This journal is a continuation of my exploration of the city I've called home for nearly 20 years. Founded in the mid 1840's, today Milwaukee is a thriving and diverse community on Lake Michigan.
by MilwVon on November 6, 2012
For visitors coming to Milwaukee, I encourage you to enjoy a walk or ride through the city to take in a snippet of history through the architecture that has been well preserved in many areas. I have always been impressed with all that surrounds me, even as a resident, when I go downtown.On this particular day trip, I traversed the city from the near southside area known as Walker's Point (Great Lakes Distillery) heading north to the trendy eastside (Lakefront Brewery). On my two and a half mile jaunt, I passed through some very historical areas including "Old World Third Street" and "Brewer's Hill".I did make a stop at Usinger's Sausage Company in the area of the city that was central to the German community that had begun settling in Wisconsin in the mid 1800's. Founded in 1880, they have continued with the original family recipes used by founder Fred Usinger. When you step inside the store, you can relive the experience almost as it would have been back in Fred's day.The tile floors, marble counters and wood beam ceiling are all original to the turn of the 20th century. The hand painted wall murals depicting the "sausage elves" were added in 1906 at a time when many Milwaukee businesses and buildings were being graced by the German tradition of depicting life's experiences through murals.After my short visit inside Usinger's Sausage, I drove through a wonderfully redeveloped area of the city known as "Schiltz Park" . . . the site of the former Schlitz Brewing. Schiltz beer was known as "the beer that made Milwaukee famous" and today continues to have a significant place in her history. Several of the original buildings remain in the area, including the stables.Milwaukee has been nick named "The Cream City". Many people, including long time residents mistakenly believe this is a tribute to our state's dairy industry but they are mistaken. Actually "cream" refers to the color of bricks used to build much of the city's structures starting in the 1830's. When fired, the bricks made from the soil on Lake Michigan's western shore turn yellow. These unique bricks became well known throughout the Midwest, not only for their coloration but also their durability. It is this superior durability that has allowed so many of our lovely buildings to remain as they appeared more than 125 years ago.Milwaukee has also been called "The City of Steeples". As anyone who has flown into Milwaukee's General Mitchell Airport can attest, this is a city with a lot of beautiful churches with steeples that are delicate and intricate; constructed with the traditions brought over from Europe. As you drive towards the city on I94, be sure to pay note to the skyline before you. It really is quite amazing how many churches remain standing, often with century old clocks that are operational.The last piece of our history here in Milwaukee I want to highlight is bowling. We've probably all seen a rerun of the television show "Laverne & Shirley" with the girls working the brewery by day, and hanging out at the local bowling alley (Pizza Bowl) at night. Unfortunately for many, the lingering perception that Milwaukee is just about beer and bowling haunts redevelopment and branding efforts trying to attract younger people to come here to work and raise families.For those who want to embrace their inner "Laverne & Shirley" I encourage you to check out the Holler House. Located at 2042 W. Lincoln Avenue in Milwaukee. Holler House is a corner tavern first and foremost. In their basement they have two bowling lanes which have been continuously certified by the sport's governing body since 1910 . . . the longest of any bowling center in the United States. They still have pinboys in the back to set up the pins and return bowling balls; bowlers keep score by hand the old fashioned way . . . on paper hanging on the wall.In 2008 they celebrated their 100th anniversary. It's been several years since I left my job in the bowling industry and I have not been back to Holler House since around 2004. I will do my best to get in there soon, so that I can post some photos.
by MilwVon on November 11, 2012
Forest Home Cemetery was created shortly after Milwaukee's 1846 founding. The city's leaders sought land to be set aside to provide "eternal peace" beyond the earthly existence of those who have gone before us. They found roughly 70 acres of rolling hills that were well wooded that have been since 1850, the final resting place for many of those who shaped the culture and history of this city. Civic leaders, industrialists, brew masters and business leaders may be found throughout the grounds that now span over 200 acres. Forest Home Cemetery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.If you go to their website, Forest Home Cemetery embraces their role of preserving the heritage of many historically significant family names including Pabst, Kilbourn, Schlitz, Uihlein, Pfister, Blatz and Usinger are just a few that may be familiar to visitors to Milwaukee. Other lesser known and perhaps anonymous names are also buried here, but their contributions are significant given their "founder status" to some pretty large, well known businesses. They include Best, Krug, Marshall, Ilsley, and Bradley. Additionally, there are 16 Milwaukee mayors and five Wisconsin governors who have been interred at Forest Home Cemetery.During my visit, I only had about an hour before nightfall so I took an abbreviated self-tour of "Milwaukee's Beer Barons" plus a couple of others of interest including Frederick Usinger (1860 - 1930) of Usinger Sausage fame and Byron Kilbourn (1801 - 1870). Kilbourn is significant as he was one of the three founders of Milwaukee and was elected the city's second mayor in 1848.Following some of beer's history in Milwaukee can be accomplished by headstones and memorial markers found at Forest Home Cemetery along with a little internet sleuthing. Jacob Best (1786 - 1861) Found the Best Brewing Company. His daughter Maria married Frederick Pabst (1836 - 1904). Best heirs changed the name of their family beer business to Pabst Brewing Company in 1889. The Pabst plot contains several generations of family members.Valentin Blatz (1826 - 1894) started his first brewery in 1850, later merging with a neighboring brewery in 1952. They produced the first bottled beer in 1874. Later Valentin Blatz Brewing Company was incorporated in 1889. Later the Blatz brand was acquired and became part of the Pabst Brewing Company family of brands. The Blatz family has a very large mausoleum that shows significant aging, along with several locks to prevent entry and vandalism.August Krug (1815 - 1856) Founded a restaurant that included a small brewing business. His business was expanded with the financial assistance of his father in 1850, which included hiring four employees including Joseph Schlitz (1831 - 1875). When Krug died, Schlitz took over operation of the brewery and married Krug's widow. A new brewery Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was founded in 1874. Schlitz employed the Uihlein brothers. Joseph Schlitz died at sea during a trip between England and Germany. There is a beautiful memorial in tribute to Joseph Schlitz on the cemetery grounds. August Uihlein (1842 - 1911) and his three brothers assumed management of the Schlitz Brewing Company in 1875 and complete ownership at the time of the death of Mrs. Anna Schlitz in 1887. They directed and oversaw tremendous growth and prosperity of the company. Surviving prohibition, by 1950 Schlitz was named the number one beer in the USA. A third generation Uihlein, Robert Uihlein, Jr. (1916 - 1976) grandson of August Uihlein, continued to run Schlitz until the closure of the Milwaukee brewery in 1981.In addition to their beer legacy, today the Uihlein name is well recognized through their philanthropic contributions to the community including what was once known as Uihlein Polo Fields, today Uihlein Soccer Park remains in Milwaukee's far northside.There is much more to the Forest Home Cemetery, with many sites predating the 20th century. I wish I had more time to explore as I really do enjoy reading family grave markers and headstones. For more information including a cemetery map with graves of interest annotated, check out their "Self Guided Historical Tour" page: http://www.foresthomecemetery.com/historical.html .
In the 19th century, Germans were fleeing for America with many making their way to what would later become known as Milwaukee. Wisconsin was rich in farmland, similar to what Europeans were accustomed to in their homeland so very quickly the area gave rise to dairy farms and breweries. While much of its rich history has given way to automation and the advancement of technology, Germany's roots in Milwaukee can still be traced through her many churches.On a nice fall afternoon, I ventured into the city on a mission to find a few of these historical sites. Each of the three churches discussed here have been designated historical sites by the City of Milwaukee's Historic Preservation Commission.The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1883 with its side towers added in 1908. It is of German Gothic Revival design. Today the congregation of Bethel Baptist Church owns the buildings and conducts church services here. Located at 2030 W.North Avenue, this church is in an area that has seen decline over the past several decades. Thankfully, the local community has been committed to preserving and maintaining this beautiful "cream brick" structure.Cream bricks are unique to architecture in Milwaukee, which is why the city was nick named "Cream City" a name that has been with her since the 1880's. These unique bricks are made from clay found along the coast of Lake Michigan and into the Menomonee Valley. During the development and growth of Milwaukee, most bricks were made here. Due to the large content of lime and sulphur, when these bricks are fired, they turn a yellowish or cream color hence the name. Today many of the city's most known historical buildings are cream bricks.The next church that I visited was Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church. Originally founded in 1854, the German congregation of the near southside Milwaukee church continued to grow into the early 20th century. Services were conducted in German until 1919, which English worship was held once per month. By 1928 the community had transitioned from being predominantly German to one of greater diversity. Services were held weekly in both German and English.As the city's tannery businesses grew, so did the population of Spanish speaking residents. Many settled into what is now the Walker's Point community. In the 1930's St. Stephen began to hold services in Spanish as well as German and English; a practice that continued into the 1960's. Today this church holds services in Spanish and English.The church that is found today at 5th and Mitchell was built in 1901 in the same location where their original church was constructed in 1866. Of note is the church tower which was built as an addition to the original church in 1879. The new church was built in a manner so as to incorporate the older cream brick tower.I spent some time walking around the building, enjoying the beautiful stained glass windows on the south side. My photos do not do them justice, but I will include one or two with this article.The last church that I visited on my journey was St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 816 W. Vliet Street. This High Victorian Gothic was built in 1889 and was nearly lost due to highway expansion and disrepair. Today it is not only listed as a Milwaukee Historical Site, it also has been listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of German Lutheran church architecture in the United States.As with so much of what was the City of Milwaukee, this area was abandoned as German immigrants expanded and moved to what would become the suburbs. When the citizens left the community in the 20th century, the neighborhood became condemned in 1950. More recently, through an urban renewal project, the City of Milwaukee reinvested in this area and created the Hillside public housing project.While "recognized" somewhat tongue in cheek by OnMilwaukee.com as the third ugliest thing in Milwaukee, the Hillside Housing Project serves a valuable role in the inner city. Home to the Hillside Family Resource Center and a very beautiful Boys & Girls Club, many of Milwaukee's less fortunate residents benefit from the programming invested to make their lives just a little better.I for one am glad to know that through this urban revitalization effort, the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has been spared vandalism and destruction.Through the exploration of these three lovely churches, a visitor will gain an appreciation for the rich and diverse community that Milwaukee has become. Much of our German heritage has been retained through the many historical landmarks throughout the city.For more information on the City of Milwaukee's Historic Preservation efforts and the sites recognized, check out: http://city.milwaukee.gov/hpc/LocalDesignations .
by MilwVon on October 29, 2010
Harley Davidson motorcycles represent the legacy of over 100 years of American history and the contributions to innovation before American manufacturing and industry lost its luster. Founded in 1903, anyone living in Milwaukee will remember the 100th anniversary celebration that took over the city and much of the state. For me, I left the city for the "Harley Centennial" and returned when all the hub-bub was over!This museum chronicles mostly life in America but there are snippets of the contributions the company and their motorcycles played particularly during in the 30's and 40's, during times of war. The self-walking tour starts on the second floor where visitors can view a collection of Harleys unlike any other in the world. Dating back to "Serial Number One" (c 1903) the "oldest Harley in the world" visitors will see the vast collection of unrestored bikes as well as those that have been acquired and restored for exhibit. I was actually surprised at just how many mint motorcycles they had on display that had never been touched! Take a look at this odometer in one of the photos attached . . . yes it says "12". I was told by another visitor that HD routinely took them off the production line and put them into their corporate archive storage, apparently for just such an occasion. Pretty smart forward thinking, wouldn't you say?Harley Davidson merged with AMF back in the 1960's . . . AMF of bowling fame today. In 1981 AMF was not very committed to the Harley brand or motorcycle manufacturing so 13 of the HD executives ponied up $1M each and secured $90M in additional bank loans. A few years later, with a continued poor economy, the privately held company faced bankruptcy. Fortunately on New Year's Eve 1986 they were able to ink a restructuring deal that staved off the bankruptcy that allowed the company to go public the following year . . . and survive to see their 100th anniversary.The museum has a little bit of something for everyone. While I enjoyed the 100 years of motorcycles on display, and the video exhibit chronicling Harleys on the big and small screen . . . gear-heads and biker elites can enjoy the Engine Room. It is there that a wall features all of the engines used by HD in their line, along with an interactive media display where you could press a button to see and hear a particular engine.On the lower level (main/first floor) is where the more current bikes are, along with an area that explains their R&D efforts including testing and manufacturing. It is also on the first floor that you can take a seat on a Harley for that photo op. As you will see in the photos attached, I took my place on a cute HD scooter. HA!It was a nice way to spend a fall day off from work. David and I enjoyed a leisurely two hour walk about. Admission is $16 per person, which like Harley's motorcycles seemed a bit over priced. But all in all, it is a nice museum and does a good job to telling Harley's story. They do offer discounts for kids, seniors, those in the military and of course, HOG members.
Milwaukee's Holler House is legendary and worth the visit if you have an interest in how locals lived and played in the early 20th century. Built in 1908 and first sanctioned in 1910, Holler House is the longest and oldest continuously certified bowling "center" in the United States. I put center in quotation because really, first and foremost Holler House is a typical neighborhood tavern like you would find on just about any corner throughout the city.Until very recently, the National Headquarters of the US sanctioning body of bowling (American Bowling Congress, Women's International Bowling Congress and American Junior Bowling Congress/Young American Bowling Alliance . . . and their collective successor US Bowling Congress) was located in the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale It was a job with YABA that brought me to Milwaukee back in 1994.During my six year tenure at Bowling Headquarters, I probably made a dozen or more trips to Holler House. Whenever we had friends or family in town, a visit to the Holler House was in order. For work, it was one of the first bowling places I visited in Milwaukee. I later learned that I was expected to shed my bra to add it with all of the others found on the ceiling fan, light fixtures and Lord knows where else. So the first thing you'll notice as you walk into the place are all of the bras . . . secondly, the huge (probably fitting an 80" waist) pair of men's tidy whities. The story goes that many years ago a raucous ladies night turned into shedding clothing, led by owner Marcy Skoronski.A little about Marcy and her family's history here at Holler HouseHoller House was built in 1908 by Constance Schachta and was originally known as "Mike's Tap" for her husband "Iron Mike" Skoronski. They had a son named Gene, who married Marcy. After Constance died at age 79 and Mike at age 87, the young couple took over the bar and renamed it "Gene & Marcy's". It wasn't until later that the place became known locally as the "Holler House" because of all of the hooting and hollering that could be heard from the sidewalk and street. Marcy tells the story of a man who had a fight with his wife and came down to the bar for a drink or two. Several hours later (probably five or six drinks later!) the man's wife arrived to take him home. The next day, she told friends that she had to go fetch him "at that Holler House" down on the corner. Ever since then, the name has stuck.In my nearly 20 years of stopping in at Holler House, Marcy has almost always been there. Since Gene's death in 1990, Marcy has run the place with the assistance of her daughter Cathy and her husband Todd. It was good to hear her voice when I called this past week to check on hours for my visit. The phone for the bar still rings in her living quarters that are adjacent to the bar.The two bowling lanes are located in the basement of the bar. At the bottom of the stairs you will see the lanes but not the traditional "settee" area. Bowlers stand around and scorekeeping is done on large pads of paper hanging on the side wall. The original oil lamp light fixtures are still hanging but light is provided by more modern electric lamps today.The original pine wood lanes are still used here, having been resurfaced back in 2003. In 2008 Holler House celebrated their 100th Anniversary. During the preparation for the party, an old wooden bowling ball original to the building was found. The photo attached to this review is similar to the ball found and is an original antique dating back to around 1910. Brunswick discontinued manufacturing wooden bowling balls in 1914 so most balls made of lignum vitae wood can be dated to that period in history.Back before automatic pinsetters, pinboys were used to set pins and return bowling balls. Depression era pinboys would earn between $1 and $2 a night. Holler House remains old school, having never updated to automated equipment. Not that they would want to, but the fact is there is no room for such.With Bowling Headquarters leaving the Milwaukee area a few years ago, Holler House is seemingly the only remaining shrine left to bowling's history in the city.Many of bowling's legends and other celebrities have visited Holler House. Marcy opens the place at 4:00pm six days a week (closed on Sundays). If only to have a beer (bottles only, no drought) and to take a peek downstairs, you owe it to yourself to see this piece of Americana in person.For anyone interested in learning more about Milwaukee's bowling history, I would encourage you to read the book "They Came to Bowl: How Milwaukee Became America's Tenpin Capital" by longtime local bowling journalist Doug Schmidt (c) 2007 The Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
by MilwVon on November 3, 2012
Anyone visiting Milwaukee is probably aware of the rich German history which includes a tradition of old world breweries and beer. No name is quite as synonymous with this history as that of Frederick Pabst. Ironically, Captain Pabst did not come to Milwaukee to pursue a dream of beer making; rather, he came here from Chicago to follow love after meeting Maria Best, daughter of Jacob Best - the founder of Best and Company (brewery) of Milwaukee.Having arrived to America from Germany with his family in 1848, Captain Pabst became one of the most known and best ship captains to navigate Lake Michigan out of his then home city of Chicago. This was how he met the lovely Miss Best in 1860; they married in 1862 and two years later, he left his life's work as a ship's captain to buy half interest in his father-in-law's brewery. In 1889 the brewery was renamed Pabst Brewing Company and remained operational in Milwaukee until they ended production in 1996. Today the production of their most well known brand "Pabst Blue Ribbon" beer has been contracted out along with the company's other brands which include Stroh's, Schlitz, Colt 45 and Old Milwaukee.Frederick Pabst began construction on his dream Victorian home in 1890. It was completed in 1892 and while the family lived in the home, it became largely known as the place where the Pabst's entertained and celebrated. The remarkable detail that went into every inch of this hand crafted mansion is really beyond description as words simply do not do it justice. Unfortunately, photos are not permitted inside the mansion, so my attempt with words will have to do. One of the first things I realized during our 90 minute tour was the ornate craftsmanship that went into everything from the gorgeous wood doors and cabinets to the detail in the hand painted ceilings and wall coverings. No two rooms were the same and yet each blended gracefully into the next. The other thing that caught my attention was the effort Capt. Pabst made to bring his German heritage home to Milwaukee. From the beautiful paintings to the German proverbs painted into the inlay of his study, reminders of Pabst's Germany could be found throughout the mansion.With the passing of Capt. Pabst in 1904 and his wife in 1906, their children sold much of the furnishings as well as the home in 1908. Serving as the home of Milwaukee's Archbishop until 1975, many modernizations were done to include updates to the plumbing and electrical systems. The mansion was nearly demolished in order to make room for a parking lot adjacent to land acquired for a hotel. After three years, however, a public conservation group was successful in saving the Pabst Mansion and acquiring it to begin the restorative process . . . one that continues today more than 30 years later.During the guided tour, a knowledgeable docent takes visitors throughout the first two floors of the mansion. Each of the rooms on the first floor were toured, with stories told about how the rooms were used and the historical significance of furnishing, artwork and other features. Today many of these rooms appear exactly as they did when Frederick & Maria lived here, thanks in large measure to the number of photos from that period which were used to help with the restoration. Additionally while many of the furnishings had been sold at auction in the early 1900's, a lot of those items have been donated back to the Pabst Mansion or found and repurchased at antique shops or estate sales around the area. One notable piece was found sitting in a Milwaukee Public Library. When it was recognized as having been original to the Pabst Mansion, curators inquired and the piece was donated back.Bedrooms and many bathrooms are located on the second and third floors of the mansion. Our tour included those rooms on the second floor only, including two that are currently undergoing restoration. To see the "before" and "after" photos of the painstakingly tedious work that goes into recreating the precise look of a hand painted ceiling gives visitors a real appreciation for the time and money necessary to bring the Pabst history alive again.As we worked our way back downstairs, we passed the elevator that Capt. Pabst had installed. In failing health, he knew it would not be long before he could no longer climb the stairs to his sleeping chamber. Unfortunately the elevator was not fully completed before his death in 1904. Once completed, the elevator was later used by servants to move laundry and other things.Speaking of the servants, there were around 10 to 15 people who served Capt. Pabst and his family; some of whom lived here in the mansion. During our tour, we got to see a little of the portion of the house where servants lived as well as their dining area. In what would be considered the kitchen area, I loved seeing the beautifully Blue Delft tiled walls. Captain Pabst used the tiles in this room as a reminder of his original Dutch ancestry. (It was the 16th century when the first Pabst moved to Germany.)At a cost of $250,000 in 1892, or roughly $32 million at today's dollar, no detail or convenience was spared. One such example is the carriage arrival hall. Built on the west wing of the house, a separate entrance was constructed so that the fine ladies and gentlemen arriving by horse drawn carriage would not have to step out into snow or rain. The covered entrance allowed guests to step from their carriage (and later automobiles) to the steps leading up and into the mansion's foyer.Another interesting feature of the mansion property is the 1895 addition of the exposition pavilion built for the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago. Capt. Pabst had it designed especially for the event and afterwards had it dismantled piece by piece to be reassembled adjacent to his mansion in Milwaukee. Today this building is open to the public and serves as where visitors first arrive for tours as well as a rather extensive gift shop. Of particular note inside this building are the stain glass windows.I took pages of copious notes during our tour and the truth is now I still find the words incomplete in trying to tell the full story of all that we saw inside the Pabst Mansion. I highly recommend this tour to any visitor to Milwaukee interested in our German culture and the influence that this famous beer family had on this city.For details on their tour offerings and schedule, check out their website: http://www.pabstmansion.com . Additionally, on the website they do a nice job of presenting more about the Pabst family, the mansion and the current restoration efforts (including photos). Please check it out!
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