Abandoned Milwaukee

Reminders of the past are still around us.

Century-old dam is a reminder of Milwaukee’s up-river icehouses

This partially collapsed timber dam across the Milwaukee River north of Locust Street is all that remains of the Schlitz Brewing Company's ice-harvesting operation. Carl Swanson photo

This century-old partially collapsed timber dam across the Milwaukee River north of Locust Street is all that remains of the Schlitz Brewing Company’s ice-harvesting operation in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Carl Swanson photo

There is a fascinating reminder of Riverwest’s past hidden in plain sight in the Milwaukee River just north of the Locust Street bridge. Here logs across the river trace the remains of the Schlitz icehouse dam. The dam is over a century old, but the reason for Schlitz building its icehouses here dates back even further – all the way to late 1878 when this area was largely open country.

(more…)

An ignored Estabrook Park artifact hints at early Indian settlement

This large, flat rock in Estabrook Park with its two deep oval-shaped hollows, was thought to have been used by early Native Americans to grind corn. The rock was once quite a historic attraction for the park. It appears to be completely forgotten now. Photo by Carl Swanson

This large, flat rock in Estabrook Park with its two deep oval-shaped hollows was said to have been used by early Native Americans to grind corn. Once this was an important  historic attraction for the park but now has seemingly been forgotten. Photo by Carl Swanson

On May 14, 1952, the Milwaukee Journal printed an article promoting the idea of an automobile trip to various Milwaukee County Parks, including Estabrook. The article advised visitors not to miss an artifact that was then a well-known attraction in the park but today has been forgotten. (more…)

Amid the ruins of Gordon Park

gordon_park_stairs_southside

A retaining wall is a reminder of Gordon Park’s bathhouse, built 100 years ago along the west bank of the Milwaukee River. Photo by Carl Swanson

Enjoy this sample chapter from the new book, Lost Milwaukee, by Milwaukee Notebook blogger Carl Swanson

Deep in the trees along the west bank of the Milwaukee River near the Locust Street bridge is a strange sight: a century-old concrete retaining wall, with two sets of stairs leading down into a field of tall grass. The wall is all that remains of the Gordon Park bathhouse, a point of considerable civic pride when it opened one hundred years ago but ultimately cursed by its location and by steadily worsening water pollution.

(more…)

In 1931, frisky Milwaukeeans flocked to Kern Park’s lovers’ lane

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee's "lover's lane." The card was mailed by a man named Albert to a Miss Evaline Beecher of Sauk City and reads, "Ain't this a nice place to spoon. This is Eva waiting for Al." Let's hope it worked out for those crazy kids, 106 years ago. Carl Swanson collection

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee’s “lover’s lane.” The card was mailed by a man named Albert to a Miss Evaline Beecher of Sauk City and reads, “Ain’t this a nice place to spoon. This is Eva waiting for Al.” Let’s hope it worked out for those crazy kids, 106 years ago. Carl Swanson collection

The Milwaukee Notebook has a few loose pages, minor items that don’t amount to much in the life of a city but are still worth mentioning. Here’s an example: In its August 19, 1931 edition, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported:

Lovers’ lane in Kern Park is doomed. That dark, alluring walk under the trees beside the Milwaukee River – illuminated by no more than the moon – won’t be that way much longer.

A thousand dollars worth of lights are to be strung along the walk the park board has decided. It approved a recommendation by Al Riemenschneider, park engineer, to include that sum in next year’s budget.

“We need the lights from a moral standpoint,” explained Otto Spidel, acting park superintendent.

I checked the other day. The lights are no longer there. However, I didn’t see any lovers either so, from a ‘moral standpoint,’ we must be behaving ourselves these days.

Eighty years ago, this riverside pathway in Milwaukee's Kern Park had a naughty reputation. Carl Swanson photo

Eighty years ago, this riverside pathway in Milwaukee’s Kern Park had a naughty reputation. Carl Swanson photo

Carl_sig

a_favor_requested

Estabrook Park’s forgotten swimming beach

Built along a bend in the Milwaukee River, the swimming beach at Estabrook Park was a popular place to cool off on a hot day. The river is unusually wide here because the river bed was heavily quarried more than a century ago, creating a deep man-made lake known as the "blue hole." Photo by Carl Swanson
Built along a bend in the Milwaukee River, the swimming beach at Estabrook Park was a popular place to cool off on a hot day. The beach was abandoned almost 70 years ago. Photo by Carl Swanson

Estabrook Park, on the east side of the Milwaukee River north of Capitol Drive, has much to offer. There is a disc golf course, a popular dog exercise area, and an even more popular beer garden. The swimming beach, however, has been closed for nearly 70 years.

In other news: There was a swimming beach at Estabrook Park.

Even on a hot day, most people would hesitate before jumping into the Milwaukee River, but the river was once enormously popular for swimming. Kletzsch, Estabrook, and Gordon parks had swimming areas and there were at least three private swim schools located near the North Avenue dam. Gordon Park, with its beautiful bathing house, is fairly well-known among long-time Milwaukeeans but Estabrook Park’s beach is nearly forgotten.

(more…)

River Colony, Milwaukee’s lost neighborhood

River Colony foundation

Only foundations remain of River Colony, a former neighborhood of a half-dozen year-round homes on the east bank of the Milwaukee River on the north side of the Locust Street bridge. The homes faced the water. Immediately to their rear the river bank climbed steeply to a railroad cut made by the Chicago & North Western Railway (today’s Oak Leaf Trail). East of the railroad tracks, the ground again rose steeply to Cambridge Avenue, about forty feet above the colony. Photo by Carl Swanson

Just north of the Locust Street bridge, Cambridge Woods Park narrows considerably squeezed between the Milwaukee River and the Oak Leaf Trail. Here the walking path passes a number of tightly spaced crumbling concrete foundations, some covered with graffiti, some barely more than rubble amid the weeds and wildflowers.

You are walking across the doorsteps of River Colony and in its day this was one of the most unusual neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

(more…)

Blue Ribbon memories

Although the area is undergoing rapid development, some of the original Pabst buildings remain. Photo illustration by Carl Swanson

Although the former Pabst brewery complex in Milwaukee is being converted into a mixed-use development, some of the original buildings remain. Photo illustration by Carl Swanson

When I moved to Milwaukee 25 years ago I did what everyone does. I toured the Pabst Brewery. Because, free beer.

Of course, Pabst Blue Ribbon is not in the same class as Riverwest Stein, but what is?

I arrived five minutes after the day’s last tour had departed, which is pretty much the story of my life. However, the people at the visitor’s center were very nice. A group from Germany had arranged for a private tour but they probably wouldn’t mind me tagging along.

The tour was led by a young woman who was good at her job but rather hampered by the German group’s overbearing leader. The Pabst guide would say one or two sentences then we all stood around for 10 minutes or so to let Mr. Bossy-Britches harangue his merry band of Krauts.

(more…)

Harambee gets a Superfund site

Vacant since 2008, this industrial building at 3456 N. Buffum St., at the northern end of the Beerline recreational trail contains a variety of hazardous substances and will be cleaned-up under the EPA's Superfund program. Photo by Carl Swanson

Vacant since 2008, this industrial building at 3456 N. Buffum St., at the northern end of the Beer Line Recreational Trail contains a variety of hazardous substances and will be cleaned-up under the EPA’s Superfund program. Photo by Carl Swanson

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined hazardous waste inside a vacant industrial building at the northern end of the Beer Line recreational trail qualifies for a “time-critical removal action”  under the federal Superfund law.

The century-old three-story building at 3456 N. Buffum St., has seen many industrial uses over the years, everything from a casket maker to a company marketing a hangover remedy, but has been vacant since 2008 and is in an advanced state of disrepair.

The EPA inspected the property in early spring and its tests revealed a number of contaminants including lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated solvents, waste oil, flammable and corrosive materials, and asbestos. Since the hazards are apparent and the property owner is unable to conduct the necessary cleanup, the EPA has decided the building warrants a Superfund designation, clearing the way for immediate action funded by taxpayer money.

Starting June 11th, contractors will begin removing substances deemed an imminent threat to safety. The EPA believes the problems are confined to the interior of the building and said surrounding residents are not at risk. As a precaution, the EPA will monitor air samples throughout the two-month cleanup project to ensure residents are not exposed to harmful dust. Additionally, security guards will be on-site during non-working hours.

The EPA said residents can expect increased truck traffic on Keefe Avenue, Holton, and Buffum streets as well as the alleys that surround the property. Access to the Beer Line Trail next to the property may be restricted at times.

Note: A more recent post on this property, including details of what was found inside, is here.

a_favor_requested

A Milwaukee River art walk

Graffiti on an crumbling foundation wall along the east bank of the Milwaukee River, north of Locust Street. Photo by Carl Swanson

Graffiti on an crumbling foundation wall along the east bank of the Milwaukee River, north of Locust Street. Photo by Carl Swanson

Most graffiti is woefully lacking artistic vision executed with a profound lack of technique. Of course much the same can be said of the sculptures this city has scattered around its parks. Every once in a while, one runs across graffiti that’s pretty striking.

The painter has a nice touch, the shading of the sin tones is nicely done. It appears the woman's blue dress and the man's white pants were added later and much more carelessly. Photo by Carl Swanson

The shading of the skin tones is carefully done but it appears the woman’s dress was added later and more hastily. Photo by Carl Swanson

Consider this painting found along the east bank of the Milwaukee River, just north of the Locust Street bridge, in a fairly narrow space between the bank and the river itself, are a series of shattered foundations in the weeds. There was once a thriving neighborhood here.

On one of the foundation walls, someone created a fairly advanced piece of artwork. The pose is striking and the dove between the outstretched hands is an interesting touch. It appears the man and woman were originally nude and someone subsequently painted the pants and the dress. Perhaps there was the thought nudity might result in the wall being swiftly painted over, while clothed figures would more likely be left alone.

Leaving the painting alone seems like a good plan. It’s not as though an ancient concrete  foundation from a long-gone building would be any kind of adornment to the community if left bare. Unfortunately, lesser-talents have since added quite a few random blotches and spray-painted squiggles. For the unknown painter of the original, it must be annoying to pull off something nice, only to have others add their crude touches.

 

Riverside Park: a dream, a long decline, and a bright future

Milwaukee's Riverside Park was designed in the 1890s by Frederick Law Olmsted, the pioneering landscape designer who was also responsible for Lake and Washington parks in Milwaukee, Central Park in Manhattan, and much more. Only traces of Olmsted's plan remain.

Milwaukee’s Riverside Park was designed in the 1890s by Frederick Law Olmsted, the pioneering landscape designer who was also responsible for Lake and Washington parks in Milwaukee, Central Park in Manhattan, and much more. Only traces of Olmsted’s plan remain.

Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of, among other things, Manhattan’s Central Park), also left a lasting mark on Milwaukee. In the 1890s his landscape architectural firm designed three Milwaukee County Parks; Lake Park, River Park (called Riverside after 1900), and West Park (renamed Washington Park).

The plan called for Lake and River parks to be united by an elegant boulevard, today’s East Newberry Boulevard. While Lake Park and Washington Park ultimately came fairly close to Olmsted’s vision, development of River Park was never fully completed, although some key features were built, and can be seen today – if you know where to look.

(more…)