting close to the Fox River in Plano, Illinois, just fifty-eight miles southwest of Chicago, is the Farnsworth House, designed by renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  The property was a weekend retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a prominent Chicago physician.


Friends Cecille, Kathy O., Missy, Barb, and I recently met in Plano for a tour.  Barb’s son, Scott Mehaffey, is currently the executive director at the Farnsworth House so it made us all proud to see a hometown boy doing well.


Our guide, Richard, gave us an excellent tour.  We learned about Dr. Farnsworth, Mies van der Rohe, and the construction of the house.

Dr. Edith Farnsworth

After chatting at a dinner party in 1945, Dr. Farnsworth hired Mies van der Rohe to design a house for her on nine acres she had purchased from Robert McCormick.  She wanted something modern for the post-war era, and that gave Mies van der Rohe an opportunity to create a masterpiece of simplicity.  He worked through 167 drawings before he was satisfied with the design.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The result was a structure of steel columns and floor-to-ceiling glass walls in the new International style.

Edith Farnsworth and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe started out as great friends with their house project.  They were both intellectuals and enjoyed spending time together –  at the building site and away from it.  But as time went on and expenses with the house mounted, Edith’s patience and enthusiasm faded.  They ended up in court with him suing for money due, and she charging him with fraud.  Mies van der Rohe won the judgment, but negative publicity made it a hollow victory.  They never spoke to each other again.

The house was completed in 1951.  Dr. Farnsworth lived in it off and on for twenty-one years before selling the property to Lord Peter Palumbo in 1972.  She then retired to a villa near Florence, Italy.

Back of Farnsworth House

Palumbo is an art and architecture enthusiast, and modern sculptures dotted Farnsworth’s landscape during his ownership.  He purchased adjoining land for a total today of sixty-two acres.  When Palumbo sold the property in 2003 to the National Trust, the sculptures were moved to Kentuck Knob, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Pennsylvania that he still owns.  Below is one of the sculptures I saw when I was at Kentuck Knob last year.

Apple Core by Claes Oldenburg (1990)


Visiting the Farnsworth House is a top-notch experience.  The grounds and house are both lovely, and the story of the people involved is just as fascinating as the property itself.  And rumor has it a big-screen version of the story may be coming to a theater near you.

St. Louis, Missouri

It was Cruzn with cousins recently in the city known as the Gateway to the West – St. Louis, Missouri.  It sits on the western bank of the Mississippi River and has plenty of  historic sites, good restaurants, and friendly people.


The most iconic symbol for the community is the Gateway Arch.  You can see it from quite a distance, and it’s always fun to catch that first glimpse as you enter town. At the base they show a movie of the construction process and its completion in 1965.

The arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen.  The exterior is covered with stainless steel and soars 630 feet in height.  Take a four-minute tram ride inside the arch and arrive at the top for a grand view of downtown St. Louis.



An industry long associated with St. Louis is Anheuser-Busch.  A tour of their brewing facility is free and very interesting.  They make lots of beer.  They also have a building for some of the Clydesdale horses who live better than the average person.  We had lunch at The Biergarten before our tour and enjoyed the food.  (And you can choose from the many AB beers to go with your sandwich.)






One of my favorite stops during our visit was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.  The building is massive and impressive on the outside, but the interior is truly spectacular.  Beautiful mosaics decorate the sanctuary from top to bottom.  The installation of the mosaics began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.




The cathedral was dedicated in 1914 and elevated to a basilica in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.

Another lovely place to visit is the Missouri Botanical Gardens.  Founded in 1859 by Englishman Henry Shaw, it is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the U.S.  They have 79 acres of land that includes a Japanese garden, a geodesic dome Climatron, and glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly.




Visitors can also tour Henry Shaw’s 1849 country home, Tower Grove House that is located on the west side of the Botanical Garden.





Nearby is his mausoleum.  Look inside and you’ll see a marble sculpture of Shaw reclining on his tomb.  While he was still living, he had a photo taken in that pose so the sculptor could do an accurate likeness.




One of the more popular spots for photos in the gardens, particularly families with young kids, is the flock of sheep.  They were sculpted by Francois-Xavior Lalanne.


These are just a few of the sights that can be enjoyed in St. Louis.  It’s a relaxed and fun city!

Michigan Lighthouses

Lighthouses are noble structures, guiding sea-faring vessels to safety along a dangerous coastline.  Back in the day, many ships were saved during storms and fog by a lighthouse beam.

The first American lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor in 1716.  But by the mid-1800s, the Great Lakes had become an extremely busy shipping region, and lighthouses were popping up along its shores, too.  In this Great Lakes area, one of the best states to check out lighthouses is Michigan.  They have more than any other state in the nation at 106.  Michigan is surrounded by four of the Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, Erie, and Michigan) and has 3,100 miles of coastline, so it’s an obvious and excellent candidate for that honor.  DSC_0776

These lighthouses were built in all shapes and sizes to fit the needs of their location. Here is a small sampling of what you can see:

Old Mackinac Point Light

In Mackinac City, Old Mackinac Point Light was constructed in 1892 of Cream City brick (made of clay found in the Milwaukee area) and Indiana limestone.  It was a valuable lighthouse until 1957 when the Mackinac Bridge was completed.  (The bridge lights turned out to be more helpful for navigation than the lighthouse beam.)  In 1960, the lighthouse property was purchased by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.  It’s now a maritime museum.

Round Island Lighthouse

As you approach Mackinac Island on one of the ferry services, you’ll cruise by the Round Island Lighthouse.  It’s currently under the care of the United States Forest Service.  This lighthouse was completed in 1895 and operated for fifty-two years.

Holland Harbor Lighthouse

If you’re in Holland, Michigan, don’t miss the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, popularly known as “Big Red.”  The present structure dates from 1907.  Its gabled roof reflects the Dutch culture of the area.  When the Coast Guard recommended that the lighthouse be abandoned in 1970, citizens rallied to save it.  Today “Big Red” is owned and maintained by the Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission.

Bonus stop: De Zwaan


Another hard-working structure that earns its keep is a windmill.  In Holland, Michigan, stop by the Windmill Island Gardens where they have an authentic working windmill imported from the Netherlands.  In 1963, the Dutch city of Vinkel and Holland, Michigan worked out a deal to bring a 1761 windmill named De Zwaan (The Swan) to the United States.  The windmill is fully operational today, and a Dutch-certified miller grinds flour on a regular basis.  You can purchase a bag of this stone-ground flour in their gift shop in the base.

Whether it’s lighthouses or windmills, Michigan has an interesting variety of landmark buildings and a rich history to go with them!




Laurent House, Rockford, Illinois

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright called this home “his little gem” and selected it for a book of his 38 most significant buildings.  It’s not grand like many of his works – the modest, one-story home is 2,600 square feet.  Yet the Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent House is unique among the 400 Wright-designed buildings still standing – it’s the only home the architect created for a person with physical disabilities.

Laurent House brochure

In 1946, Kenneth Laurent became wheelchair bound as the result of complications from spinal surgery.  He and his wife wanted a home that would accommodate his needs.  After seeing an article in House Beautiful magazine about Frank Lloyd Wright and a house that he had designed with an open floor plan, they decided to contact the architect.  After lengthy correspondence with Wright, plans were drawn up for a house, and it was completed in 1952.

In making the house handicap accessible, Wright was decades ahead of the ADA.  He created the open floor plan the Laurents had wanted so Kenneth could move and turn around easily in each room.  The bathroom was larger than usual.   Door knobs and light switches were installed at wheelchair level.  Cabinets were built with fold-down doors rather than pull-out drawers.  And seating throughout the home was lowered so guests sat at eye level with Kenneth.  (He did not have to feel like others were looking down at him, something people in wheelchairs often experience.)  Kenneth later remarked that the house made him “realize his capabilities, not his disabilities.”




The house also contains the noted red tile.  This ceramic square was a combination stamp of approval and mark of authenticity that Wright had installed on buildings he deemed worthy.


Wright always wanted to do a complete package for his clients – not only designing the house,  but also the furniture, plus choosing colors and decorative elements, and even deciding the dishes in the kitchen.  For their part, Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent totally embraced the Frank Lloyd Wright concept.  Their home remained a model of Wright’s style throughout their decades of ownership.   During our tour, we learned that daughter, Jean, wasn’t even allowed to put posters on her bedroom walls when she was a teenager.

The Laurents and Wright enjoyed a lasting friendship.  Each year Kenneth and Phyllis were invited to Taliesin for Wright’s birthday celebration, and they were also on the guest list for Wright’s funeral services when the architect passed away in 1959.

The Laurents sold their home to a foundation in 2012.  After restoration, it was opened for tours in 2014.  The house is truly “a little gem.”  When I entered the living room, I was taken by how elegant yet comfortable and inviting everything looked.  Cypress paneling throughout added a warm glow.  The windows allowed for great views of the grounds and plenty of light inside.


Tours for the season begin in April so be sure to put the Laurent Home on your must-see list this year!

Bonus stop: Pettit Memorial Chapel


Guides at the Laurent House encourage you to also see the Pettit Memorial Chapel in near-by Belvidere.  It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1907.  The day we were in Rockford it was sunny and pleasant, and we considered it worth the short drive to stop at Belvidere Cemetery and take a look.  It’s the only structure Wright designed for a cemetery setting.


Bonus stop:  Midway Village Museum


Not far from the Laurent House is the Midway Village Museum which has a campus of 148 acres.  In the main building you’ll find a lot of information and exhibits on Rockford’s history.  Elsewhere on the grounds is a village of 26 structures and gardens representing a rural community during the era of 1890-1910.  It’s all self-guided so you can wonder around as you please.




One chapter of Rockford’s history they emphasize is the knitting industry and the famous Rockford Red Heel Socks.  Today we’re all familiar with the monkeys that are made from these socks.  Exhibits at the museum tell you about the Nelson Knitting Company that created the socks and how the monkeys came about.


And you can take a photo with Soxanne, the giant fiberglass monkey!



Chasing Louis Sullivan Banks

In the twilight of his career, noted architect Louis Sullivan designed a series of small yet visually stunning banks for eight rural communities in the Midwest.  They were nicknamed “jewel box” banks because of their compact size and stained glass windows.

National Farmers’ Bank, Owatonna, Minnesota

These banks were scattered across the Midwest, with three in Iowa, two in Ohio and one each in Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  They were built in the years 1908-1920.

Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan grew up in Boston, but came to Chicago after the great fire of 1871.  The city was rebuilding, and architects and contractors had plenty of work.  Sullivan eventually became a business partner with Dankmar Adler.  Together they made a legendary impact on Chicago and American architecture.  Sullivan’s building concept of “form ever follows function” is often quoted.

Adler, who was the business head of the partnership, retired in 1895.  Sullivan continued on his own but by the early 1900s, commissions had fallen off and finances were bad. The jewel box banks gave him a chance to rebound.

Sullivan preferred to have the banks located on a corner of a prominent spot on Main Street.  He traveled to each location and thoroughly studied the site before designing his building.

In keeping with his philosophy of form follows function, the banks were functional yet artistic.  Sullivan made sure they fit into the town’s landscape and were not too big.  The completed buildings stood out on the ordinary Main Streets of these farming communities because of their beauty and design rather than their size.

A few years ago I decided to visit and photograph each of the eight banks.  It was interesting to see how the buildings had fared over the years.  Four are still operating as banks; two are Chamber of Commerce headquarters; one is a restaurant; and one is being restored.  Most of the communities are embracing their famous work of architecture and using it to promote their town.

Here’s what I found:

National Farmers’ Bank, Owatonna, Minnesota (1908)


This was the first of the jewel box banks and the largest at 4,600 square feet.  It’s still used as a bank and owned by Wells Fargo.

The interior features murals and ornamentation using over 240 shades of yellow, red-orange, and green.  The murals pay homage to Owatonna’s dairy industry.


Other highlights include the four electroliers (electric chandeliers).  They weigh 5,500 pounds each and were designed to resemble a blooming flower.  The 1908 grand opening of the bank was held at night to showcase these fixtures.



Peoples Saving Bank, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1909)


This bank came under budget issues so it lacks Sullivan’s trademark ornamentation on the exterior, but there are still plenty of stained glass windows to enjoy.  Formerly a Wells Fargo bank, today it’s a popular restaurant called Popoli.


The interior murals and other details are still in place.  The present owners have done a good job of respecting the history of the building.  Besides leaving many of the architectural elements intact, they created an attractive wall exhibit on Louis Sullivan and the building’s past.



Henry C. Adams Building, Algona, Iowa (1913)

The building was originally designed as a bank but failed to get a charter, so it opened as a real estate office in 1913.  Over the years it suffered from neglect and remodeling, but a serious restoration in the early 2000s has the building looking fine again.  Today you’ll find Algona’s Chamber of Commerce here.



Sullivan preferred tapestry brick and used it in all but one of the banks (Newark, Ohio was the exception).  It’s produced by raking the individual brick surface so each is different in texture, hue, and color saturation.  In this small building, tapestry bricks make the exterior more interesting.



 Merchants National Bank, Grinell, Iowa (1915)

The entrance to this bank definitely has you thinking “jewel box.”  Two golden winged lions stand guard at the front door while the elaborate terra cotta medallion and rose window dominate the facade.  It’s not a typical building one sees on a rural American Main Street.

DSC_2949DSC_2950 editDSC_3759

Like the Henry Adams building in Algona, this bank is now home for the Chamber of Commerce.


 Purdue State Bank, West Lafayette, Indiana (1915)


Sullivan was required to fit the Purdue State Bank into a triangle-shaped lot.  It’s the smallest of the jewel box banks, but still features handsome brick work and terra cotta ornament.

I liked this charming little building, but regretfully, present owner Chase Bank doesn’t seem too interested in their historic bank.  An ATM machine has been shoved into the original front door, and the inside is devoid of Sullivan detail.


Home Building Association, Newark, Ohio (1915)


Sullivan stepped away from his usual m.o. when he designed “the Old Home” in Newark, Ohio.  It is a two-story building (the only one of the eight with two floors), and covered with gray terra cotta instead of the usual reddish-brown tapestry brick.


The building is currently owned by the Licking County Foundation and is undergoing extensive restoration.  When completed in 2019, it will be the location of Explore Licking County, a convention and visitors’ bureau.


 Peoples Savings & Loan Association, Sidney, Ohio (1918)

It still operates under the same name as when it was built in 1918.  The building has been wonderfully preserved, and employees are proud to show it off.

The grand front showcases a mosaic arch, elaborate terra cotta trim, and a pair of winged lions below the word, “thrift.”  Towering stained glass windows on the west side add to the overall striking appearance.  The community has labeled their bank “a Shelby County masterpiece.”





Even the drinking fountain has Sullivan-style ornamentation.







Farmers & Merchants Union Bank, Columbus, Wisconsin (1920)

Sullivan’s final bank has an impressive entrance and lots of detail. The band of stained glass windows on the side have rounded tops rather that the usual rectangles seen in Sullivan’s other banks.


There’s a museum on the balcony level with old photos, artifacts, and documents about the bank.

Business-wise, the Farmers & Merchants Union Bank is still just that, serving the community in its original purpose and name.



If you’re traveling near any of these Midwest towns that have a jewel box bank, be sure to stop and take a look.  The buildings are memorable for their grand design and use of materials.  Louis Sullivan is rightly honored for his contribution to America’s architecture.



Winter Get-Away

It’s time for the annual escape-from-the-Midwest-frigid-temps, and this year I was going to recommend the U.S. Virgin Islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix.  These territories are located in the Caribbean about forty miles east of Puerto Rico.


I had the opportunity to visit two of the islands, St. Thomas and St. John, a few years ago.  Both truly seemed like paradise with their tropical climate, turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches.

Unfortunately, in September 2017, the islands suffered catastrophic damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria.  Today there is still much work to be done as efforts continue toward recovery and rebuilding.  We’ll keep the island people in our thoughts and prayers and look forward to the day when they all have electricity and dry homes, land is restored, and more businesses and resorts are open.

Below are a few pre-hurricane photos:

St. Thomas






St. John


Wishing the U.S. Virgin Islands the best as they recover from the devastating storms.



Milwaukee, Wisconsin

We set our Sights for a weekend visit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city of brewing and historic neighborhoods.  It’s on the west side of Lake Michigan and about ninety miles northwest of Chicago.



The Pabst Mansion in the Avenue West neighborhood was decorated in grand style for the holidays.  Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer founder Frederick Pabst and his wife, Maria, had this palatial home built in 1890.  It was completed in 1892.  The Flemish Renaissance Revival style of architecture reflects their German heritage.


Captain Frederick Pabst


Frederick Pabst was born in Saxony, Germany in 1836 and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1848.  At the age of 14, he began work as a cabin boy on a Great Lakes steamer.  He worked his way up to Captain within seven years. For the rest of his life, he retained the title of Captain.  Pabst gave up the sea-faring life a couple of years after his marriage to Maria Best.  He then bought a half-interest in his father-in-law’s brewery, the Phillip Best Brewing Company.  The name was changed to the Pabst Brewing Company after the Captain became the sole owner.

An interesting structure attached to the side of the house of the Pabst Mansion is the former Beer Pavilion.  It was originally built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago to display Pabst Brewing Company products.  The Pavilion was admired at the fair for its “beauty of presentation.”  After the exposition closed, Pabst had the structure dismantled and re-built at his Milwaukee residence.  It was used as a conservatory and furnished with wicker furniture and tropical plants.

Beer Pavilion

Back in the day, Captain Pabst spent time during duck hunting season in the Bureau/Putnam County area where I live.  He was known as Freddie at the lodge where he stayed on the Illinois River.  On the last day of his visit, he always asked the lodge cook to make a cream pie for him to take home to his family in Milwaukee.




The Third Ward is home to Milwaukee’s Public Market.  It’s a fun, busy place that includes shops for cheese, wine, baked goods, and the Spice House.  For lunch there, try a lobster roll at the St. Paul Fish Market.




Over on the east side of town is the architecturally stunning Milwaukee Art Museum.  It sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and grabs your attention as you approach.  Inside, there are collections of American and European art, photography, etc.  And right now through January 28th, you can get a glimpse of Paris by visiting a special exhibit called: Degas to Picasso, Creating Modernism in France.


You’ll find a row of Frank Lloyd Wright American System-Built Homes in the 2700 block of West Burnham Street.  In the early 1900s, Wright took an interest in designing affordable housing for moderate income families.  He created a series of “system-built” homes that were similar to later pre-fab houses.  The lumber and other materials were cut in a factory and then assembled at the building site.  Wright figured this would save on materials and labor, a savings that would be passed on to the consumer.  Six of these American System-Built Homes were constructed side-by-side on Milwaukee’s Burnham Street in 1915-1916.



Today the non-profit group, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burham Block, Inc., owns four of the six homes.  The Model B1 has been restored, and you can tour it on open days.  At the end of the block, the Model D is a work in progress, but also interesting to see.   The restoration group is doing an excellent job, and if you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast, this site should be included on your list.

Merry Christmas from Milwaukee!