Milwaukee Public Market

Where the Milwaukee Public Market exists today, once stood one of Milwaukee’s early brick buildings, the Cross Keys Hotel. Built in 1853 by Bailey Stimson, The Cross Keys was one of the first buildings
in the city to feature running water.

The Cross Keys also hosted a famous visitor in 1859, when future President Abraham Lincoln visited Milwaukee. Though Lincoln was staying at a different hotel, he stopped by the Cross Keys for breakfast, after which he gave a speech from the hotel’s wrought iron balcony. As part of his visit to the Cross Keys, he also took a bath, as the hotel he was staying at did not contain bathtubs long enough to accommodate his considerable height.

In 1879, the building was converted to storefronts and ceased hotel operations.

One of the buildings that once stood near the site of the building was the Union Oil Company. On October 28th, 1892 fire broke out at the oil company. Aided by strong winds, the fire decimated the Third Ward. It would become known as the most devastating fire in Milwaukee’s history. Luckily, the Cross Keys building survived the blaze.

The building found new life in 1964 as one of Milwaukee’s pioneering gay bars, the Crystal Palace. In 1969, a new owner, Al Barry, renovated the space and renamed it the River Queen. Showcasing an opulent and plush new décor, the River Queen is considered Milwaukee’s first openly gay establishment.

The River Queen closed amid a police corruption scandal in 1976. In 1979, a fire gutted the entire structure, leading to demolition in 1980. In 2005, the Public Market made its debut, offering fresh food and unique gifts to locals and tourists alike, while breathing life back into a historic property.





Learn more with Viewaukee curriculum for the home or classroom.
Milwaukee Public Market Curriculum
Cross Keys Curriculum

Milwaukee County Historical Society
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