Milwaukee: A City Built on Water | Program |


♪♪ ♪♪>>MILWAUKEE IS A CITY BUILT ON WATER. THAT’S PRETTY OBVIOUS FROM DOWN HERE IN THE BAY VIEW NEIGHBORHOOD. WE’RE LOOKING OUT OVER ONE OF THE LARGEST BODIES OF FRESH WATER ON EARTH. LAKE MICHIGAN IS A STUNNING NATURAL RESOURCE THAT SUPPLIES OUR DRINKING WATER, SHAPES OUR WEATHER, PROVIDES US WITH RECREATION, AND FRAMES OUR VIEWS. AND IT’S PART OF A MUCH LARGER SYSTEM. THE GREAT LAKES HOLD 20 PERCENT OF THE FRESH SURFACE WATER ON THE PLANET. THOSE OF US WHO LIVE HERE TAKE IT FOR GRANTED, BUT ONLY A TINY FRACTION OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION HAS SO MUCH COLD, CLEAR, FRESH WATER LITERALLY AT THEIR FRONT DOOR. AND IT’S NOT JUST THE LAKE. SOUTHEASTERN WISCONSIN’S SETTLEMENTS ARE HUNG ON A TRELLIS OF WATERWAYS. ALL OF OUR LARGE INTERIOR TOWNS AND MOST OF THE SMALLER ONES ARE BUILT ON RIVERS AND STREAMS. THE MILWAUKEE RIVER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT, BUT IT’S JOINED NEAR ITS MOUTH BY THE MENOMONEE AND THE KINNICKINNIC. EACH RIVER DRAINS ITS OWN WATERSHED, EXTENDING WELL BEYOND THE CITY LIMITS. THESE ARE THE VEINS AND ARTERIES OF THE ENTIRE REGION. SO THE GEOGRAPHIC ROLE THAT WATER PLAYS IS PRETTY SELF-EVIDENT. ITS HISTORICAL ROLE IS EVEN MORE PROFOUND, AND THAT REQUIRES A LITTLE EXPLAINING.>>IT WAS WATER, FIRST OF ALL, THAT DETERMINED HOW PEOPLE GOT HERE, BEGINNING WITH THE NATIVE AMERICANS. THE POTAWATOMI AND THEIR NEIGHBORS WERE PEOPLE OF THE CANOE, WHO TRAVELED BY WATER AND SETTLED NEAR WATER. MILWAUKEE ITSELF, WHOSE NAME MAY COME FROM A NATIVE WORD FOR “WETLAND,” HAD SEVEN VILLAGES WITHIN TWO MILES OF DOWNTOWN, ALL WITHIN EASY REACH OF THE NEAREST RIVER. THAT INCLUDED THE MENOMONEE. WITH ITS BOUNDLESS SUPPLY OF REEDS, RUSHES, WATERFOWL, AND FISH, THE MENOMONEE WAS BOTH A HARDWARE STORE AND A GROCERY STORE FOR LOCAL TRIBES. MOST IMPORTANT WERE THE BEDS OF MANOMIN, OR WILD RICE, THAT FED COUNTLESS GENERATIONS. FOR THE WHITE SETTLERS WHO DISPLACED THE NATIVES, WATER WAS ESSENTIAL AS A MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION. IN THE 1830S, THE DAWN OF URBAN TIME IN THIS REGION, VIRTUALLY EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING TRAVELED FROM THE EAST BY WATER. IF NATIVE AMERICANS WERE PEOPLE OF THE CANOE, THE PIONEERS WERE PEOPLE OF THE SCHOONER. THERE WAS REALLY NO OTHER CHOICE. WHAT LAY BETWEEN MILWAUKEE AND THE EAST COAST BY LAND WAS A THOUSAND MILES OF VERY ROUGH ROAD. THERE WEREN’T EVEN WAGON TRACKS THROUGH MUCH OF THE REGION. WATER ROUTES, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAD BEEN IN USE FOR MILLENNIA, FIRST BY THE NATIVES AND THEN BY THE FRENCH CANADIANS WHO TRADED WITH THEM FOR FURS. BOTH TOOK FULL ADVANTAGE OF A SYSTEM THAT REACHED A THOUSAND MILES INTO THE HEART OF NORTH AMERICA. NEWCOMERS FROM THE EASTERN STATES LOOKED AT THE SAME WATERWAYS AS AN OPEN DOOR TO OTHER RICHES. HERE, JUST INLAND FROM EVERY PORT, LAY MILLIONS OF ACRES OF FOREST AND PRAIRIE — ALL POTENTIAL FARMLAND SELLING FOR THE GOVERNMENT PRICE OF $1.25 AN ACRE. THAT WAS A GOOD DEAL EVEN IN THE 1830S. IT WAS THE ERIE CANAL THAT ACTUALLY OPENED THE DOOR. THE CANAL WAS COMPLETED IN 1825 BETWEEN BUFFALO AND ALBANY, NEW YORK, BUT IT BRIDGED THE FAR LARGER GAP BETWEEN THE ATLANTIC SEABOARD AND THE GREAT LAKES. YOU COULD THEORETICALLY TRAVEL FROM LIVERPOOL OR BREMEN TO MILWAUKEE WITHOUT ONCE STEPPING ONTO DRY LAND. PEOPLE DID OF COURSE. TRANSFERS WERE FREQUENT. BUT THE ALL-WATER ROUTE BECAME A PIPELINE FOR WESTBOUND SETTLERS. FIRST THEY MADE THEIR WAY TO ALBANY, WHERE THEY BOARDED FLAT-BOTTOMED CANAL BOATS FOR THE TRIP ACROSS NEW YORK STATE. THEN THEY TRANSFERRED AT BUFFALO TO A SCHOONER OR A SIDEWHEEL STEAMSHIP THAT TOOK THEM DOWN LAKE ERIE, UP THE DETROIT AND ST. CLAIR RIVERS, ACROSS LAKE HURON, THROUGH THE STRAITS OF MACKINAC, AND FINALLY INTO LAKE MICHIGAN. IN THE AGE OF SAIL, EVERY RIVER MOUTH WAS A POTENTIAL HARBOR. AND EVERY HARBOR WAS A POTENTIAL CITY. THE PIKE IN KENOSHA, THE ROOT IN RACINE, THE MILWAUKEE IN MILWAUKEE, EVEN TINY SAUK CREEK IN PORT WASHINGTON ALL GAVE RISE TO DREAMS OF URBAN GRANDEUR. MILWAUKEE WAS THE WINNER, BECAUSE IT HAD THE BROADEST BAY AND THE DEEPEST RIVER ON THE WESTERN SHORE OF LAKE MICHIGAN. THE BAY PROVIDED SOME PROTECTION, BUT IT WAS RIVERS THAT PROMISED SAFE ANCHORAGE IN THE DAYS BEFORE BREAKWATERS. FED BY THE MENOMONEE AND THE KINNICKINNIC, THE MILWAUKEE RIVER WAS 18 FEET DEEP NEAR ITS MOUTH, AND THAT WAS ENOUGH WATER TO FLOAT ANYTHING ON THE LAKES. CHICAGO WAS AT A MARGINAL DISADVANTAGE. IT WAS AS FAR AS YOU COULD GO ON THE LOWER LAKES. IT WAS AT A CUL DE SAC, A DEAD END, AND MILWAUKEE WAS 90 MILES CLOSER TO THE EAST COAST. THAT WASN’T A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN A JOURNEY THAT MIGHT HAVE TAKEN WEEKS IN ROUGH WEATHER, BUT FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, FROM 1835 TO 1850, MILWAUKEE WAS NECK AND NECK WITH CHICAGO, A CONDITION OF PARITY THAT LASTED UNTIL THE FIRST RAILROAD CAME FROM THE EAST IN 1852. LESS THAN A DECADE AFTER THAT FIRST LOCOMOTIVE CHUGGED INTO TOWN, CHICAGO WAS TWICE MILWAUKEE’S SIZE. SO PEOPLE GOT HERE BY WATER, AND WATER SHAPED WHAT THEY DID ONCE THEY ARRIVED. BEFORE THERE WERE STEAM ENGINES, BEFORE THERE WERE GASOLINE ENGINES, IT WAS WATER POWER THAT PROVIDED SOCIETY’S MUSCLE. WHEREVER A RIVER HAD EVEN A MODEST DROP, FROM WEST BEND TO OAK CREEK AND FROM MENOMONEE FALLS TO WHITEWATER, ENTREPRENEURS PUT UP DAMS AND BUILT MILLS TO SAW LUMBER, GRIND FLOUR, AND MAKE PAPER AND TEXTILES. WAUWATOSA’S FIRST NAME WAS ACTUALY HART’S MILLS, ON THE MENOMONEE. THE MOST AMBITIOUS EFFORT TOOK SHAPE RIGHT HERE ON THE MILWAUKEE RIVER, JUST DOWNSTREAM FROM NORTH AVENUE.>>IN 1843, BYRON KILBOURN, THE WEST SIDE’S FOUNDER, BUILT A DAM NEAR NORTH AVENUE TO PROVIDE WATER FOR A CANAL CONNECTING MILWAUKEE TO THE ROCK RIVER AT FORT ATKINSON AND THEREBY THE ILLINOIS AND THEREBY THE MISSISSIPPI AND ULTIMATELY NEW ORLEANS. HE REALLY DID SEE HIS LITTLE SETTLEMENT AS THE POINT OF ENTRY TO THE AMERICAN WEST. KILBOURN MADE NO SMALL PLANS, BUT HE ALSO HAD A HABIT OF MAKING POWERFUL ENEMIES. THE STATE LEGISLATURE PULLED THE PLUG ON HIS CANAL WHEN HE’D FINISHED A LITTLE MORE THAN A MILE. NOT TO WORRY. ALTHOUGH THE KILBOURN CANAL BECAME A STILLBORN CANAL, HIS DAM PROVIDED A DEPENDABLE SOURCE OF WATER POWER FOR THE CITY’S VERY FIRST INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT. THE “WATER POWER,” AS MILWAUKEEANS CALLED IT, WAS LINED WITH SAWMILLS, FLOUR MILLS, TANNERIES, AND OTHER PLANTS THAT PROVIDED HUNDREDS OF JOBS, MANY OF THEM FILLED BY IMMIGRANTS WHO SETTLED ON THE CITY’S EAST SIDE. THE MILLRACE LASTED UNTIL 1885. AS INDUSTRY MOVED FROM WATER TO STEAM POWER, THE WOULD-BE CANAL WAS FILLED IN AND BEGAN A NEW EXISTENCE AS COMMERCE STREET, WHICH IS NOW LINED WITH SOME OF THE PRICIEST HOUSING IN THE CITY. COMMERCE WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN INDUSTRY IN THOSE EARLY YEARS AND ONCE AGAIN IT WAS WATER THAT PROVIDED THE FLUID MEDIUM. AS THE HARBOR IMPROVED, AS TRANSPORTATION TO THE INTERIOR GOT BETTER, MILWAUKEE PROSPERED AS A CLASSIC PORT CITY. FINISHED GOODS CAME IN AND RAW MATERIALS WENT OUT. THE MOST IMPORTANT OF THOSE RAW MATERIALS WAS GRAIN. AS WISCONSIN BECAME A MAJOR WHEAT STATE, MILWAUKEE BECAME A MAJOR WHEAT PORT. BY THE EARLY 1860’S, THE CITY WAS THE LARGEST SHIPPER OF WHEAT ON EARTH. THE GRAIN EXCHANGE ROOM ON MICHIGAN STREET PROVIDED A PLACE TO BUY AND SELL ALL THAT WHEAT AND A GREAT DEAL MORE. PRICES SET HERE HAD A GLOBAL IMPACT. RE-CREATED IN 1983, THE GRAIN EXCHANGE IS THE SOLE REMINDER OF A FORMATIVE PERIOD IN MILWAUKEE’S HISTORY. ONE OF ITS FEATURED PAINTINGS PAYS HOMAGE TO THE SHIPS AND THE HARBOR THAT MADE THE CITY’S PROSPERITY POSSIBLE. THE LAKE PROVIDED ANOTHER RESOURCE MORE DIRECTLY, AND THAT WAS FISH. IN THE 1870S, ON THE SITE OF AN OLD SHIPYARD ONCE OWNED BY JAMES MONROE JONES, IMMIGRANTS FROM THE BALTIC SEACOAST OF POLAND CREATED A COMMERCIAL FISHING VILLAGE. THEY WERE THE KASZUBS, AND THEIR SETTLEMENT WAS CALLED JONES ISLAND. NEARLY 1600 PEOPLE LIVED THERE BY 1900, AND THEY CAUGHT UP TO TWO MILLION POUNDS OF TROUT, WHITEFISH, PERCH, CISCO, AND STURGEON EVERY YEAR. WITH WEATHERED FISH SHEDS, DOCKS, AND DRYING REELS THAT RESEMBLED A SCENE FROM THE OLD WORLD. THE STREET SYSTEM WAS BASICALLY IMPROVISED, AND THE HOUSES WERE BASIC INDEED. THE ISLANDERS WERE LARGELY SQUATTERS, WHO LIVED WITHOUT BENEFIT OF TITLE. THEIR RUSTIC SETTLEMENT ATTRACTED A STEADY STREAM OF ARTISTS FROM THE MAINLAND. ONE 190 THEE VISITOR SOUNDED ALMOST STAR STRUCK.>>”THE WINDING, MUDDY, ALLEY-LIKE STREETS, WHICH EVENTUALLY LEAD NOWHERE, HAVE A PECULIAR ATMOSPHERE OF ROMANCE. A STRANGE INTEREST IS CENTERED IN THE TUMBLE-DOWN, WEATHER-BEATEN EXTERIOR ASPECT OF THE HOUSES WHICH FILLS ONE’S POETIC SOUL TO OVERFLOWING.”>>LESS-POETIC SOULS CAME OUT, BY BOAT, FOR THE FRIDAY NIGHT FISH FRIES. THE LUCKY ONES MIGHT HAVE FOUND THEMSELVES AT A KASZUB WEDDING CELEBRATION, WHICH TYPICALLY LASTED FOR THREE DAYS. ONE STANDARD WEDDING TOAST WISHED THE NEWLYWEDS “MANY FISH TO MAKE THE PURSE HEAVY, AND MANY CHILDREN TO MAKE THE PURSE LIGHT.” THE FISHING COLONY WAS A COMPLETE HUMAN COMMUNITY, WITH STORES, CLUBS, ATHLETIC TEAMS, A SCHOOL, AND AS MANY AS 11 SALOONS, INCLUDING ONE CALLED CANNIBAL’S RENDEZVOUS. JONES ISLAND WAS THE CLOSEST THING MILWAUKEE, OR WISCONSIN, HAS EVER HAD TO A GENUINE URBAN VILLAGE, AND IT EMBODIED A WAY OF LIFE BUILT ON WATER.>>JONES ISLAND WAS THE CENTER OF COMMERCIAL FISHING, BUT THE LAKE WAS ALSO A MAGNET FOR SPORT FISHERMEN. ALL YOU NEEDED WAS A BAMBOO POLE, A HOOK AND LINE, AND A CANFUL OF WORMS TO TAKE YOUR PLACE ON THE GOVERNMENT PIER. YOUNG ANGLERS HAD CRUDER EQUIPMENT, BUT THE FISH THEY CAUGHT WERE JUST AS TASTY. THE LAKE GAVE, BUT IT ALSO TOOK AWAY. FARMERS WHO OWNED LAND ON THE LAKE FOUND THEMSELVES WITH AN ENORMOUS EROSION PROBLEM. DURING TIMES OF HIGH WATER, A NORTHEAST STORM COULD WIPE OUT FIFTY TO SIXTY FEET OF BLUFF IN A SINGLE DAY, COLLAPSING BUILDINGS, SHRINKING FARMS, AND RUINING INVESTMENTS. HERE’S THE AFTERMATH OF A NOR’EASTER IN BAY VIEW. HERE’S THE SAME SCENE TODAY, AFTER TONS OF LANDFILL TAMED THE WAVES AND LIFTED THE SHORELINE. THE CITY’S EAST SIDE WAS JUST AS VULNERABLE. LINCOLN MEMORIAL DRIVE IS A GORGEOUS STRETCH OF LAKEFRONT, BUT ONE OF ITS PURPOSES WAS MORE MORE PEDESTRIAN, EROSION CONTROL. IN 1855 THE CITY BUILT A BRICK LIGHTHOUSE ATOP THE BLUFF AT NORTH POINT TO PROTECT LAKE TRAFFIC. AS STORM WAVES CARVED AWAY AT ITS FOUNDATIONS — THE LIGHTHOUSE HAD TO BE REBUILT 100 FEET INLAND, OUT OF HARM’S WAY. A TALLER VERSION STILL GRACES THE SOUTH END OF LAKE PARK. RAILROAD TRACKS, FARMS, AND SOME OF THE CITY’S FINEST MANSIONS WERE LIKEWISE IMPERILED. THE LONG-TERM SOLUTION WAS LANDFILL. WORK BEGAN BEFORE 1920 AND THE CITY WASN’T TOO PICKY ABOUT THE MATERIALS USED. IT WAS BASICALLY SOLID WASTE, INCLUDING CINDERS STILL HOT FROM THE INCINERATOR. YEAR BY YEAR, AS THE LAND PUSHED LAKEWARD. A ROADWAY EMERGED, REQUIRING ITS OWN FOOT BRIDGE DOWN TO BRADFORD BEACH. THE JUNEAU PARK LAGOON WAS GRADUALLY ENCLOSED. AND LINCOLN MEMORIAL DRIVE WAS FORMALLY DEDICATED IN 1929. IT SOLVED THE EROSION PROBLEM, BUT THE DRIVE ALSO OPENED MILWAUKEE’S MAJOR WATER RESOURCE TO EVERYONE, AND THE LAKEFRONT BECAME OUR MOST CHERISHED PUBLIC SPACE.>>THE MILWAUKEE RIVER, IN THE MEANTIME, BLOSSOMED AS A CENTER OF RECREATION. LAKE MICHIGAN WAS CONSIDERED TOO ROUGH AND TOO COLD. THE RIVER ABOVE THE NORTH AVENUE DAM, BY CONTRAST, WAS PROTECTED, WARM, AND EASILY ACCESSIBLE, WITHIN EASY REACH OF THOUSANDS BY FOOT OR STREETCAR. THAT MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN THE AGE OF ONE-DAY WEEKENDS. EVERYONE WORKED SIX DAYS A WEEK IN THE LATE 1800S, AND SO THEY WANTED TO USE THEIR SUNDAYS TO MAXIMUM ADVANTAGE. AS A RESULT, THE MILWAUKEE RIVER BECAME A SORT OF IN-TOWN UP NORTH.>>THERE WERE ENTIRE FLEETS OF WOODEN CANOES FILLED WITH BOATERS IN THEIR SUNDAY BEST. THE RIVER ATTRACTED SINGLE GUYS CRUISING FOR COMPANY. AND YOUNG WOMEN WHO WERE QUITE CONTENT TO PADDLE THEIR OWN CANOES. THERE WERE EVEN CANOE CLUBS, INCLUDING ONE WITH ITS OWN BOATHOUSE ON THE WEST BANK. THE RIVER ALSO SUPPORTED THREE SWIMMING SCHOOLS JUST ABOVE THE DAM — BECHSTEIN’S, WHITAKER’S, AND ROHN’S. HERE’S BECHSTEIN’S, WITH AN IMPORTED SAND BEACH. AND WHITAKER’S, WHICH CATERED TO WOMEN AND CHILDREN. AND HERE’S THE GANG AT ROHN’S, ON THE WEST BANK. ROHN’S HAD A HIGH DIVE FOR THE INTREPID. BUT PLENTY OF ROOM FOR BEGINNERS. STUDENTS WERE DANGLED LIKE BAIT UNTIL THEY GOT THEIR STROKES DOWN. ROHN’S WAS A GERMAN ESTABLISHMENT, AND YOU CAN ALMOST HEAR THE INSTRUCTOR COUNTING, “EIN, ZWEI. EIN, ZWEI.” JUST ACROSS THE RIVER WAS SHOOT THE CHUTES, A WATER SLIDE THAT OPENED ON JULY 4, 1896. A LOCAL REPORTER DESCRIBED IT AS A GREAT PLACE TO TAKE A DATE.>>”IT IS ADVENTURESOME ENOUGH TO MAKE IT FASCINATING TO YOUNG PEOPLE, AND THERE IS AN ADDITIONAL DELIGHT IN THE IRRESISTIBLE IMPULSE WITH WHICH THE YOUNG MAN’S SWEETHEART CLINGS TO HIS SHOULDER JUST BEFORE THE PLUNGE.”>>AND IF YOU LACKED A DATE, OR THE SLIDE SEEMED TOO ADVENTURESOME, YOU COULD ALWAYS PEDAL INSTEAD OF PADDLE ON YOUR OWN AMPHIBIOUS BICYCLE. SHOOT THE CHUTES COST A DIME, BUT YOU COULD ALSO ENJOY THE RIVER FOR FREE. GORDON PARK HAD AN ACTUAL BEACH, COMPLETE WITH WATER SLIDES AND A CHANGING HOUSE WITH SEPARATE SIDES FOR BOYS AND GIRLS. A CENTURY LATER, THE FOUNDATIONS ARE IN ROUGH SHAPE BUT STILL IN PLACE.>>A NUMBER OF WEALTHY GERMAN FAMILIES HAD SUMMER HOMES ON THE UPPER RIVER. THIS WAS THE KERN FARM, OWNED BY A FLOUR MILLER WHOSE MAIN PLANT WAS ON KILBOURN’S OLD CANAL. WHEN SCHOOL ENDED IN SPRING, THE KERNS MOVED THEIR ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD OUT TO A RURAL PARADISE. WHERE THE KIDS COULD GO WADING FOR CRAYFISH. THE OLD FOLKS COULD ENJOY A GLASS OF WINE FROM THEIR RIVERSIDE VINEYARD. AND THE WHOLE FAMILY COULD GO FOR A RIDE IN THEIR OWN GONDOLA. WHEN SCHOOL RESUMED IN FALL, THE KERNS WOULD GO BACK TO THE BUSTLE OF CITY LIFE, NEVER TRAVELING MORE THAN THREE MILES FROM DOWNTOWN MILWAUKEE. TODAY THEIR OLD FARM IS KERN PARK. JUST ACROSS THE RIVER WAS A FULL-FLEDGED AMUSEMENT PARK CALLED WONDERLAND. ALSO KNOWN AS MINERAL SPRINGS, CONEY ISLAND, AND RAVENNA PARK AT VARIOUS TIMES, WONDERLAND FEATURED A CAROUSEL, A WATER SLIDE, AND A STATE-OF-THE-ART WOODEN ROLLER COASTER. HERE’S A WONDERFULLY CANDID PORTRAIT OF THE WONDERLAND STAFF. OUR VICTORIAN ANCESTORS DID KNOW HOW TO SMILE. THEIR OLD WORKPLACE, MINUS THE RIDES, IS NOW HUBBARD PARK, PART OF THE SHOREWOOD VILLAGE SYSTEM. FROM NORTH AVENUE TO CAPITOL DRIVE, THE RIVERBANK WAS LINED WITH ATTRACTIONS. BY THE MID-1870S, YOU COULD TAKE A BOAT FROM DOWNTOWN TO THE DAM AND THEN TRANSFER TO A STEAM-POWERED LAUNCH THAT STOPPED AT ALL THE RESORTS, FOR A FARE OF FIFTEEN CENTS. THAT’S ABOUT $3 TODAY. WRITING IN 1879, A REPORTER ESTIMATED THAT UP TO 3,000 PEOPLE MADE THE TRIP EVERY SUNDAY, AND NOT EVERYONE CAME IN SEARCH OF INNOCENT FUN. HE SINGLED OUT THE DANCE HALL AT A PLACE CALLED WHITTAKER’S GROVE.>> “HERE YOU CAN INDULGE IN THE WALTZ WITH YOUNG WOMEN IN MUSLIN GOWNS, WITHOUT THE FORMALITY OF AN INTRODUCTION, IT IS SAID.”>>BUT THE REPORTER ALSO WAXED RHAPSODIC ABOUT MOONLIGHT EXCURSIONS ON THE UPPER RIVER.>>”NOTHING CAN BE PRETTIER THAN THE SCENE OF A LITTLE STEAMER, WITH HER HEAD-LIGHT THROWING A LURID GLARE AHEAD, SLOWLY MAKING HER WAY UP THE RIVER TOWING A BARGE IN WHICH ARE GAYLY-DRESSED MAIDENS AND YOUNG MEN PASSING THROUGH THE SALUTARY FIGURES OF THE DANCE. AND AS THE SOUND OF SOFT MUSIC COMES OVER THE WATERS AND DIES AWAY IN THE GROVES, THE EFFECT IS INDESCRIBABLE.”>>IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE THAT SCENE TODAY, AND EASY TO FEEL JUST A LITTLE ENVIOUS OF OUR ANCESTORS. THE STREAM WASN’T ONLY FOR SUMMERTIME AMUSEMENT. AS SOON AS THE WATER TURNED TO ICE, MILWAUKEEANS CAME DOWN TO THE RIVER IN DROVES. HOCKEY WAS A POPULAR SPORT, PLAYED WITHOUT FACE MASKS OR ELBOW PADS. FOR THOSE WHO WANTED MORE EXCITEMENT, GORDON PARK HAD A SKI JUMP THAT ATTRACTED NEIGHBORHOOD DAREDEVILS. THIS MEET WAS HELD IN 1926. FOR THOSE CRAVING FOR EXCITEMENT, GORDON PARK HAD A FULL-SIZED SKI JUMP, THAT DREW DARE DEVILS FROM ALL OVER THE REGION. OTHER ACTIVITIES WERE FOR EVERYONE. AROUND THE TIME OF WORLD WAR I, THE CITY STAGED. ELABORATE ICE CARNIVALS ON THE RIVER BETWEEN GORDON AND RIVERSIDE PARKS. IN 1917, SOME FRIEND OF THE FUTURE BROUGHT A MOVIE CAMERA DOWN TO RECORD THE ACTION. IN THIS RARE FOOTAGE, FIGURE SKATERS SHOWED OFF THEIR BEST MOVES. RACKET ENTHUSIASTS PLAYED ICE TENNIS ON SKATES. KIDS TUMBLED HEAD LONG DOWN A MAKESHIFT SKI JUMP. AND THERE WERE ALL SORTS OF RACES — CHAIR RACES WHEELBARROW RACES AND KICKSLED RACES. EVEN THE FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD COPS GOT INVOLVED. THE ICE CARNIVALS GAVE JUNIOR A CHANCE TO TRY OUT HIS NEW SKIS. AND THE FAMILY MUTT A CHANCE TO PLAY SLED DOG. IT WAS TOO COLD FOR BICYCLE RACES, AND SO THERE WERE “ICYCLE” RACES, A SPORT SO UNUSUAL THAT IT MAKES MODERN VIEWERS WANT TO STOP IN THEIR TRACKS. WITH SKATE BLADES TAKING THE PLACE OF TIRES. BUT MILWAUKEEANS DIDN’T NEED A CARNIVAL TO COME TO THE RIVER. WHEN THE ICE WAS GOOD, SKATERS OF ALL AGES AND ABILITIES COULD GLIDE FROM NORTH AVENUE TO CAPITOL DRIVE, A DISTANCE OF TWO MILES. SUMMER OR WINTER, THE MILWAUKEE RIVER WAS THE PLACE TO PLAY. DECADES BEFORE WISCONSIN DELLS EVEN EXISTED, THE RIVER WAS ONE LONG, CONTINUOUS WATER PARK. IF MILWAUKEEANS PLAYED ABOVE THE DAM, THEY WORKED BELOW IT, MANY OF THEM RIGHT HERE AT THE SCHLITZ BREWERY. THE ENTIRE REGION WAS MOVING AWAY FROM WATER IN THE LATER 1800S. RAILROADS REPLACED SHIPS AS THE ECONOMY’S PRIME MOVERS, AND STEAM ENGINES REPLACED WATER POWER. BUT WATER REMAINED A KEY INGREDIENT IN THE LOCAL ECONOMY. COPIOUS AMOUNTS WERE NEEDED FOR COOLING ENGINES, TANNING LEATHER, MAKING BRICKS, AND ABOVE ALL, FOR BREWING BEER. MILWAUKEE’S MOST CELEBRATED PRODUCT DEPENDED ABSOLUTELY ON AN ABUNDANT SUPPLY OF GOOD WATER. AS SCHLITZ MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS AND PABST, BLATZ, AND MILLER ADDED TO ITS LUSTER, BOTTLES AND BARRELS OF THE CITY’S “AMBER NECTAR” WERE SHIPPED ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. BUT IT WASN’T JUST LIQUID WATER THE BEER BARONS REQUIRED. FOR MOST OF THE 19th CENTURY, BREWING WAS A SEASONAL ENTERPRISE. THEY PRODUCED IN WINTER AND SOLD IN SUMMER. A RELIABLE SOURCE OF ICE WAS NEEDED TO KEEP ALL THAT BEER COOL, AND MILWAUKEE HAD AN ABUNDANCE. MOST OF IT CAME FROM INLAND LAKES, BUT THERE WERE ICEFIELDS JUST ABOVE THE NORTH AVENUE DAM. MOUNTAINS OF SAWDUST WERE USED TO INSULATE THE CAKES OF ICE THROUGH THE SELLING SEASON. THE FACT THAT MILWAUKEE HAD SO MUCH “HARD WATER” GAVE IT AN ADVANTAGE OVER WARMER BREWING CENTERS LIKE ST. LOUIS AND CINCINNATI. BUT BEER WAS FAR LESS IMPORTANT THAN HEAVY EQUIPMENT AS MILWAUKEE INDUSTRIALIZED. BY 1900, THE CITY HAD PROCLAIMED ITSELF THE “MACHINE SHOP OF THE WORLD.” IT WAS THE WATERY MENOMONEE VALLEY THAT MADE THAT CLAIM POSSIBLE. I SAID EARLIER THAT MILWAUKEE WAS A CITY BUILT ON WATER. THAT WAS LITERALLY TRUE. MOST OF TODAY’S DOWNTOWN WAS SUBMERGED TWELVE MONTHS OF THE YEAR. THE CENTRAL WETLANDS DISAPPEARED UNDER TONS OF LANDFILL, BUT THAT WAS JUST A WARM-UP FOR THE MENOMONEE “IMPROVEMENTS,” WHICH BEGAN IN 1869. YEAR BY YEAR, LOAD BY LOAD, DEVELOPERS FILLED IN THE MENOMONEE VALLEY. AGAIN, THEY WEREN’T PICKY ABOUT WHAT THEY USED. GRAVEL “BORROWED” FROM ADJOINING BLUFFS WAS THE MOST ABUNDANT MATERIAL, BUT THAT WASN’T ALL. IN 1886, THE “SENTINEL” DESCRIBED THE MESS BEHIND ONE “FREE DUMP” SIGN.>>”HERE ROTTEN POTATOES AND FRUIT, THE CONTENTS OF PAUNCHES AND ENTRAILS OF ANIMALS, THE REFUSE OF MEAT SHOPS, AND ALL SORTS OF FILTH ARE DEPOSITED IN THE MARSH AND A THIN COVERING OF ASHES AND DIRT PLACED OVER THEM.”>>ONCE A WILD RICE MARSH THAT WAS VITAL TO NATIVE AMERICANS, THE MENOMONEE VALLEY BECAME THE MOST VALUABLE INDUSTRIAL REAL ESTATE IN WISCONSIN. THERE WERE PILES OF COAL AND STACKS OF LUMBER. THERE WERE STOCKYARDS CROWDED WITH LIVESTOCK WHOSE INSIDES WENT TO PACKING PLANTS AND WHOSE OUTSIDES WENT TO TANNERIES. MILWAUKEE SUPPLIED MEAT AND LEATHER TO THE WORLD AT LARGE. AND THERE WERE HEAVYWEIGHTS LIKE THE FALK GEAR PLANT, THE HARNISCHFEGER CRANE WORKS, THE MILWAUKEE ROAD SHOPS, AND THE NESCO ROASTER FACTORY. TOGETHER, THE MENOMONEE VALLEY’S INDUSTRIES EMPLOYED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF WORKERS. THEY FORMED THE SO-CALLED “BUCKET BRIGADE” THAT STREAMED INTO THE VALLEY WITH THEIR LUNCH PAILS EACH MORNING AND STREAMED OUT AGAIN AT NIGHT. THESE WERE OBVIOUSLY NOT BENIGN TRANSFORMATIONS. MILWAUKEE USED ITS RESOURCES, AND BEFORE LONG THAT USE CROSSED THE LINE TO ABUSE. THE AIR, THE WATER, AND THE LAND ITSELF SUFFERED TERRIBLY AS A RESULT. EVEN THE SIMPLE ACT OF TURNING FOREST TO FARMLAND HAD A PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON LOCAL RIVERS. WAY BACK IN 1867, PIONEER SCIENTIST INCREASE LAPHAM PUBLISHED WHAT HE TITLED, “A REPORT ON THE DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF THE DESTRUCTION OF FOREST TREES NOW GOING ON SO RAPIDLY IN THE STATE OF WISCONSIN.” QUITE A TITLE. LAPHAM MIGHT BE CONSIDERED WISCONSIN’S FIRST ENVIRONMENTALIST. HE’S AN UNSUNG PRECURSOR OF BETTER-KNOWN STATE HEROES LIKE JOHN MUIR AND ALDO LEOPOLD. IN 1867, HE MADE THIS OBSERVATION ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF DEFORESTATION.>>”SUCH HAS BEEN THE CHANGE IN THE FLOW OF THE MILWAUKEE RIVER, THAT THE PROPRIETORS OF MOST OF THE MILLS AND FACTORIES HAVE FOUND IT NECESSARY TO RESORT TO THE USE OF STEAM TO SUPPLY THE DEFICIENCY OF WATER-POWER IN DRY SEASONS OF THE YEAR. UNTIL THIS WAS DONE, MANY LARGE MILLS WERE CLOSED FOR WANT OF WATER IN THE LATTER PART OF SUMMER AND EARLY AUTUMN, WHILE THE FLOODS OF SPRING ARE INCREASED UNTIL THEY ARE SUFFICIENT TO CARRY AWAY BRIDGES AND DAMS BEFORE DEEMED SECURE AGAINST THEIR RAVAGES.>>HERE’S WHAT LAPHAM WAS TALKING ABOUT. VIRTUALLY, EVERY FARM IN THE MILWAUKEE AREA BEGAN AS WOODLAND THAT WAS REDUCED TO STUMPLAND BEFORE CROPS COULD BE PLANTED. WITHOUT THE SPONGE OF NATIVE VEGETATION, WATER RAN OFF TOO FAST IN SPRING AND FAILED TO COLLECT IN FALL. THERE WAS EITHER TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE. LAPHAM HAD A SIMPLE SOLUTION TO THE GROWING IMBALANCE — REFORESTATION, PLANT TREES AND RESTORE THE SPONGE.>>I NOTE WITH INTEREST THAT THE MILWAUKEE METROPOLITAN SEWERAGE DISTRICT IS NOW BUYING LAND WITH WATER-ABSORBING SOIL, INCLUDING WOODLAND, TO ENHANCE STORMWATER RETENTION. IT’S CALLED THE GREENSEAMS PROJECT, AND IT’S JUST WHAT LAPHAM HAD IN MIND 150 YEARS AGO. SOMETIMES IT TAKES A WHILE.>>WATER POLLUTION WAS AN EVEN MORE PRESSING PROBLEM THAN WILDLY FLUCTUATING RIVER LEVELS. BIG AS IT WAS, WE MANAGED TO SCREW UP LAKE MICHIGAN. IN THE LATE 1800S, WHEN LANDFILL AND INCINERATION HAD BOTH FAILED TO RID MILWAUKEE OF ITS SOLID WASTE, IT WAS SIMPLY TOWED OUT TO THE LAKE AND DUMPED.>> “OLD MICHIGAN GETS IT,” READ AN 1887 NEWSPAPER HEADLINE. A REPORTER INSISTED THAT MILWAUKEE WAS LUCKY.>>”SHE HAS THE BROAD BOSOM OF LAKE MICHIGAN UPON WHICH THE FOUL SUBSTANCES MAY BE PERMITTED TO ESCAPE WITH NO DANGER OF EVER BEING HEARD FROM AGAIN.”>>THAT WASN’T QUITE TRUE. JONES ISLAND FISHERMEN COMPLAINED BITTERLY WHEN THEY HAULED UP DEAD ANIMALS AND ROTTEN FRUIT IN THEIR NETS. RIVER POLLUTION WAS CONSIDERABLY WORSE. EVERY RIVER MOVES TO A MUSIC ALL ITS OWN, BUT MILWAUKEE MADE ITS RIVER SING A DIRTY SONG. THE CENTRAL STREAM SUFFERED FROM BOTH POINT POLLUTION, ESPECIALLY INDUSTRIAL DISCHARGES, AND WHAT YOU MIGHT CALL ROVING NON-POINT POLLUTION. IN THE HEYDAY OF HORSE-DRAWN TRANSPORTATION, TONS OF MANURE PLOPPED ONTO MILWAUKEE’S STREETS EVERY DAY, AND THE NEXT RAIN CARRIED IT TO THE NEAREST RIVER. AS A RESULT, THE MILWAUKEE RIVER WAS AN OPEN SEWER, AND THAT IS NOT A METAPHOR. DURING THE HOTTEST MONTHS, THE SOUPY WATER WOULD JUST SIT THERE AND COOK, PRODUCING AN INTOLERABLE STENCH. HERE’S A “MILWAUKEE SENTINEL” REPORT FROM 1878.>>”NOT A CITIZEN OF MILWAUKEE POSSESSING A NOSE TO SMELL, OR A STOMACH TO ENDURE, BUT IS ALREADY PREPARED TO UNANIMOUSLY DENOUNCE THE FILTHY, VILLAINOUS, UNHEALTHY, PLAGUE-BREEDING CONDITION OF THE RIVER. IN ITS PALMIEST DAYS, THE CHICAGO RIVER COULD NEVER BOAST OF A FOULER COLLECTION OF THE SEEDS OF DEATH THAN NOW FLOATS UPON THE ODOROUS TIDE THAT PASSES THROUGH THE HEART OF THIS CITY.”>>IN 1881, A VISITOR TRAVELING UPRIVER MADE THIS OBSERVATION.>>”IT IS A NARROW, TORTUOUS STREAM, HEMMED IN BY THE UNSIGHTLY REAR ENDS OF STREET BUILDINGS AND ALL SORTS OF WASTE PLACES. IT IS A CURRENTLESS AND YELLOWISH MURKY STREAM, WITH WATER LIKE OIL, AND AN ODOR COMBINED OF THE EFFLUVIA OF A HUNDRED SEWERS.”>>MILWAUKEE “SOLVED” ITS PROBLEM BY FLUSHING IT. IN 1888, THE CITY DRILLED A TUNNEL UNDER THE EAST SIDE TO THE NORTH AVENUE DAM, THEN INSTALLED THE WORLD’S LARGEST WATER PUMP IN A GRACEFUL CREAM CITY BRICK BUILDING ON THE LAKEFRONT. THE IDEA WAS TO FLUSH THE PUTRID RIVER WITH CLEAN LAKE WATER. THE EFFECT, OF COURSE, WAS SIMPLY TO PUSH THE COLLECTED FILTH OUT TO THE LAKE, WHERE THE CITY GOT ITS DRINKING WATER. THE LONGSHORE CURRENTS GENERALLY TREND SOUTH IN THE MILWAUKEE AREA, BUT AT TIMES THE SEWAGE PLUME REACHED THE CITY’S WATER INTAKE. LONG BEFORE ANYONE COULD SPELL “CRYPTOSPORIDIUM,” CITIZENS WERE SUFFERING EPIDEMICS OF WHAT WAS POLITELY CALLED “INTESTINAL FLU.” IT WAS TYPHOID FEVER, A THIRD WORLD HEALTH PROBLEM IN A FIRST WORLD CITY, AND MILWAUKEE WAS HARDLY ALONE. IT WAS NOT UNTIL 1925 THAT MILWAUKEE ACTUALLY BEGAN TO TREAT ITS SEWAGE, AND THE SITE OF THE PLANT WAS — WHERE ELSE – JONES ISLAND, WHERE JAMES MONROE JONES HAD BUILT SHIPS AND THE KASZUBS HAD BUILT A FISHING COLONY. THE CITY WAS A PIONEER IN THE ACTIVATED SLUDGE METHOD OF TREATMENT. MILWAUKEE’S SLUDGE DIDN’T JUST STAND AROUND. MICRO-ORGANISMS WERE INTRODUCED TO DIGEST THE WASTE AND MAKE THE WATER DRINKABLE AGAIN. THE JONES ISLAND PLANT BECAME A MUCH-VISITED MODEL OF HOW TO DO IT RIGHT. AND WHAT DID WE DO WITH THE LITTLE CRITTERS ONCE THEY’D EATEN THEIR FILL? WE DRIED THEM AND SOLD THEM AS MILORGANITE, A FERTILIZER FOUND NATIONWIDE. NOW THAT’S CIVIC RECYCLING ON THE LARGE SCALE. THE FLUSHING STATION, BY THE WAY, IS NOW COLECTIVO COFFEE,>>THE ORIGINAL WATER PUMP IS STILL HERE AND AMAZING THINK, IT STILL — AMAZINGLY, IT STILL WORKS. AND IT SEEMS A BIT IRONIC THAT UPSCALE BEVERAGES ARE NOW SOLD IN A STRUCTURE BUILT TO MOVE A SOMEWHAT MURKIER LIQUID. BY THE TIME THE SEWAGE PLANT OPENED IN 1925, THE MILWAUKEE RIVER WAS ALL BUT DEAD. THERE WAS NO GREEN SPACE ALONG ITS BANKS. POLLUTION HAD MADE THE SWIMMING SCHOOLS UNSAFE AND HELPED TO CLOSE THE BEER GARDENS. THERE WERE NO PUBLIC AMENITIES OF ANY KIND, AND EVEN THE WATERWAY’S ECONOMIC ROLE HAD DRIFTED DOWNSTREAM. THE RIVER HAD NO MORE GLAMOR THAN AN AVERAGE ALLEY. AN ENGINEERING SOCIETY ACTUALLY PROPOSED COVERING IT WITH A DECK TO CREATE WHAT THEY CALLED A “GREAT BOULEVARD.” OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND. MILWAUKEE’S SMALLEST RIVER, THE KINNICKINNIC, WAS SUFFERING SIMILAR INDIGNITIES. IT RAN THROUGH THE 14TH WARD, THE MOST DENSELY SETTLED SECTION OF THE CITY, AND THE WATER WAS PREDICTABLY FILTHY. FLOODING WAS ANOTHER PERSISTENT PROBLEM. AFTER DECADES OF WET BASEMENTS AND FREQUENT DROWNINGS, THE ENGINEERS CAME UP WITH A SOLUTION IN THE 1950S. THEY CLEARED THE VEGETATION, STRAIGHTENED THE CHANNEL, AND LINED THE KK WITH CONCRETE FROM ITS HEADWATERS IN JACKSON PARK ALL THE WAY DOWN TO SIXTH STREET. THE FLOODING WAS SUPPOSED TO BE OVER, BUT LOOK WHAT HAPPENED. CHANNELIZATION ACTUALLY MADE THINGS WORSE. STORMWATER RAN HIGHER AND FASTER, AND THE DEBRIS IT WASHED DOWN COLLECTED AT EVERY BRIDGE, CREATING DAMS THAT LED TO MORE WET BASEMENTS AND MORE DROWNINGS. SO WHAT DID THEY DO? THEY TOOK OUT BRIDGES, WHICH DISRUPTED TRAFFIC FLOW IN THE ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD. YOU COULD ALMOST SEE THE ENGINEERS SAWING AWAY AT THE LEGS TO MAKE THE TABLE BALANCE. A DIFFERENT DISASTER WAS AFFECTING LAKE MICHIGAN. FROM THE DAY THE FIRST CANAL BYPASSING NIAGARA FALLS OPENED IN 1829, EXOTIC SPECIES HAVE BEEN MAKING THEIR WAY INTO THE GREAT LAKES. THE ALIENS HAVE RANGED FROM THE ALMOST-INVISIBLE TO THE HARD-TO-MISS, LIKE THESE MUSSEL SHELLS. BUT THEY’VE HAD ONE THING IN COMMON — THEY WREAK HAVOC ON THE NATIVES. A FEW INTRODUCTIONS WERE FAIRLY BENIGN AND EVEN BENEFICIAL. SMELT, OR “SCHMELT,” AS MANY OF US CALL THEM, ARRIVED IN 1923 AND CATCHING THEM IN DIP NETS WAS A RITE OF SPRING FOR GENERATIONS OF GREAT LAKES FAMILIES. SMELTING WAS A FREE SOURCE OF FRESH AND ABUNDANT PROTEIN FOR YEARS UNTIL POPULATIONS CRASHED IN THE 1990S. SMELT WERE CONSIDERED BENEFICIAL, BUT OTHER INTRODUCTIONS WERE ANYTHING BUT. SEA LAMPREY ARRIVED IN 1936 AND TOUCHED OFF A CASCADE OF EVENTS. THE LAMPREY PREYED ON LAKE TROUT, CAUSING THEIR POPULATIONS TO NOSEDIVE. WHEN THE ALEWIFE, A TYPE OF HERRING, ARRIVED IN 1949, IT TOOK OVER WITHOUT A FIGHT. ALEWIVES DIED OFF IN HUGE NUMBERS EVERY SUMMER AND PILED UP ON AREA BEACHES, WHERE THEIR ROTTING CORPSES CREATED A HUGE ODOR PROBLEM. POPULAR BEACHES LIKE BRADFORD WERE PRACTICALLY UNUSABLE. AND SO WE IMPORTED SALMON TO CONTROL THE ALEWIVES, BEGINNING WITH THE COHO IN 1966. TODAY WE HAVE THE PATENTLY ABSURD SITUATION OF AN INTRODUCED PREDATOR FEEDING ON INTRODUCED PREY, AND EVEN THAT BALANCING ACT SEEMS TO BE COMING UNGLUED. OTHER ALIENS ARRIVED IN THE BALLAST WATER OF OCEAN SHIPS. ROUND GOBIES, NATIVES OF THE BLACK SEA, HAVE DISRUPTED THE FOOD CHAIN IN THE OPEN LAKE. ZEBRA MUSSELS MADE THEIR MARK, AND IN RECENT YEARS THEY’VE BEEN DISPLACED BY QUAGGA MUSSELS, WHICH HAVE COLONIZED THE LAKE BOTTOM FROM NEAR SHORE TO THE GREATEST DEPTHS. ONE RESULT IS IMPROVED WATER CLARITY. THE MUSSELS ARE FILTER-FEEDERS. AS THEY TAKE NUTRIENTS OUT OF THE WATER, LIGHT PENETRATES TO A GREATER DEPTH. DIVERS WHO COULD ONCE SEE BARELY SIX FEET AHEAD NOW HAVE GREAT VISIBILITY, BUT IT COMES AT A GREAT PRICE. NOT ONLY DO LAYERS OF MUSSELS COAT EVERYTHING FROM SHIPWRECKS TO WATER INTAKES, THEY DEVOUR THE PLANKTON THAT NATIVE FISH DEPEND ON, AND THEY EXCRETE IT AS A PHOSPHATE-RICH WASTE THAT ACTS AS A FERTILIZER. THE COMBINATION OF MORE LIGHT AND ABUNDANT FERTILIZER HAS FUELED AN EXPLOSION OF CLADOPHORA ALGAE, WHICH CAN BLOOM AND WASH ASHORE IN APPALLING QUANTITIES. THE ROTTING ALGAE HAS FOULED FAVORITE BEACHES UP AND DOWN THE COAST OF LAKE MICHIGAN. NOW, ASIAN CARP ARE KNOCKING ON OUR DOOR BY WAY OF THE ILLINOIS RIVER SYSTEM, AND THEY MAY EVEN HAVE CROSSED THE THRESHOLD. WHAT WE’VE DONE OVER THE DECADES IS TURN LAKE MICHIGAN INTO A GIANT SCIENCE FAIR EXPERIMENT. THE ONLY PRIZES WE’RE GOING TO WIN ARE FOR NEGLIGENCE, MALFEASANCE, AND A WILLFUL IGNORANCE OF THE IMPACT OF OUR SPECIES. BAD AS THEY ARE, INVASIVES ARE JUST ONE THREAT TO THE WELL-BEING OF OUR LAKES AND RIVERS. OUR WATERWAYS ARE IMPERILED BY WHAT WE PUT INTO THEM, FROM ROAD SALT TO PESTICIDES, AND BY WHAT MIGHT BE TAKEN OUT OF THEM. SHOULD THE CITY OF WAUKESHA, IN A DIFFERENT WATERSHED, BE ALLOWED TO TAP LAKE MICHIGAN TO REPLACE ITS RADIUM-LACED DRINKING WATER? AND WHAT’LL HAPPEN WHEN THE AMERICAN WEST REALLY RUNS DRY? IF THE U.S. CAN IMPORT OIL ALL THE WAY FROM SAUDI ARABIA, IT CERTAINLY WOULDN’T BE HARD FOR THE WEST TO DRAIN WATER FROM THE GREAT LAKES. WHEN NEVADA, ARIZONA, AND CALIFORNIA COME CALLING, WILL WE HAVE THE RESOLVE, WILL WE EVEN HAVE THE POWER, TO SAY NO? THE CHALLENGES CAN SEEM OVERWHELMING, BUT THE NEWS IS BY NO MEANS ALL BAD. WITH PASSAGE OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT IN 1972, PROTECTING THE RESOURCE BECAME, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OUR HISTORY, A NATIONAL PRIORITY. MILWAUKEE’S MAJOR RESPONSE WAS THE DEEP TUNNEL PROJECT, NEARLY THIRTY MILES OF UNDERGROUND CHAMBERS THAT STORE RAW SEWAGE UNTIL IT CAN BE PUMPED OUT FOR TREATMENT. OPERATIONAL IN 1993, THE DEEP TUNNEL HASN’T ENDED OVERFLOWS, BUT IT ALLOWS THE SEWERAGE DISTRICT TO CAPTURE MORE THAN 98 PERCENT OF GREATER MILWAUKEE’S WASTEWATER. BETTER TREATMENT, TIGHTER CONTROLS, AND GREATER PUBLIC AWARENESS HAVE LED TO CLEANER WATER AND A MORE APPEALING RIVER. PEOPLE WANT TO BE ON THE WATER AGAIN. WHAT HAD BEEN AN EYESORE HAS BECOME A MAGNET. LOOK AT THE MILWAUKEE RIVERWALK. INSTEAD OF THE COVERED “GRAND BOULEVARD” PROPOSED IN THE 1920S, WE HAVE A CONTINUOUS WALKWAY THAT HUGS THE RIVER FOR NEARLY TWO MILES, DOTTED WITH RESTAURANTS, NIGHTSPOTS, AND PUBLIC ART. THE RIVERWALK HAS BROUGHT MILWAUKEEANS BACK TO THE RIVER IN DROVES. JUST UPSTREAM, ALONG COMMERCE STREET, COAL PILES LINED THE RIVERBANKS FOR DECADES. NOW THOSE VERY SAME BANKS ARE LINED WITH CONDOS, INCLUDING SOME OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE IN MILWAUKEE. WHAT’S HAPPENED ON COMMERCE IS NOTHING LESS THAN A TRANSFORMATION. JUST BEYOND COMMERCE STREET, ONE DAM AFTER ANOTHER HAD BLOCKED THE RIVER AT NORTH AVENUE SINCE 1843. THE LATEST VERSION WAS REMOVED IN 1997, RESTORING THE UPPER RIVER TO ITS NATURAL CHANNEL FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 150 YEARS. THAT SET THE STAGE FOR THE MILWAUKEE RIVER GREENWAY. AS VEGETATION RETURNED TO THE BANKS, A COALITION WORKED TO PROTECT NEARLY 900 ACRES OF LAND ALONG THE RIVER. WHAT HAD BEEN AN IN-TOWN WATER PARK FOR OUR ANCESTORS HAS BECOME A PRICELESS ENVIRONMENTAL CORRIDOR, WITH HIKING AND BIKING TRAILS, NATIVE PLANTINGS, AND A SPIRIT OF WILDERNESS RARELY FOUND SO CLOSE TO THE HEART OF A MAJOR CITY. AS NATIVE PLANTS CAME BACK AFTER THE DAM OPENED, SO HAVE NATIVE WILDLIFE. THERE WERE ONCE ONLY EIGHT SPECIES OF FISH ABOVE THE NORTH AVENUE DAM, MOST OF THEM CARP AND GOLDFISH. NOW THERE ARE NEARLY FORTY. AND WITH THE OPENING OF THE FISH PASSAGE AT THIENSVILLE, THEY CAN SWIM THEIR WAY MILES FARTHER, PASSING A “FISHCAM” AS THEY CLEAR THE DAM. THE MILWAUKEE RIVER WOULD NOT BE MISTAKEN FOR A CLASS A TROUT STREAM, BUT THE TROUT ARE THERE. AND SO ARE THE STURGEON. I’M AT STURGEON FEST IN LAKESHORE STATE PARK, THE ANNUAL CULMINATION OF EFFORTS TO RESTORE THIS ANCIENT NATIVE TO ITS HOME WATERS. THIS LITTLE GUY IS ONE OF 1100 THAT WERE RAISED UPSTREAM AT RIVEREDGE NATURE CENTER IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE WISCONSIN DNR. THEY’RE ALL BEING RELEASED TODAY. THE HOPE IS THAT THEY’LL RETURN TO THE MILWAUKEE RIVER WHEN IT’S TIME TO SPAWN, 20 OR 30 YEARS FROM NOW. RELEASING THIS FISH IS AN ACT OF FAITH IN OUR FUTURE, AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN UNTHINKABLE BEFORE RECENT IMPROVEMENTS IN THE RIVER’S WATER QUALITY.>>HERE YOU GO, FRANCES. GOOD LUCK, LITTLE BUDDY. I HOPE MY KIDS WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO MEET YOUR KIDS.>>IT’S TEMPTING TO COMPARE TODAY’S MILWAUKEE RIVER TO A RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC. FOR WELL OVER A CENTURY, THE RIVER WAS ON A HIGHLY PUBLIC BINGE. IT WAS DEFILED, DEGRADED, AND NEARLY DESTROYED BY THE THINGS WE PUT INTO ITS SYSTEM. FROM ITS HEADWATERS IN THE KETTLE MORAINE ALL THE WAY TO LAKE MICHIGAN, EVERYTHING WENT DOWNHILL. IN RECENT YEARS, THE CURRENT HAS CHANGED, AND THE OLD PATTERNS OF ABUSE ARE FINALLY BEING REVERSED. THE MENOMONEE VALLEY IS ALSO COMING BACK TO LIFE. THERE ARE STILL SMOKESTACKS IN THE OLD FACTORY DISTRICT, BUT THE VALLEY IS NOW A DESTINATION FOR VISITORS WHO COME TO SEE THE HARLEY-DAVIDSON MUSEUM OR PATRONIZE THE POTAWATOMI CASINO. FARTHER UPSTREAM, CLEAN INDUSTRY HAS TAKEN ROOT ON THE SITE OF THE OLD MILWAUKEE ROAD SHOPS, RESTORING HUNDREDS OF JOBS TO THE CITY’S FORMER INDUSTRIAL HEARTLAND. BUT THE VALLEY IS ALSO GREENING AGAIN. THE NEW INDUSTRIES ARE FLANKED BY BIKE TRAILS, STORMWATER RETENTION PONDS, AND NATIVE PLANTINGS. FROM THE HANK AARON STATE TRAIL TO THE NEW THREE BRIDGES PARK, THE VALLEY IS GOING BACK TO NATURE. THE URBAN ECOLOGY CENTER HAS TURNED THE RIVER AND ITS BANKS INTO AN OUTDOOR CLASSROOM THAT TEACHES LOCAL SCHOOLCHILDREN ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT. THE FACTORY HANDS WHO ONCE CROSSED THE SAME RIVER ON THEIR WAY TO WORK WOULD BE AMAZED. THE KINNICKINNIC RIVER IS RISING FROM THE DEAD AT THE SAME TIME, AS NATURE MERCIFULLY RESTORES THE BALANCE THAT ENGINEERS COULD NOT ACHIEVE. THE CONCRETE DITCH OF THE 1950S IS BEING QUIETLY RECLAIMED IN ITS UPPER REACHES, ROOT BY ROOT AND BRANCH BY BRANCH. FARTHER DOWNSTREAM, HOUSES BUILT IN THE FLOODPLAIN MORE THAN A CENTURY AGO ARE BEING REMOVED. AND THE NATURAL CONTOURS OF THE WATERCOURSE ARE BEING RE-CREATED. THE KK STILL HAS A LONG WAY TO GO, BUT THE SIGNS ARE HOPEFUL. A SIMILAR EFFORT HAS REVITALIZED UNDERWOOD CREEK IN WAUWATOSA. IN A MATTER OF MONTHS, THE CREEK WAS TRANSFORMED FROM A CONCRETE DITCH TO A CONSTRUCTION ZONE TO A WINDING STREAM. THESE AND OTHER PROJECTS ARE SUPPORTED BY THE GREAT LAKES RESTORATION INITIATIVE, FEDERAL FUNDS BEING PUT TO LOCAL USE. ANOTHER WATERSHED DEVELOPMENT HAS OCCURRED ON THE DOWNTOWN LAKEFRONT. THE AREA SOUTH OF WISCONSIN AVENUE, WHICH IS LARGELY RECLAIMED LAND, WAS, SHALL WE SAY, UNDERAPPRECIATED FOR GENERATIONS. IT WAS USED VARIOUSLY AS A CARGO PIER, A CARFERRY TERMINAL, FREIGHTYARDS, AN AIRFIELD, AND A NIKE ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILE SITE. LOOK AT THE SAME AREA TODAY. IT’S THE HOME OF THE SUMMERFEST GROUNDS, THE MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM, AND LAKESHORE STATE PARK. DISCOVERY WORLD, JUST NORTH OF THE PARK, OPENS ALL KINDS OF DOORS, AND ITS AQUATARIUM OFFERS A NEW CONNECTION WITH THE ENTIRE WORLD OF WATER. HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE A SCALE MODEL OF THE GREAT LAKES, COMPLETE WITH THUNDERSTORMS. THE LAKE SCHOONER DENIS SULLIVAN DOCKS ALONGSIDE DISCOVERY WORLD, RECONNECTING MILWAUKEE WITH ITS RICH MARITIME HERITAGE. THE LAKEFRONT HAS BECOME A CULTURAL THEME PARK, AND ONE OF ITS CENTRAL THEMES IS WATER. OUR ECONOMIC INTERESTS ARE BEING SERVED AS WELL. THE WATER COUNCIL IS WORKING DILIGENTLY TO MAKE OUR REGION A HUB OF WATER TECHNOLOGIES. THE CAMPAIGN RISES FROM THE REGION’S DEEPEST ROOTS. DURING MILWAUKEE’S HEYDAY AS A BREWING CAPITAL, THE CITY SPAWNED SCORES OF COMPANIES THAT MOVED, MEASURED, TREATED, AND OTHERWISE MANAGED LIQUIDS. MANY ARE STILL IN BUSINESS, READY TO GROW AND MEET GLOBAL CHALLENGES. OUR FIRST PROSPERITY WAS BUILT ON WATER, AND WATER CAN BE A WELLSPRING OF OUR FUTURE PROSPERITY. THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE IS PLAYING A VITAL ROLE AS WELL. ITS SCIENTISTS AND STUDENTS HAVE BEEN CARRYING ON GROUND-BREAKING, OR PERHAPS WAVE-BREAKING, RESEARCH SINCE 1973, AND UWM’S SCHOOL OF FRESHWATER SCIENCES IS THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN THE NATION. WE’VE TRAVELED BACK ON A MEANDERING CHANNEL TO THE HEADWATERS OF HISTORY, BUT WE END WHERE WE BEGAN, IN A CITY BUILT ON WATER. FROM FIRST TO LAST, WATER HAS PLAYED AN ESSENTIAL ROLE IN SOUTHEASTERN WISCONSIN. AS CHANNELS OF COMMERCE, AS CENTERS OF RECREATION, AS SOURCES OF EVERYTHING FROM FISH TO ICE, OUR LAKE AND OUR RIVERS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MOVING WITNESSES TO THE CHANGES THAT SHAPE THE URBAN EXPERIENCE.>>A NEW CHAPTER IS BEING WRITTEN TODAY, ONE THAT IS SELECTIVELY MORE HOPEFUL THAN THOSE OF EARLIER DECADES. AT LEAST SOME OF THE HISTORIC DAMAGE IS BEING UNDONE BUT, NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE RECOVERY IS FRAGILE AND, IN A WORLD OF COMPETING DEMANDS, THE DANGER OF RELAPSE IS EVER-PRESENT. THESE ARE ISSUES THAT AFFECT EVERY ONE OF US. THIS IS OUR WATER, BUT ONLY FOR OUR GENERATION. IT’S UP TO US, EACH OF US, TO MAKE SURE THAT THINGS KEEP FLOWING IN A POSITIVE DIRECTION FOR ALL THE GENERATIONS THAT FOLLOW. BACK IN 1971, SOME COUNTERCULTURAL HERO PAINTED A SIMPLE MESSAGE IN A MOST APPROPRIATE PLACE, A WATER INTAKE OFF MCKINLEY BEACH. THE “LOVE ROCK” HAS BEEN GONE SINCE 1986, BUT THE MESSAGE STILL RESONATES. THERE IS NO LIFE WITHOUT WATER, AND THE QUALITY OF WATER AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE ARE INSEPARABLE. WATER — YOU HAVE GOT TO LOVE IT.

42 thoughts on “Milwaukee: A City Built on Water | Program |

  1. I learned so much, move over Ken Burns. But I almost didn't commit to the entire video because of that dated John Tanner score.

  2. Excellent video. Wonderful old photos and video, and surprising revelations, even for a lifelong resident.

  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SD_1vmrEyc
    #MilwaukeeWisconsin
     
    Milwaukee: #ACityBuiltOnWater | #Program | #JeffGurda 
    Milwaukee: A City Built on Water | Program |

    Published on Apr 22, 2015
    [Original Airdate: April 22, 2015]

    Historian John Gurda explores how the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan spurred Milwaukee's growth. The settlers used rivers and Lake Michigan to transport grain, lumber, leather and beer, but water was just as important for play as it was for work. Gurda explains how the Milwaukee River became a destination for fun. Learn how the lower Milwaukee River was eventually reduced to an open sewer by 1900, with Lake Michigan suffering similar indignities. Only in recent decades have the currents turned for the better. From the Milwaukee River Greenway to the reborn Menomonee Valley to the cultural theme park on our downtown lakefront, the patterns of the past are being reversed, providing cause for celebration as well as concern.
    Category
    People & Blogs
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    Standard YouTube License #YouTube 
    Kendale WisCali Gamble #Facebook  
    #KendaleWisCaliGamble 
    #WisCali

  4. Not very nice of so called civilized White man coming to Milwaukee and harming the Native Americans, then many Europeans come and rape the land. Then the Blacks came in and ruined it more.

  5. Them days are before my time of course. But I am sure that these people in the beginning of this video also wished for the good old days too. As a person gets older everyone wants to relive their past.

  6. My daddy worked for Schlitz. You know they allowed the workers to drink all the beer they wanted back on the job before the 1980's. I can't imagine being stoned drunk and working with machinery. There were a few that got hurt, but I never heard much about it.

  7. "Many fish to make the purse heavy….and many children to make the purse light" at 12:55 was such a delightful surprise. America knew how to treasure and value children at one time.

  8. Solid documentary, actually learned a thing or two. No such thing as useless knowledge, so long as it's nonfiction.

  9. Every video you see of Milwaukee is of the downtown,lakefront area. Why don't you show inner city so people can see what decay and crime looks like .

  10. 200,000 Industrial, Union scale and benefits jobs, gone in 50 years. Brutal plant closings.
    Now all you see is punk ass thugs at the gas station, McDonald's, the bank, the liquor store, schools, on the ratty ass, old, smelly, filthy city buses, at Walgreens… On and on…
    I dream of a day soon, when I can get up north, to Bayfield, and Die, looking out on mighty Lake Superior… Jesus please, Make it soon

  11. Wow. The Love rock. I remember when someone hippy rowed out there and painted that. I was pissed off that they destroyed it in '86. My good God.. that was 33 years ago… It was Epic Milwaukee

  12. What a fascinating history! A more complete history would have included the migration of African Americans who came in the 1830s and settled around Lake Michigan–though a bit more inland. They were free people of color and those who escaped slavery. The first African American resident was Joe Oliver who was a cook for one of the city's "founders" Solomon Juneau. He was there in 1835. An African American couple Henry & Georgiana Anderson moved from Green Bay to Milwaukee around that same time. African Americans were artisans, barkers, cooks, waiters, et al. Plus, Native Americans were not "displaced". They were driven out by the European as a result of the Black Hawk war of 1832.

  13. Seeing all these white mufukas….i seee how milw became one of the most segregated cities…the whites are to blame. ..we know how dirty they play….they set it up this way purposely

  14. They only show paintings of native Americans when they had camera's to take a photo… Hmmmm why!!! Because this hides the fact that black people were the real native American people… Ha ha… You can't fool me…

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