Milwaukee River

Milwaukee’s Bridge War

The Wisconsin Avenue bridge across the Milwaukee River as it appeared in the 1870s. Note how the East and West side streets do not line up. Carl A. Swanson collection

In 1845, an argument over who should pay for civic improvements escalated to the point that a cannon was wheeled out to threaten the west side of town with artillery fire. The dispute ended in the wrecking of most of the bridges in town.

They called it the Bridge War. (more…)

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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

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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.
(more…)

Riverwest’s hidden landmark

Milwaukee River Pumping Station

This brick structure on the bank of the Milwaukee River in Riverwest is part of the city’s water utility. When it entered service in 1924, its massive pumps set a world record. Carl A. Swanson photo

On a stretch of the Milwaukee River once home to both ice houses and a lost neighborhood, only one structure remains – a five-story-tall, windowless brick building. Although well maintained and surrounded by neatly mown lawn, no sign identifies it and its purpose isn’t immediately obvious.

Here, at the foot of East Chambers Street in Riverwest, the city built a record-setting engineering landmark. This 92-year-old building is the Milwaukee Water Works Riverside Pumping Station. (more…)

Safe haven for deserters

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The Water Street store of Ludington, Birchard and Co., where trigger-happy Army officers were not welcome. Illustration from James S. Buck’s Pioneer History of Milwaukee.

In his Pioneer History of Milwaukee, early settler James S. Buck notes the fledgling city became a safe-haven for U.S. Army deserters in the 1830s.

In those years, Buck wrote, the existence of hell as a punishment for the wicked in the hereafter was much debated among theologians but an earthly hell, “certainly as far as the common soldiers were concerned,” was a reality. It was in Portage, Wis., and it was called Fort Winnebago.

(more…)

The top 5 posts of 2015

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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

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.

(more…)

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 spectacular defiance of Captain Bodenlos

Expert ship handling, icy contempt for petty bureaucrats, and a flair for the dramatic made steamship Captain E.J. Bodenlos a local hero in 1934.

Expert ship handling, icy contempt for petty bureaucrats, and a flair for the dramatic made Captain E.J. Bodenlos a local hero in 1934.

In summer 1934, tugboat crews in Milwaukee went on strike. But what started as a minor labor dispute became front page news with a steamship captain’s spectacular act of civil disobedience.

Before it was over, the dapper captain (he favored panama hats and kid gloves) had threatened to throw a police officer in the river and, two nights in a row evaded a cordon of authorities in order to take in a movie. For a grand finale, he treated a cheering crowd of thousands to a magnificent display of boat handling. (more…)

O.W. Wight, the most famous Milwaukeean you’ve never heard of

O.W. Wight served as Milwaukee's commissioner of Health in the late 1870s, and was instrumental in sweeping reforms that greatly improved public health and welfare. Illustration by Carl Swanson

O.W. Wight served as Milwaukee’s commissioner of Health in the late 1870s, and was instrumental in sweeping reforms that greatly improved public health and welfare. Illustration by Carl Swanson

My friends at OnMilwaukee.com have very kindy reprinted a blog post on O.W. Wight, the city’s crusading Commissioner of Health in the 1870s. In addition to being a medical doctor, attorney, and world traveler, Wight was a gifted and powerful writer, as you’ll see from the quotes in the article. If you missed this entry the first time around, I hope you’ll head over to OnMilwaukee.com and take a look.

Also, Wight’s efforts to clean up Milwaukee’s ice supply are covered in a separate Milwaukee Notebook article.Carl_sigMKE_share