Milwaukee County Parks

East Side tunnel to nowhere

Built more than a century ago, this stone tunnel portal in the east bluff of the Milwaukee River is near the intersection of North Cambridge Avenue and Hampshire Street. Partly filled in and heavily vandalized, it remains impressive — and mysterious. Carl A. Swanson photo

There is a mystery in Cambridge Woods Park on the east bank of the Milwaukee River — an ancient tunnel made from carefully cut and fitted stone blocks and large enough to drive a truck through.

From its portal in a bluff at the foot of Hampshire Street, the tunnel extends eastward under the Oak Leaf Trail only to end abruptly at a modern concrete wall about 60 feet inside the entrance.

Who built it? And for what purpose?  (more…)


Cracker-Jacks Park was a river landmark


A shopping cart at the north end of Richards Street marks the former location of Cracker-Jacks Park. This once-popular privately owned picnic grounds on the west bank of the Milwaukee River is nearly forgotten today. Carl A. Swanson photo

On the Fourth of July, 1938, two sisters, ages 6 and 12, seeking a spot to watch the Estabrook Park fireworks from the west bank of the Milwaukee River found trouble instead. As they approached the bluff, an adult male emerged from the bushes, slapped the 6-year-old twice across the face, picked her up, and carried her off down a ravine.

Fortunately, help was nearby. Henry Kaeding, a resident of the 4200 block of North Richards Street, came running at the sound of the older girl’s screams and charged into the ravine in pursuit of the abducted child and her assailant.

Red Arrow: The park that moved

"Red Arrow" division insignia

Since the 1920s, Milwaukee has had a park dedicated to local soldiers who fought with the 32nd Red Arrow division of the U.S. Army. The 8-foot-tall divisional insignia was added in 1984. Carl Swanson photo

Milwaukee has always considered park names open to change. The strip of greenery in the median in front of Central Library, for instance, was once Washington Park. The present-day Washington Park was originally West Park. Pere Marquette Park is along the downtown riverfront, formerly it was several blocks south and in front of the Milwaukee Road station. The station is gone, but there is still a park – now called Zeidler Union Square.

And then there is the strange history of Red Arrow Park.


The horseman in Lake Park

Erastus B. Wolcott statue

Erastus B. Wolcott statue, Lake Park, Milwaukee. Photo by Carl A. Swanson

This statue in Lake Park honors a man who once walked into a guy′s house, pulled a knife, and sliced the homeowner wide open as he lay sprawled on his own kitchen table. When he left, he took one of the man′s kidneys away with him.

There is more to the story … (more…)

The top 5 posts of 2015


The Gordon Park bathing pavilion was the most popular blog post for the second year running. Photo by Jos. Brown.

Thank you for a great year in 2015! This blog was viewed 29,000 times in the past year. In 2015, 43 new posts were added to the site (for a total of 90) and 378 pictures uploaded, about a picture per day.

These are the top five posts of 2015. Have you read them all?

  1. Amid the ruins of Gordon Park’s riverside bathing pavilion
  2. Secrets of Shorewood’s Hubbard Park
  3. Just a neighborhood movie theater
  4. Drinking Pabst in Whitefish Bay
  5. Sunk, burned, and haunted, this tugboat keeps on working

Much more is on the way in 2016 —stay tuned!Carl_sig

Surprising facts about Milwaukee

Also zombie-proof. Carl Swanson photo

Also zombie-proof. Carl Swanson photo

We can water our lawn after a nuclear war

The North Point pumping station was built in the early 1960s with roof and walls two-feet-thick to protect the city’s vital water pumps from a nuclear blast. Arthur Rynders, superintendent of waterworks at the time, felt this was a reasonable precaution because survivors of World War III would need water to fight fires and “to wash atomic contamination into the sewers.” Source: The Milwaukee Journal, Aug. 11, 1960


The past haunts Riverside Park

Did you know the wooded paths in Milwaukee's Riverside Park were once illuminated? Some of the ornate century-old fixtures remain in place amid the trees. Carl Swanson photo

Did you know the wooded paths in Milwaukee’s Riverside Park were once illuminated? Some of the ornate century-old fixtures remain in place amid the trees. Carl Swanson photo

Once a natural ravine sloped down from Oakland Avenue to the Milwaukee River. In the 1890s, Frederick Law Olmstead’s famous landscape design firm used the ravine as the centerpiece of the future Riverside Park. The ravine is gone, but many aspects of the original park’s design remain – if you know where to look.


Revisiting Kern Park’s “Lover’s Lane”

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee's "Lover's Lane." Carl Swanson collection

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee’s “Lover’s Lane.” Carl Swanson collection

An antique postcard adds a fresh perspective to a post from last year on the end of Kern Park’s “Lover’s Lane.” Read it here.Carl_sig

The great courthouse trouser disaster of 1841

first_courtIn 1836, Solomon Juneau, Milwaukee’s founder, and his business partner Morgan Martin built the city’s first courthouse. The two story wooden building cost the men $5,000, a considerable sum of money in those days. Upon its completion, Juneau and Martin, who jointly owned much of what is today the East Side, donated the building and its plot of land (today’s Cathedral Square) to the county.

The second floor courtroom witnessed some of the most dramatic moments in early Milwaukee history. It was here, in 1852, that Mary Ann Wheeler stood trial for the murder of her lover John Lace. Here, also, three men faced charges of breaking into the city jail in 1854 and rescuing fugitive slave Joshua Glover. A Milwaukee jury acquitted those men.

Early settler James S. Buck, who wrote the four-volume Pioneer History of Milwaukee [1881], sat on the jury that refused to convict Glover’s rescuers. Thirteen years earlier, Buck had also been present at a less significant but equally memorable scene at the first courthouse. (more…)

County debates fate of aging Estabrook Park dam

The Depression-era dam across the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park. Photo by Carl Swanson

The Depression-era dam across the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park. Photo by Carl Swanson

The Milwaukee County Executive wants it gone, Milwaukee County Parks wants it gone, but the deteriorating Estabrook Park dam got a vote of confidence this week from the County Board, which voted $1.6 million in repairs. Read about the dam and its roots in a Depression-era make-work program in my latest article.