In colonial times, the southern tip of Green Bay marked the entrance to one of North America’s most crucial water routes: a shortcut from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. From Green Bay, boats traveled up the Fox River, made the easy portage from the Fox to the Wisconsin River, and then descended the Wisconsin to the Mississippi and, eventually, the Gulf. Not surprisingly, given this area’s strategic importance, Europeans settled here before anywhere else in Wisconsin. American rule brought an army garrison, Fort Howard, in 1816. Soon after, John Jacob Astor established his American Fur Company headquarters in the young settlement of La Baye, precursor to the city of Green Bay. Before long, some three hundred French Canadian traders and métis (people of mixed Indian and French Canadian parentage) had settled in the area.
The oldest (northern) part of the settlement sat on swampy land. But in 1835, speculator James Duane Doty platted the village of Astor on a ridge along the river. The higher, drier location made the “Hill” an attractive and prestigious neighborhood. By 1897, boosters were extolling the district’s wealth of stately elms that beautified streets and lawns. Today’s Astor Historic District showcases architectural styles that were popular between 1835 and 1920. For example, the two-and-a-half-story Albert Murphy House (1905; 903 S. Quincy Street) illustrates the Colonial Revival mode. Murphy managed Green Bay’s largest lumber mill, established near the mouth of the Fox in 1882, and, appropriately, clad his house in wooden clapboards. The residence features a cross-gambrel roof with a bell-cast dormer and a one-story brick porch with Doric columns. A porch and balustraded roof deck wrap around to one side, while a sun porch with casement windows extends to the other.
Henry Foeller designed the delightfully eclectic Mitchell Joannes House (1901; 902 S. Madison Street) for the cofounder of the largest wholesale grocery north of Milwaukee. Red brick walls rise two-and-a-half stories to a steeply pitched hipped roof. A deep Ionic portico and a three-story turret at the northeast corner are focal points, and a diamond-patterned brick frieze under the eaves and rusticated keystones add texture.
James Doty platted Astor thirteen years before Wisconsin became a state, and several residents played key roles in territorial government and the transition to statehood. Morgan Martin, a territorial delegate to Congress, helped draft the state constitution in 1847 at his house, Hazelwood (c. 1837; 1008 S. Monroe Avenue), designed by Joseph Jackson. Martin later served in the state assembly and senate. Now a museum, Hazelwood reflects the fashion for Greek Revival houses with porches on widely spaced Doric columns spanning the front and rear. Engaged Doric columns and sidelights flank the entrance, and two pedimented dormers pierce the side-gabled roof. The one-and-a-half-story wing to the south was originally matched by a north wing.
In the late nineteenth century, Green Bay’s proximity to the great northern pine forests made the city a lumber- and pulp-processing center, a port for shipping lumber to Chicago, and the market hub of northern Wisconsin and the Fox River Valley. Again, the old Astor district became the neighborhood of choice for the city’s new economic leaders. William Wagner, who cofounded the Northern Paper Company in 1901, commissioned the two-and-a-half-story house at 1030 S. Monroe in 1906. The wood-shingled, side-gambrel roof echoes Dutch Colonial architecture, but otherwise classical elements prevail, including a full-width Tuscan-columned porch, architrave moldings, and pediments on the three attic dormers. Next door, the modest Queen Anne house of N. S. Kimball (1896; 1044 S. Monroe) was later bought by John R. T. Phillips, who managed the Diamond Lumber Company (one of northern Wisconsin’s largest lumber concerns) and headed the Northern Hemlock and Hardwood Manufacturers Association. The two-story, Tudor Revival Cecil Baum House (1924; 1101 S. Monroe) was built for the owner of Baum’s Department Store, one of Green Bay’s best-known merchants in his day. Random-coursed stone walls enclose an irregular plan, including a turret-like entrance bay. An arcade of round-arched openings lights the central block, and above is a diamond-paned leaded glass oriel window. False half-timbering, filled with brick in a basket-picturesque quality.