In late 1889 Milwaukee architects Wiskocil & Schutz Architects commissioned and designed a new 30-room business and tourist hotel for Grafton entrepreneur and businessman Edward Mueller. The new Mueller Hotel was completed in the summer of 1892 on the site of the razed Wisconsin Haus in the very center of a vibrant community. Weekly markets and other social gatherings happened in the shadow of this 3-story masonry and timber building. A genuinely handsome structure, built of locally produced cream city brick and quarried limestone, it has long stood sentinel to the colorful history of life in Grafton, as people around it were born, lived, worked, and thrived.
Today, the Hotel Grafton Apartments carries on as a meticulously restored example of one of Wisconsin’s many historic hotels built when it was a two-day trip by carriage from Milwaukee to Sheboygan. Current residents occupy twenty very unique modern apartments filled with original historic details and tremendous charm. The original – and now iconic – Hotel Grafton served business travelers as well as tourists at a time when people traveled by horse, carriage and stagecoach. Historically, many Wisconsin cities featured a downtown hotel, often beautifully designed and built – some very lavish – and always with a restaurant. Today the corridors of the Hotel Grafton Apartments are lined with photographs of many of those historic Wisconsin tourist hotels from across the state. The images serve as a reminder of the era of the downtown hotel, offering an interesting glimpse into a recent time when people stayed in a hotel located somewhere in the center of town when they traveled for business or pleasure.
A storied past…
Certainly the Hotel Grafton has a very rich history, only a part of which has been recorded. You’re welcome to share your stories about the Hotel Grafton with us or with the Grafton Historical Society. We’re grateful to members of the Grafton Historical Society, including Alan Buchholtz, Debbie Krueger, Nick Schanen, and Jay Van Langen, who very generously shared historic images from their collections, including the ones shown on the website. If you’d like to know more about Grafton’s history, check out Grafton Wisconsin: A History of the Place and the People written by Donald S. Henny and Ralph L. Zaun.
Saving a grand old building…
In 2008, the Village of Grafton purchased the Grafton Hotel after the once celebrated building had fallen into a heart-breaking state of disrepair. There was talk of demolition. Could this old building ever be useful again? The building’s most recent restaurant, Ferrante’s, had closed. The quintessential cream city brick was covered with paint, the parapet had lost its iconic “witch’s hat” and flagpole on the corner cupola, and the interior of the entire building was deteriorating by the day. Like other once useful buildings, this one’s demise happened gradually, through the ravages of time, weather, and demolition by neglect.
Between 2010 and 2012 in answer to a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the Village of Grafton, the old, tired, blighted building was redesigned and renovated to create twenty beautiful apartments, twelve in the original 1892 section of the building, and eight in a new addition attached to the south side of the building. In 2012, tenants began moving into their new apartments, filling the building with life and energy once again. Our community is so fortunate that the Village of Grafton Community Development Authority, Village President Jim Brunnquell, and the entire Village of Grafton staff were so firmly resolved to bring the Hotel Grafton back from the edge of its extinction. Their actions included offering Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, encouragement and unflagging support. Without their help, and the skills of the many talented and dedicated workers who labored on the restoration and new addition, the historic Hotel Grafton building would not exist today. A heartfelt “Thank You!” to all who believed in this lovely old building and helped bring it back to a useful life.
Previous proprietors and stewards…
The Hotel Grafton Apartments was owned and managed by one of the original partners in the venture to save the building: renovation architect and builder Paul Rushing, and his wife Kit Keller. Paul has an abiding interest in bringing historic buildings back from the brink of demolition as well as creating new buildings that contribute to the fabric of the community. And Kit’s dedication to walkable bicycle-friendly communities is evidenced by her work with Ozaukee County Government to help county visionaries conceptualize, fund, and create the Ozaukee Interurban Trail.