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.
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…)
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.