Oak Leaf Trail

Secrets of Shorewood’s Hubbard Park

These dapper gents are enjoying the rustic bridge at Mineral Spring Park in the 1890s. Courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

These dapper gents are enjoying the rustic bridge at Mineral Spring Park in the 1890s. Today’s Hubbard Park in Shorewood occupies part of the old resort. Courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

Hubbard Park on the Milwaukee River in Shorewood is a quiet place with a long and surprising history. It was once a farm that became a summer resort. The sleepy resort (activities included fishing, strolling the shady paths, and drinking allegedly health-giving spring water) evolved into a sprawling, boisterous amusement park complete with thrill rides and – I don’t wish to shock you with this – dancing girls.

If you thought a huge and raucous amusement park would be frowned upon in Shorewood, you would be right. It was eventually shut down, chopped up into parcels and sold for development, leaving only Hubbard Park, a narrow strip of land, 1,400 feet long between the Milwaukee River and the former railroad right-of-way now used by the Oak Leaf Recreational Trail. (more…)

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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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River Colony, Milwaukee’s lost neighborhood

River Colony foundation

Only foundations remain of River Colony, a former neighborhood of a half-dozen year-round homes on the east bank of the Milwaukee River on the north side of the Locust Street bridge. The homes faced the water. Immediately to their rear the river bank climbed steeply to a railroad cut made by the Chicago & North Western Railway (today’s Oak Leaf Trail). East of the railroad tracks, the ground again rose steeply to Cambridge Avenue, about forty feet above the colony. Photo by Carl Swanson

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.

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400 miles in 400 minutes on Milwaukee’s Oak Leaf Trail

This segment of Milwaukee's Oak Leaf Trail between the Lakefront and Estabrook Park follows the route of the Chicago and North Western's main line north from the former location of its lakefront depot. Photo by Carl Swanson

This segment of Milwaukee’s Oak Leaf Trail between the lake front and Estabrook Park was built on the former Chicago & North Western Railway’s main line north of its former lake front depot. Eighty years ago, this was the route of the fastest long-distance passenger train in the world. Photo by Carl Swanson

Most users of Milwaukee’s Oak Leaf Trail between the lake front and Estabrook Park are aware, or could easily guess, they are using an old railroad right-of-way. Few realize this was once the route of the fastest long-distance passenger train in the world – the Chicago & North Western Ry.’s 400, which routinely covered the 400 miles between St. Paul, Minn., and Chicago in just 400 minutes – and that included all station stops in between.

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