Milwaukee River

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 OnMilwaukee.com article.

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Milwaukee’s Center Street icehouse was a Riverwest landmark

This concrete foundation, atop a river bluff south of Gordon Park, supported Wisconsin Lakes Ice & Cartage Company's Center Street icehouse, which was destroyed in a massive fire 103 years ago. Carl Swanson photo

This concrete foundation, atop a river bluff south of Gordon Park, was part of the Wisconsin Lakes Ice & Cartage Company’s Center Street icehouse, destroyed in a massive fire a century ago. Carl Swanson photo

A concrete foundation in the woods south of Gordon Park in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood is all that remains of the Wisconsin Lakes Ice & Cartage Co. Center Street icehouse. The 350 x 100-foot icehouse, built in the late 1800s alongside the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul RR’s “Beer Line,” was one of several icehouses on the upper Milwaukee River. The icehouse burned to the ground in a spectacular multi-alarm fire in June 1911.

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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.

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The man who cleaned up Milwaukee

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

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

There has never been anyone quite like Orlando Williams Wight. Entirely self-taught (he never attended a college or university), he was a medical doctor, lawyer, theologian, engineer, author of 12 books, editor of 38 more, and – for a few extremely eventful years in the late 1870s – Milwaukee’s Commissioner of Health.

Armed with broad legal authority and an off-the-charts level of drive and focus, Wight encouraged, cajoled, argued, and, if all else failed, outright bullied business and civic leaders into sweeping public heath reforms. (more…)

Did Uncle Sam steal part of Estabrook Park?

The Federal government claims to own the small island in the center of this photo. The island divides the Estabrook Park dam's gated channel (at right) and the dam's low serpentine spillway (at left). How this man-made island became Federal property is unclear. Photo by Carl Swanson

The Federal government claims to own the small island in the center of this photo. The island divides the Estabrook Park dam’s gated channel (at right) and the dam’s low serpentine spillway (at left). How this man-made island became Federal property is unclear. Photo by Carl Swanson

Note: Scroll to the bottom for updated information.

No one can explain exactly how it happened, but the Federal government claims to own a piece of Estabrook Park.

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Estabrook dam: interesting past, uncertain future

Photo by Rachel Swanson

The fate of the 77-year-old Milwaukee River dam at Estabrook Park will be decided in the coming months. Photo by Rachel Swanson

After years of debate, Milwaukee County is moving closer to a decision concerning its 1937 dam across the Milwaukee River at Estabrook Park and, no matter the outcome, at least some river users are bound to be disappointed. Those who wish to see the Milwaukee River flowing unimpeded argue forcefully for its removal, while others are just as vehement in demanding a new or rebuilt dam.

In 2009, the state Department of Natural Resources, after a long, worried look at the present dam’s condition, ordered Milwaukee County to either fix it by the end of 2014 or remove the dam. The 2009 order also required the dam gates be left permanently open to alleviate stress on the structure. (more…)

The man who started Milwaukee

Solomon Juneau stands on the shore of Lake Michigan and looks across the city he founded. The first permanent white settler of the city, Juneau was also a friend to the Menomonee Indians, the city's first mayor, and the father of 15 children. Photo by Carl Swanson
Solomon Juneau stands on the shore of Lake Michigan and looks across the city he established. A fur trader turned city founder, Juneau was also a friend to the Menomonee Indians, the city’s first mayor, and the father of a dozen children. Photo by Carl Swanson

Enjoy this sample chapter from the book, Lost Milwaukee, by Carl Swanson, published by the History Press.

One recent day in Milwaukee’s Juneau Park, a strolling couple paused to look at an imposing statue. Reading the name on the pedestal, one asked, “Who’s Solomon Juneau?”

The short answer is he was a fur trader who turned a cabin in the wilderness into a thriving city. He developed the downtown and the East Side. He donated land and materials for the first courthouse. He was Milwaukee’s first postmaster, its first village president and, when the city was incorporated, its first mayor.

Juneau made a fortune and lost practically everything. He made many friends and kept them all. The pallbearers in his funeral procession included four chiefs of the Menomonee Nation.

This founder of Milwaukee was French Canadian, born near Montreal, Canada, on August 9, 1793. (He became a U.S. citizen in 1831.)

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The Shorewood apple orchard standoff

The Northwestern Union built north out of downtown in the 1880s, cutting through hills and filling in ravines as they went. This photo was taken at the location of today's Hubbard Park. Courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

The Northwestern Union built north out of downtown in the 1880s, cutting through hills and filling in ravines as they went. This photo was taken at the location of today’s Hubbard Park in Shorewood. Courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

In the 1880s the Northwestern Union Ry. began building north along the east bank of the Milwaukee River. In time these tracks became part of the Chicago & North Western system and hosted some of the fastest long-distance passenger trains in the world. But before that could happen, the railroad had to resolve the great apple orchard standoff.

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In 1901, Riverwest residents battled on the frozen Milwaukee River

Workers cutting ice from the frozen Milwaukee River upstream of the North Avenue bridge in the winter of 1899-1900. The horse in the background is cutting grooves in the ice in an exact grid. Workers break off the ice and load it into one of seven huge Icehouses located between the North Avenue dam and the foot of East Chambers Street. Courtesy Milwaukee Public Library/Historic Photo Collection

Workers cutting ice on Milwaukee River upstream of the North Avenue bridge in the winter of 1899-1900. The horses in the background are plowing deep grooves in the ice in an exact grid. Workers break off the ice and load it into one of four huge icehouses located between the North Avenue dam and Locust Street. Courtesy Milwaukee Public Library/Historic Photo Collection

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

During the winter of 1900–01, a pitched battle erupted on the frozen Milwaukee River above the North Avenue dam between enraged ice harvesters and the equally violent crew of a steam-powered launch. The newspapers called it “The Ice War.”

On a section of river that has witnessed many strange things over the years, the ice war was perhaps the strangest. If the riot-on-ice aspect wasn’t odd enough, the fighting was accompanied by jaunty music provided by the steamboat’s brass band.

The ice war lasted six weeks, and it was witnessed by hundreds of spectators and heavily reported in the city’s newspapers. Onlookers and reporters thought it hilarious, but real injuries were sustained, working men had their livelihoods threatened and it all had to do with … ice. (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…)