Active Demolition at Filer and Stowell’s Milwaukee Headquarters. Winter ’24

On a wintery morning in early ’24, we just happened to drive by a site that was on our list. While this site had been on our list for some time, we had completely overlooked it. Now under active demolition, this massive part of Wisconsin’s industrial history lay before us. This site was larger than most and laid out in a linear fashion. Since the majority of the demolition was happening on the other side of this site, we decided to chance it and make our way in to document what we could. We can’t say “No” to a hole in a fence…

The gorgeous Cream City brick facade was calling our names. Though this Cream City brick may have been worn down and dirtied with age, in some spots you could see its original color and beauty! The spots that really stood out to me were where the front entrance once had a triangle-shaped roof covering it, the interior of the building where any of the windows had been bricked over, or any spot where they had repaired or replaced any bricks. All of those spots glowed in stark contrast to the surrounding bricks worn with age.

The first building we came upon was the extremely long and cavernous machine shop. With its elevated, translucent green windows giving off an eerie unnatural feeling from the rising sun! At this vantage point we could see the workers were clearly far off on the other side of the site. We started snapping pics and making our way toward what remained of the Cream City brick structure.

The history of the Filer and Stowell company is quite vast and interesting to dive into.  The ups and downs of early industry, men making their way (one way or another) in the world, and the creation of new companies and revenue streams. By purchasing smaller or bankrupt companies that specialized in vastly different industries, Filer and Stowell kept reinventing themselves to stay relevant and ahead of the times! Circular saws for the lumber industry – marine, locomotive, and stationary steam engines for war, logging, and powering everything from factories to textile mills.

Buying the Corliss engine plant and equipment complex in a sheriff’s auction set them up for the future, of any and all growing industry in the country! Having their new complex next to the railroad helped their ability to ship out large equipment to anywhere that the rails went. They were also 1 of 14 engine manufacturers to produce the triple expansion steam engines used for the World War II Liberty Ships! By May 1943 they had produced more than 50 of these 2500hp engines. Each one weighing in at 135 tons ( = 270,000lbs or approx 3 adult grey whales, or 7-8ish fully loaded city buses)

Sadly, we arrived at this site much later than we should’ve. This place had been largely demolished by the time we got here. With less than 15-20% of the original buildings, machine shops, or foundries left standing, this explore could’ve been so much more in depth and detailed had we arrived sooner!

While I would’ve loved to explore those numerous other historic buildings and structures, what we got to experience was pretty amazing! The amount of significant machinery and mechanical equipment just left for the bulldozer was disheartening. I am surprised no one tried to scrap, salvage, or preserve any of these pieces of history.(I do know that a good portion of things were auctioned off, but still..)(and that copper scrappers had their turn at the equipment- Damn them)

The massive Corliss steam engine flywheel, gauges, hand tools, and many other trinkets of history, sadly now all reside in a landfill. The large Corliss steam engine most likely powered a dynamo, which in turn produced electricity for the entire site. (I think I can make out “Dynamo Eng” on the site map where we encountered the flywheel) Yet if it wasn’t hooked to a dynamo, It was producing mechanical power for line shafting in factories. Direct power from this machine would be distributed through belts, pulleys, and shafts to “power” a factory’s entire machine floor!

Mr. John Stowell was a larger than life man in a rough time. He had his hands in the creation of many early sawmills, and companies including J.M. Stowell & Co, Cream City Iron Works, Filer and Stowell, and Stowell Manufacturing and Foundry Co. to name a few. He was also a commercial news editor, a representative in the 1862 Wisconsin Assembly, a Milwaukee Common Council alderman from 1863 to 1864, and the Milwaukee mayor from 1882-84. This man lived many varied lives. When the average male life expectancy was approximately 35-45 years old(maybe 50), Mr. Stowell lived well into his 80s! That is an accomplishment.

A Filer & Stowell advertisement from 1894 lists any number of pumps being manufactured, including brewing industry beer pumps. At some point the company won the contract for the Jones Island waste treatment facility in Milwaukee, producing its sluice gates, gate valves, etc., and thereafter it was only natural to jump from this waterworks line to the production of fire hydrants! For a time steam locomotives were also produced by the company.

1896 Filer & Stowell advert now with Corliss engines as well as pumps and saw blades etc.

They could supply you and your budding company with everything you would need to get started. The Corliss engine to produce the power, the pumps to reduce labor, and saw blades to increase productivity. They were literally a one-stop shop…

I have sourced the net for many many things to put this post together, and I will try to link a pile of those articles where available! Thank You, to all who came before me and put most of this information together. I just tried to reword and put my own spin or verbiage on it where possible! Thanks for the support.

Bear Development & The Bay View Compass did a very great and helpful write up in May of 2021

Some really cool finds with pictures from when they we auctioning some stuff off! Huge wooden patterns, etc

Also, The Filer & Stowell Sales FB Page has some really cool video, pics, experiences and stories that I am super jealous are not mine!

A photo gallery of the stuff saved and auctioned off! (glad they saved this much or are trying to) has a few cool pics and a little blurb.

Corliss steam engine wiki

I also sourced old ads and scans of old sales flyers for information. If any information is incorrect, I do apologize as it was my intent to be as factual as possible!

Sorry some of these pics are a little blurry or washed out! We have since upgraded some of our gear! Fresh new gear is a mountain we can only climb so often! While we would like to reach the peak of gear mountain, we are more realistic with our wallets and our time tables to get there!

YouTube Play along & subscribe

TikTok Play along & follow

Facebook Play along, like, & follow

Please enjoy! If you are bored, give our walk-thru a listen!

We hope you decide to play along! Tell a friend!!

The 1894 Sanborn & Perris Insurance Map indicates a foundry, coal and iron storage, a blacksmith shop, carpentry shops, machine shops, an office and draughting (drafting) building, and a pattern storage building, among others, were part of the Filer & Stowell Company complex. East Becher Street is at the top edge of the map for reference.

Now will be my UE partner’s pics from our first morning here. We did go back a couple weeks after this, and those pics will follow below. When we went back there were no workers, so we tried to get some more detailed shots of the old industry!

Now onto our second morning here! Since it wasn’t as quick or nerve-racking of an explore we did take some extra time that morning to get some more detailed shots.

As always, again, thank you all for playing along! It really does mean a ton to us! Like, comment, share, subscribe, and all other interactions are welcome and encouraged! You could even tell us about a spot you want us to check out, or just send us an email for the hell of it! Email US

These next pics will be my UE partner’s pics!

these green skylights were cool
these green skylights were cool
red door to the mechanical room
14.5 – 15ft tall flywheel
old broken gauges “laughing” to each other
Giant flywheel for a corliss steam engine
Cream City facade
scrappers doing there thing
going down
check and blueprint storage
check and blueprint storage
check and blueprint storage
check and blueprint storage
check and blueprint storage
check and blueprint storage
check and blueprint storage
many bits from industry past
many bits from industry past
the amount of weight left on that shelf :/
clothes drying area
You DOD “dummies”
1902 checks lower shelf
handwritten checks
handwritten checks

Leave a Comment