Little Bits of History

January 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2017

1846: Milwaukee, Wisconsin is incorporated. The area had been inhabited by a number of Native American tribes who moved into the area from the Green Bay region after European settlers moved in. Eventually, three small towns grew up around the Milwaukee River. Solomon Juneau’s Juneautown was on the east side of the river and was established in 1818. Byron Kilbourn founded Kilbourntown to the south and George Walker settled Walker’s Point to the south, both in 1834. Animosity between the three towns began as soon as Kilbourn arrived and began marking out the streets for his new town – totally ignoring Juneautown’s existence. Kilbourn also told any steamers delivering goods to his docks that the opposite side of the river was an Indian trading post.

In 1840, the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature found the current ferry system on the Milwaukee River to be inadequate and ordered the building of a bridge. Juneautown was the first to build a bridge with Juneau’s support. Kilbourn built a bridge crossing the Menominee River. Three more were built over the Milwaukee River within the next few years but Kilbourn was unhappy with this citing hazardous conditions for ships visiting his docks. On May 3, 1845, a schooner rammed into one of the bridges. Rumors spread that it was a deliberate act because east ward residents had refused to pay for maintenance. A meeting was held and it was found the bridge that Juneau built was an “insupportable nuisance”.

The Milwaukee Bridge War broke out when the west warders collapsed the bridge and east warders gathered weapons, including an old cannon. They loaded their weapons and moved to the other side of the river and took their large gun and pointed it at Kilbourn’s house. They did not fire when they learned Kilbourn’s young daughter had just died. The fight for which bridges would be kept and which would be destroyed waged as there was little consensus as to which was the best bridge for both sides of the river. As tempers cooled, it was decided three new bridges would be built for the new town combining all three of the prior smaller towns. Milwaukee’s current bridges are a testament to this old feud as many of them run at angles reflecting the different street layouts of the two major participants.

Today, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and the fifth-largest in the Midwestern United States. The city covers 90.80 square miles and nearly 600,000 people live there with about 1.5 million people living in the greater metropolitan area. Even before its founding, the region was known as a prime port and it remains so today. Milwaukee is also famous for its brewing of beer and was once the home of the world’s four largest beer breweries. Six different Fortune 500 companies have their international headquarters in the city.

When I was a teenager in Milwaukee in the 1980s, life was pretty boring, and I found myself riveted by the sheer melodrama of everyday life of the 1960s. – Rick Perlstein

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Isaac Newton

We should make a major financial commitment to improving our roads and bridges. – Bernie Sanders

There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection. – H. G. Wells

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