40. St. Stephen’s Lutheran, 1901

1136 South 5th Street (at Scott Street)
Architect: Otto Uehling

St. Stephen’s Lutheran
St. Stephen’s Lutheran

St. Stephen’s was organized in 1854 as a daughter of Trinity Lutheran. It was the fourth German-speaking Lutheran congregation established in Milwaukee and the first on the South Side. The congregation built a church on the present site in 1866, adding a tower and steeple to the building in 1879. Construction of the present church began in 1901 and was completed in 1902. However, the earlier church was not demolished in its entirety. Instead, the tower and steeple were retained and incorporated into the present church. The lower portion of the tower was resurfaced in the same dark red brick as the rest of the church, while the octagonal upper portion, constructed of Cream City brick, was simply painted a matching shade of red. Some of the original yellow color of the brick can be seen where the paint has worn away. The four clock faces are also original to the 1879 construction of the tower.

The exterior of the church is extensively ornamented with carved limestone and pressed metal. Limestone is used for door and window surrounds, buttress caps, and the two pilasters flanking the main entrance. Metal ornament graces the tops of the walls of the façade gable and transept gables, along the eaves on the side walls, and on the front gable of the tower where it transitions from square to octagonal. The metal ornament is a different design in each of these three locations. On many other churches, these areas are corbeled arcades of brick and are therefore the same color as the walls, while at St. Stephen’s the white painted metal stands out clearly against the dark red brick. There are also tall pinnacles of metal atop the end buttresses of the façade and transept walls, two slightly taller pinnacles at the rear corners of the tower, and two slightly shorter pinnacles atop the limestone piers flanking the main entrance.

St. Stephen’s Lutheran
St. Stephen’s Lutheran

A major change to the setting of the church occurred in 1968, with the completion of the I-43 freeway. The freeway is elevated about 20 feet where it passes by the church, with a retaining wall along the eastern edge of the freeway only a bit more than 60 feet from the façade of the church. The freeway cut off access to the church from the west, except at Washington Street (one block to the north) and Greenfield Avenue (two blocks to the south). Although the church steeple is visible from the residential neighborhood to the west of the freeway, the best overall views of the church are now from the freeway itself.

As with the older Lutheran congregations of Trinity, St. John’s, and Grace, services at St. Stephen’s were initially conducted entirely in German. Some English-language services were offered beginning in 1919, with both languages in regular use by the end of the 1920s. Services in Spanish began in 1964, in response to the growing number of Latin Americans moving into Milwaukee’s South Side neighborhoods. For a brief period in the mid-1960s, regular Sunday services were offered in English, German, and Spanish. Sunday services are currently offered in both English and Spanish.

100th Anniversary, 1854-1954, St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church. St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1954.

“A Brief History,” from the website of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, at

Flower, Frank A. History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Western Historical Company, 1881. Facsimile reprint by the Milwaukee Genealogical Society, 1981.