This Week in Wisconsin History

A new Milwaukee

By - Jan 30th, 2012 04:00 am

Th City of Milwaukee, during the early decades. Illustrations, photos courtesy the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Milwaukee Public Library, and UWM.

On January 31, 1846, the townships of Kilbourntown, Juneautown, and Walker’s Point combined to incorporate as the City of Milwaukee. A rustic fur trading post had grown to a promising commercial center in a matter of years, mainly due to its ideal location.

Byron Kilbourn

“The Kinnickinnic, Menomonee, and the Milwaukee rivers were vital arteries in the development of the city,” said Randy Bryant, president of the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

While the rivers were paramount to the success of the budding port city, the Milwaukee River also served as the backdrop for a turbulent clash between two of Milwaukee’s founding fathers, Byron Kilbourn on the west riverbank, and Solomon Juneau on the east riverbank.

“Neither Juneautown or Kilbourntown wanted to promote the fact that the other town existed,” said Mike Reuter, Curator of Collections at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

Solomon Juneau

Kilbourn, fueled by his fiery spirit, went to great lengths to ensure that Kilbourntown became the larger, more prosperous town, Reuter said. Not only did Kilbourn intentionally design the streets in Kilbourntown to not line up with those across the river in Juneautown, he also published a map of Milwaukee in 1836 that left Juneau’s side of the river completely blank.

The rivalry between the two towns peaked in May of 1845 when Kilbourn dismantled the west side of the Chestnut (now Juneau) Street bridge in an attempt to isolate the residents of Juneautown. What ensued became known as the Milwaukee Bridge War, a “war” that resulted in no fatalities, but plenty of bloody noses, said Bryant.

The Great Bridge War of 1845, as depicted by Clarence Mongear.

The Juneautown residents patiently waited for the Chestnut Bridge to be reconstructed before they retaliated by bringing down the Spring Street (now Wisconsin Avenue) bridge and another bridge over the Menomonee River, said Bryant, in an aim to isolate Kilbourntown from Walker’s Point.

By the fall of 1845, tensions had cooled and residents from both sides of the river worked collaboratively to build their swelling city.

The angled bridges are the only lasting evidence of the Bridge War and the drawn-out feud between Kilbourn and Juneau, said Reuter, a detail that often goes unnoticed by Milwaukee residents.

“Many people are actually really surprised to find out that the street systems don’t intersect evenly across the Milwaukee River.”

This week in Wisconsin history: January 29 – February 4 

January 29, 1913: The Rotary Club of Milwaukee is founded at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Twelve members attended the first meeting on this date, but the club wasn’t officially accepted as Club Number 57 of the Rotary International movement until two months later.

January 29, 1994: Ramona Barry, a conspirator of the bizarre Psycho meets The Shining attack of a 26-year-old man in 1989, dies in Milwaukee. Barry had lured the man to her apartment and her partners leapt from behind a shower curtain and attacked the man with an ax while chanting “redrum.” The reported ringleader of the trio, Deborah Kazuck, was trying to bring the soul of Jack the Ripper, whom she believed was her son in a previous life, back from the dead in what she called a “kacking” (a clever combination of the words “killing” and “Jack”).

January 30, 1994: Wisconsin’s speed skating superstars, Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, win individual titles and break world records at the World Sprint Speedskating Championships in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Jansen set the world record in the 500-meter event, marking the sixth time in his career he’s either broken or tied the world record. Blair won all four of her races, setting the world points record in the process.

February 2, 1884: The Typographical Union begins a strike and boycott of the Evening Wisconsin after five female compositors were denied the same wages as their male counterparts. Twenty of the paper’s 24 compositors participated in the strike.

February 4, 1895: A streetcar on Russell Avenue Line plunges into Kinnickinnic River, killing two passengers and the motorman of the car. The drawbridge was reportedly opened before the car could be stopped.

February 4, 1924: Milwaukee’s first movie theater, Theatorium, is demolished to make way for the American Exchange Bank’s new building. The theater hosted Milwaukee’s first picture show, which used a mock railroad car with seating, a projection sheet, and mechanical levers to rock, vibrate, and tilt the car, creating the illusion of traveling by train for moviegoers.

0 thoughts on “This Week in Wisconsin History: A new Milwaukee”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Here’s another little nugget for this week:

    On January 31, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a largely German-American audience at the Milwaukee Auditorium about being prepared for the possibility that the United States could go to war against Germany. The U.S.’s official neutrality in World War I was eroding due to sabotages of American shipping by German agents and the 1915 sinking of the steamship Lusitania by a German U-Boat, which killed 125 Americans.

    Photo at

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