Railroads

Milwaukee’s railroad past.

The streetcar heist

The Wells Street trolley replaced horse-drawn railcars.
Electrified streetcars like this one replaced Milwaukee’s horse-drawn railcars in 1890. In 1902, armed men robbed a trolley crew—then stole their streetcar. Photo courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

In a 1902 robbery described as “one of the boldest that has been accomplished in Milwaukee for some time,” two armed men boarded a late-night streetcar, robbed the crew, then made good their getaway—by stealing their streetcar.

The crew of the Greenfield Avenue trolley, Conductor Curtis Neydis and Motorman Edward Kane, were completing the final run of the night as they reached the end of the line at 26th Street at 1 a.m. on November 25th, 1902.

Out of the darkness appeared two men armed with revolvers who ordered the conductor to hand over the collected fares plus the unused tickets and transfers. The theft amounted to $30, the equivalent of about $900 today.

The Milwaukee Journal reported, “Keeping their men covered with the revolvers the robbers ordered them from the car, and while one of the robbers kept his gun trained on the men, his partner turned on the current and ran the car back towards the city.”

The robbers traveled two blocks, leaving the trolley at Orchard Street. In the meantime, the crew rushed to the streetcar company’s nearby phone box, where they found the robbers had stuffed the keyhole. “The robbery was evidently well planned,” the Journal noted.

Running after their now-abandoned streetcar, the crew jumped aboard and sped down the tracks to the next phone box, where they were finally able to report the crime.

The streetcar crew supplied police with detailed descriptions of the robbers and three detectives spent much of the following day at the scene.

A police inspector told the Journal he was satisfied that the men they were seeking were “tough characters” and vowed to spare no effort in apprehending them.

But just 24 hours after the theft, the police force’s attention would instead be turned to solving one of the city’s most sensational murders. You can read about it here.

Lost Milwaukee, a new book from The History Press containing the very best from Milwaukee Notebook, is now available. Click here for more details.

Owney, the post office dog

Owney, whose remains are displayed in the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., is one of the most famous – and certainly most widely traveled – animals of all time. In 1895, his visit to Milwaukee made headlines. Courtesy National Postal Museum

One of the most popular exhibits at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. is a dog named Owney. One of the most famous – and certainly most widely traveled – animals of all time, Owney’s 1895 visit to Milwaukee made headlines. Carl Swanson photo

In 1895, a globetrotting mixed-breed mutt named Owney paid a brief call on Milwaukee. As was his custom, the dog arrived aboard one train and departed a few hours later by another. His home was anywhere U.S. mail traveled by railroad – and in the 1890s that was everywhere. (more…)

Five favorites for Doors Open Milwaukee

Doors Open Milwaukee was held Saturday and Sunday, September 19th and 20th. About 200 locations, many normally closed to the public, were open for visitors. Here are five of my favorite places to visit during this annual event.

1. Former Pabst Brewery

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

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

Tour a speakeasy (actually, the former plant infirmary and ancient storage tunnels) at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave. The speakeasy is open if the red jelly jar light is illuminated at the doorway marked “J.C. Haertel Real Estate & Financial Consulting.” The Pabst Brewing Co. was the subject of this Milwaukee Notebook post. (more…)

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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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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EPA evaluates Beer Line building

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Like so many Milwaukee industrial buildings of a certain age, the decrepit three-story building at 3456 North Buffum Street is abandoned, boarded up, and slowly falling apart. Nothing so remarkable about it, other than the fact that the last business left behind enough chemical nastiness that the Environmental Protection Agency is currently evaluating the property for possible cleanup under the Superfund program.

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