Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Menomonee Valley, Early 1880s

Developed well after the Milwaukee River, the Menomonee was still a good place to walk through nature.

By - Apr 8th, 2014 01:13 pm
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Menomonee Valley, Early 1880s. Photo courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Menomonee Valley, Early 1880s. Photo courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

What is now the Milwaukee harbor is the meeting point of three rivers – the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic. In the early days of this city the Milwaukee was the first to be settled along and developed. It provided build-able land (remarkably scarce in what is now downtown Milwaukee in the earliest years), water power, and boat access to Lake Michigan.

The Kinnickinnic and Menomonee would take more time to be developed; the first being a much smaller stream; and the second lazily winding through a marsh. The Menomonee was not very navigable and useless for any water power. But it would prove very useful for railroads and heavy industry.

This is one of a series of stereoviews titled “Views in the Menomonee Valley,” from the early 1880s. The photographer is unidentified and very few of these images seem to have been produced. A few young gentlemen appear in the views who have been enjoying a walk in the valley. This is the most idyllic setting they could find, perching on a tree hanging over the river. The next few weeks will offer more views of this most unlikely “nature walk.”

Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.

4 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Menomonee Valley, Early 1880s”

  1. The background trees appear to be ash, and there are a number of identifiable prairie plants in the photograph as well. Good score, Beutner.

  2. Tod Maclay says:


    I have plenty of photos of the headwaters (Cedar Creek Branch) of the river. But what I want to know and document is the lower Milwaukee River, just above the old North Avenue dam in photos. There may be a potential for publication.

  3. David Ciepluch says:

    Thanks Jeff. These will be interesting viewing. The Milwaukee Museum has a panoramic view of the Valley before settlement. Of course this is an artist rendering. I took photos from Bay View HS murals in their auditorium painted perhaps in the 1930s by someone that grew up in the 1800s. We Energies has an aerial view mural peering west of downtown Milwaukee and the Valley, located off their lobby area adjacent the elevators (231 W. Michigan). I have some digital photography and early topographic photos that I could share with you. The photos show the Valley and harbor in full development from 1937 forward and the region’s dependence on coal.

  4. Back before grafitti was invented.

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