The story behind Fox Point's name and historical street signs
Bubbler Talk question asker Michelle Mullen started teaching at Stormonth School in the affluent village of Fox Point, Wisconsin 10 years ago. For just as long, she’s wondered: "Where did Fox Point get its name, and who designed the fancy signs?"
Village President Douglas Frazer says some residents think the village was named after a Mr. Fox. Others think it’s because many foxes live in the area.
"That's not correct, either," he says. "Although, there are foxes in Fox Point — I've seen them on several occasions."
Frazer says early surveyors thought a piece of land extending into Lake Michigan at Doctor's Park resembled either the head or the snout of a fox.
As for the fancy street signs, the village has used them for nearly 100 years. Street corners in the village are marked with wooden posts displaying black cast iron signs with white lettering. The image of a fox with white eyes sits atop the edge of each sign.
In 2002, the Milwaukee County Historical Society recognized the signs as historic landmarks.
According to a village document about its history, a jury in 1927 awarded draftsman Ernest Fiedler $50 for submitting the best street sign design. About 23 entries had been submitted.
Fox Point resident Jon Margolies has lived in the village since 1991. He was surprised to learn about the origins of the street signs.
"That's great to know," Margolies shares. "They do have character. They're good looking, people who visit the town comment on them. I'm glad to hear that it was a conscious decision and a prize-winning design."
According to the Milwaukee County Historical Society, the cast iron signs are examples of the way streetscapes contributed to local identity and how the rising automobile culture influenced urban art.
Frazer says the North Shore was a popular summer destination for early motorists. "They motored to Fox Point and that may have something to do with the distinctive nature of the signs," he says.
Throughout the U.S, road signs share a similar size, shape and reflectiveness. That’s because of the standards set by the Federal Highway Administration. However, Frazer explains, the village of Fox Point was exempt from following those standards.
"We were grandfathered in," he says. "We didn't have to swap out our old signs, which were historically designated, for new signs."
But when the historic signs need replacing, Frazer says the village uses ones that meet the federal requirements.
"You see several of those in the village where the old signs have either fallen down or have completely come apart. I would say probably 95% of the street signs are still the original signs, but as they come to the end of their useful life, we can't duplicate them," he says.
As for question asker Michelle Mullen, she says her passion for art history piqued her curiosity about the signs.
"It's just really unique," she says. "Not only the material, but the fact that, that little fox is on there as well. I think they're beautiful."
Mullen rides her bike on a 25-mile loop down Lake Drive about three times a week. She says the iconic design always catch her eye.
"I pass by them and just admire them each time I go by," she shares.
And, Frazer says residents appreciate the signs because they represent the special nature of the village, its history and its defining characteristics.
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