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Historic Sixth Street Business District

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c. 1850–1940s. Roughly bounded by 6th, Main, 5th, and Water sts., and Grand Ave.

Monument Square, where Main meets 6th Street, emerged as a commercial thoroughfare in the late 1840s. Monument Square is named for the granite Civil War monument of 1884. Produced by Ryegate Monument Works in Vermont, this sixty-one-foot-tall monolith, topped by a statue representing a soldier standing picket duty, was designed by J. Allen Campbell and sculpted by Alex Barrata.

The Janesville-to-Racine plank road ran along 6th Street. By the 1890s an electric streetcar line sparked further commercial growth, funded mainly by German immigrants. Sixth Street retains more than sixty historic buildings, dating from the 1850s through the 1940s, many built of locally produced cream brick. Arthur Guilbert and his partner Edmund Funston ran the city’s leading architectural firm in the early twentieth century; when they parted ways in 1915, Funston embraced new styles enthusiastically. In 1916 he designed the Badger Building at 610 S. Main, a rare Prairie Style commercial building. Windows stack in recessed vertical bands, framed by the storefront below, wide corner piers on each side, and a broad frieze above. Cream brick walls, with grooved joints, combine with terra-cotta decorations cast in geometric foliated patterns. At 624 Main, the Gothic Revival St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (1867) by Edward Townsend Mix has a dramatic corner tower set at a 45-degree angle. Sawtooth corbeling in the tower’s second and third stages leads the eye to an octagonal spire. The adjacent St. Luke’s complex includes a chapel, a guildhall, and a rectory.

The east end of 6th Street was the earliest to develop, yet one of its more recent facades is located at number 218. The Kaiser Building, an old structure, got a new pink-glazed terra-cotta front in 1929. Local architect Frank Hoffman employed a Mayan Revival version of Art Deco with fluted pilasters rising to form stylized scrolls. Incised multicolored panels with zigzag, frond, wave, and sunrise motifs enliven Hoffman’s playful design. The former Young Men’s Christian Association Building (1886; 314–320 6th), designed by James Gilbert Chandler in a Queen Anne style, features dogtooth brickwork and terra-cotta gablets atop brick pilasters. A polygonal corner turret rises from the second story to a bell-shaped roof, and two rhythmically spaced bay windows trimmed with terra-cotta sunburst panels terminate in embossed-metal, gabled pediments.

The Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church (625 College Avenue) was built as the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1895 and renamed in 1989. An active member of the congregation when it built this church, Olympia Brown became its pastor in 1878, the first American woman ordained as a Unitarian minister. In 1887 she resigned to devote herself to the campaign for woman suffrage. James Chandler designed the handsome Romanesque Revival church with a stocky corner tower and rock-faced sandstone trim. In 1896, Josiah Hocking added an east wing sympathetic to the original design.

At 415 6th Street, the Rickeman Grocery Building (1883) is small but boasts a glorious Italianate facade with a bracketed metal cornice of arches, a broken pediment, and knob finials. Limestone trims a segmental-arched tripartite window. The recessed storefront has a prism-glass clerestory. The brick Engine House Number 3 (1881; 700 6th) houses a fire department museum. Its corner tower, segmental-arched openings, pronounced brick hood-moldings, and corbel tables exemplify the Italianate style.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


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Marsha Weisiger et al., "Historic Sixth Street Business District", [Racine, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 167-169.

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