Bubbler Talk Lightning Round: Milwaukee Streets

May 19, 2017

WUWM's Bubbler Talk receives a lot questions from a lot of people about Milwaukee's streets. So, to end this season of Bubbler Talk, we found two 'road' scholars — historian Carl Baehr and OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo - to answer your questions in a lightning round.

Here we go:

Before jumping into the remnants, here's a bit of history on Milwaukee's Bridge War of 1845 - from John Gurda's book, The Making of Milwaukee:

"The East and West Sides were like conjoined twins fused at the spine: inseparable, but congenitally unable to see things from the same perspective. Milwaukee's founding fathers were involved in the intramural dispute... Pinched between the river and the lake, East Siders (in Juneautown led by Solomon Juneau) wanted access to the outside world, and West Siders (in Kilbourntown led by Byron Kilbourn) were determined to deny them that access."

Bridges were built, bridges were destroyed. "When Milwaukeeans realized that they were on the verge of killing each other, most began to have second thoughts about life in a house divided," Gurdan wrote. "The Bridge War of 1845 ended in a truce."

Today, the legacy that lives on, Bobby explains, is that downtown's bridges are at different angles. "Byron Kilbourn was sort of an ornery sort. [Kilbourn and Juneau] didn't get along, they made competing settlements and Kilbourn didn't want his street to line up with Juneau's streets."

Bobby shared this photo of old streetcar track.
Credit James Pomes

"Just this week, I wrote something up about the new streetcar tracks going in and I started to receive photos from readers showing me spots had been torn up to put in the new streetcar track where they had to remove the old streetcar track in order to make way for the new one," Bobby explains. "Also along Wells Street in Wauwatosa - last year, they were tearing that up and they came across all of the old streetcar track underneath there."

"Every once and a while, you'll see the roads get in bad enough condition that tracks start to reappear," he adds.

And, for cobblestones, loads are still under there as well. Some alleys, mostly on the north and east sides of Milwaukee, that are still entirely exposed cobblestone, Bobby says. "I think it was last year, in the Third Ward, they were tearing up to repave the street... and they unearthed all these beautiful, even pre-cobblestone, pavers and people went down there and helped themselves to some of those."

Kenwood suddenly comes Burleigh, 27th Street becomes Layton, Vliet becomes Milwaukee.. what's going on here? "As Bobby mentioned Byron Kilbourn did not attempt to have his street line up with Juneatown, nor did they have the same names," Carl explains, "as developers developed north, south and west, they just continued to name streets whatever they felt like."

One exception, he points out, is Vliet Street. "Vliet Street is Vliet in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa had the opportunity to have their Milwaukee Avenue be called Vliet Street, but they did not like the name Vliet - so they wouldn't do it."

"While we don't have as many duplicate street names anymore (the city got rid of most of those), the east-west Pierce Street was named shortly after Franklin Pierce was elected president. The north-south Pierce Street was named after developer Jonathan Pierce," Carl says. There are no streets named after Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H, Carl confirms.

You can thank a developer in the 1870s that named two or three streets after states, Carl explains. "For the next 50 years, developers continued that pattern... I think there's 19 streets in Bay View named after states."

"I would think that probably some of them are, " says Bobby. "Even in Milwaukee there are streets that follow old Indian trails, right Carl?" he asks. "Probably one or two, I'm not sure how many streets we're talking about, but not all of them," estimates Carl. The answer is "definitely maybe."

"I say LAP 'EM," says Bobby. "It's named after Increase Lapham," says Carl. Mr. Lapham was Wisconsin's first scientist.  

Becher is the German word for cup or mug. "The correct German pronunciation would be Becker [for guidance, check out this YouTube video] Street," says Carl. "I don't know why we pronounce it Beecher Street, we mispronounce other street names too." 

Lake Effect's Mitch Teich with our 'road' scholars Carl Baehr and Bobby Tanzilo standing on one of Milwaukee's many angled bridges.
Credit Michelle Maternowski

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