Preserving Our Past

A regular feature about the historically significant buildings in Whitefish Bay

May 11, 2007


The Frederick G. Isenring Residence
Home of the First Village President


920-922 East Sylvan Avenue, Whitefish Bay, WI 53217

920-922 East Sylvan Avenue

This stately, vernacular residence sits on a lot adjacent to the Whitefish Bay station of the North Shore Fire Department. Built in 1892 for the first Village President, in the year he assumed office, it was originally located next to Village Hall on Fleetwood Place. The house was relocated to its present location at 920-922 East Sylvan Avenue by Dr. Williams, the Village Health Officer, who acquired the house following Isenring's mysterious departure.

The structure was originally a single family residence, but was later subdivided into a duplex. A number of exterior modifications have also been made to the structure over the years. Earlier photographs showed singled siding on the upper level and fairly wide vertical wooden siding on the lower course. The house also some interesting corner details over two of the lower windows on the east side of the house. These ornamental features are still present, although partially obliterated by an enlarged canopy over the front porch. While the porch roofs are interesting features, they are not original - having been added since 1983.

Frederick G. Isenring was president of the Village of Whitefish Bay from 1892-1895. He was a business man who was active in real estate, insurance and real estate loans. His ads stated "Whitefish Bay Real Estate A Specialty. He acquired a large parcel of land along the shoreline of Whitefish Bay and eventually sold the property to Pabst Brewing Co. for the construction of the Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort. Upon its construction, he operated the resort under lease from Pabst. Isenring's real estate activities also included the development of three subdivisions in Whitefish Bay.

Isenring was one of the 35 individuals that joined together to incorporate the Village, severing ties from the Town of East Milwaukee. In addition to serving as the Village's first president, he also represented the Village on the Milwaukee County Board. Given his civic and real estate activities in Whitefish Bay, it could be argued that he did more than anyone else to develop the Village.

After leaving office as President of Whitefish Bay, Isenring became Milwaukee County Sheriff. Meanwhile, it appears that Isenring's real estate business began to fall into financial trouble. According to Judy Kloman, a Whitefish Bay historian, "By 1898 there was a depression. The bottom fell out of the real estate market. But he still had to pay taxes at the higher value." Kloman also said that Isenring was probably experiencing bills from his daughter Mary's 'rheumatism.'

While in the position of Milwaukee County sheriff, it was learned that an estimated $20,000 in funds from sheriff's sales which Isenring conducted after he was elected in 1896, could not be accounted for. "Mr. Isenring gave himself a little salary boost by absconding with $20,000 of the County's money." He left office in 1897 but failed to file financial reports for at least 18 months. The Milwaukee Journal reported that, "Finally, after repeated delays, the County Board made a formal request for the district attorney to investigate the matter. Papers were served, ordering him to appear in court. He did not. An order was issued for the former sheriff's arrest only days before Christmas in 1899, but by that time he had disappeared."

His wife reported that he told her he was going to Fond du Lac to conduct business. She stated, "We were sure he would come back for Christmas and we had the baby's Christmas tree waiting for him in hopes he would arrive at the last moment." He was never seen again. While the family stated that they believed that he may have committed suicide, rumors persisted in the months following his death that he had fled to Puerto Rico, Alaska or even south to start a wine business.

Eventually the Village Health Officer, Dr. Thaddaus H. Williams, bought Isenring's house. Interestingly, it appears the two men had had several real estate transactions together. Williams moved Isenring's house to its present location at 922 E. Sylvan Ave.

The Isenring Family

The 1860 US Census for the Town of Milwaukee shows Gallus Isenring and his family as living in what is now Whitefish Bay, in the area that is presently defined by Shore Drive and Lake View Avenue.

Gallus met his wife, Wilhelmina Zetteler (also known as Minnie and Mary), on the boat coming to the United States, according to their granddaughter, Hepworth Wilhelmina Isenring Kearby. Wilhelmina was a daughter of Wynand John B. and Annie K (Peters) Zetteler, born in Rotterdam, Holland. Her brother was Tobias T. Zetteler, who settled in Fox Point. That had six children, Freerick G. (born 1854), Wynand, Annie, Marie Elizabeth and Jan William. In later years, Jan reversed his name to William J. Isenring.

According to the "History of Milwaukee," "Gallus Isenring worked on a farm for three years, then opened a grocery store and saloon on the Port Washington Road (at Green Tree Rd.), which he continued for four years. He bought a farm (at Lake View and Shore Dr.) in which he lived for eleven years. He sold this and moved to Milwaukee, where he again opened a dry goods and grocery store, which was located on Third Street. He continued in business there for about ten years, and then became proprietor of a saloon at 679 Ninth St. When in the Town of Milwaukee, Gallus was Road Commissioner and Constable for two years, Town Treasurer in 1859, and County Supervisor in 1862."

Fred G. Isenring

Fred G. Isenring married Hepworth S. Chandler and they had two children, Mary (1876) and Hattie (1881). Hepworth died in 1894. Fred remarried and had another daughter, Mildred, (who was just a baby when Fred disappeared). Judy Kloman, who has done some extensive research into the disappearance of Frederick Isenring has prepared a paper entitled, "Where Did Frederick G. Isenring Go?" It includes the newspaper accounts of his disappearance in December 1899 taken from the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel. It is available in the Mimi Bird files of the Whitefish Bay library.

Dr. Thaddaus H. Williams

Dr. Williams was a physician born about 1842 in Kentucky. He was married (Alice J.) and had a daughter named Grace. The 1900 US Federal Census showed that his niece Kittie Craig and nephew Wayne Bennet (both born in Kentucky) were living with the family at that time, along with a servant, Martha Hausmann (born in Germany). As noted previously, he was the Village Health Officer at the time of Fred Isenring's disappearance.


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About "Preserving Our Past"

The Village of Whitefish Bay is a community of residential neighborhoods, punctuated with an attractive walking district of fine stores, excellent schools and vibrant houses of worship. It is filled with homes and other buildings that are architecturally rich, well-designed and maintained, and diverse in character.

Its residents have contributed much to the broad cultural, political, economic and social history of the area. And its residents are interested in maintaining their connections with an historic past.

To help maintain these connections, the Historic Preservation Commission is in the process of identifying buildings and historic sites that it believes may be architecturally significant or historic. On a weekly basis we will feature a building or site from our inventory.



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