BY MARGO DRUMMOND
As an architect and builder, Lucas Bradley has been compared to Bullfinch and Latrobe (architects of the United States Capitol) for his creation of Racine’s First Presbyterian Church, a Greek Revival masterpiece completed in 1852 at a cost of $10,600. His personal interest in furthering the development of better Sunday schools had prompted him to purchase the land where the church now stands, which he then sold back without profit plus an added donation.
Both Bradley and his wife, Lucinda, were active members of the congregation, he as chairman of the building committee and for many years as a church elder. Years later when two pillars in the interior had to be removed to install an organ, it was said that Bradley wept as they came down, “so dear to him was every part and detail of the edifice.”
Born in Geneva, New York in 1809, Lucas Bradley grew up observing his father, Miles, who was known as a “rural architect,” self-taught craftsman, carpenter, and contract builder of homes, barns, schools, and churches. The sixth of 12 children, Lucas alone followed in the pursuit of that profession.
During the early years of his career, Lucas and Lucinda Bradley lived in St. Louis where he built a church that closely resembled the one he would later build in Racine. During a visit to Wisconsin in 1843, Bradley discovered what he described as the “salubrious atmosphere” in Racine, where he chose to remain for the next 45 years. In a letter written to his mother, he praised the community for having “the best kind of immigrants from New England and New York and not a few reputable and wealthy from Old England.”
From 1852-1874 Lucas Bradley served as the unofficial architect for the city’s school board of which he was also a member. His designs for Washington, Garfield, Janes, Franklin and Winslow schools consisted of four rooms with long benches lining the walls along with separate staircases for the boys and girls to use at passing time. Winslow, originally known as the Third Ward School, was renamed in honor of Bradley’s brother-in-law who became Racine’s first Superintendent of Schools. He also designed the city’s first high school, a two-story Greco-Roman structure located at 7th Street between Barnstable (now College Avenue) and Wisconsin where the Racine County Courthouse stands today. Modern for its era, there were hot air furnaces and basement exercise rooms for bad weather days.
To insure that the building materials he used were of top quality, Bradley opened a lumber yard along the Root River to which he added a factory for hardwood flooring, doors and window frames. The process of drying, cutting, and shipping wood, some brought from as far as Manitowoc, created an 1850s method of prefabrication. Hand-pressed bricks from the yards of Lewis and Crook along with Lockport stone were also incorporated into his structures which included buildings on the campus of Beloit College, Racine College (DeKoven), the Taylor Orphanage, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the “Olin-Murphy house” at 11th and Main, the Sidney Sage house at Peck Street and Wilson Avenue, and of course his master work, the First Presbyterian Church.
Lucas Bradley died at his home, located near 6th and Villa streets, on Jan. 10, 1889, five months short of his 80th birthday. Included in his will was a $500 gift for the church Sunday school that he had initially promoted. In a tribute written for him by one of his peers, it was said of Lucas Bradley that:
“His monument will not be the stately shaft of marble in the silent street but the churches, asylums, homes, places of business along our busy streets and the men of Racine and elsewhere whom his example and counsel and help have led into lives of happiness, usefulness and honor.”
Margo Drummond’s interest in local history began when she became involved with Preservation Racine. For 31 years, she taught high school courses on Racine History and Death and Dying, Issues of Living and Life. She wrote two books, “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us to Live Wisely and Well” and “Here’s to Your Health.”