Phillip O’Connor

Steamboat days on the Milwaukee River

The Whittaker was one of several steam-powered excursion boats plying the upper Milwaukee River in the late 1800s. Carl A. Swanson collection

In 1835, Byron Kilbourn, the developer of the west side of the city, built a dam across the Milwaukee River south of North Avenue. A log structure filled with earth and gravel, the dam was 480 feet long and 18 feet tall. It was designed to ensure a steady flow of water for a canal.

The canal was supposed to connect Milwaukee with the Mississippi River but financial troubles halted construction after a single mile had been dug. But Kilbourn’s dam changed the river – and the city – in ways he could not have imagined. (more…)

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