The Milwaukee County Landmarks Program originated in 1974 with the adoption of a county ordinance creating a landmarks committee with county-wide jurisdiction within the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
The landmark process adopted by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and developed by the committee provides for public nomination, a public hearing on all nominations which survive research and a site visit by the committee, and a recommendation of landmark designation to the Society’s Board of Directors, which has final approval powers. Nominations must be submitted to the Milwaukee County Historical Society by February 1st of each calendar year.
Over the course of the last thirty years, 94 properties within all of Milwaukee County’s cities, villages and towns have been designated Milwaukee County Landmarks. Ranging from farmhouses to elegant mansions, public parks to industrial buildings, churches and schools to medical institutions, and company towns to suburban communities, the landmarks reflect the broad criteria adopted by the committee from the outset: the property’s historic, architectural, or cultural significance to Milwaukee County.
Identification as a Milwaukee County Landmark does not confer any special protection on a structure, provide it with any financial or legal advantage, or, conversely, modify or limit the owner’s property rights. In all cases, notice of nomination of a site for landmark status is provided the owner in advance of the public hearing, and in all cases the owner’s wishes with regard to designation have been respected.
The primary purpose of designating a landmark is therefore educational – to provide the public with an informed list of buildings or sites of historic, architectural or cultural significance to the community. Only the moral force of public opinion – not anything in the law – can henceforth protect a landmark from demolition or serious alteration.
Adapted from the “Foreword” to the Guide to Milwaukee County Landmarks written by Dr. Frederick I. Olson in 1981