Monday Milwaukee Mystery

This photo was taken in 1940 somewhere downtown and shows a couple of interesting apartment buildings. The one on the left was the Hollywood apartments and you’ll notice something odd about the bottom floors. The porticos on the second floor seem to be very grand, as if they were the main entrance. When they were built they actually were the main entrances! An elevation change on the street shown required all the buildings to change their main entrances to be one floor lower than where they were originally. Where was this street?

Suicide Pond – October 26, 1901

The VA Hospital grounds in Woods has seen many veterans pass through its buildings and grounds, many of whom have stayed for the eternal rest. Many have died of their war-time injuries and others of natural causes but there are those who died of suicide of various means. A popular means of suicide at the turn of the century was by drowning and a pond on the grounds became known as the “Suicide Pond”. This article tells the story of that pond.

Milwaukee Sentinel, October 26, 1901

SUICIDE POND LURES VETERANS
_____________________________

Beautiful Lake at National Home Attracts Weary Ex-Soldiers.

ITS DEATH LIST IS LONG

Two Places on Grounds Noted for the Number of Tragedies – Rachford the Last.

The death of James Rachford, which the coroner yesterday decided was a suicide, adds one more to the long list of old soldiers who have taken their lives in the beautiful and idyllic surroundings of the Soldiers’ home. Within the past eighteen or twenty years many a war-rearred veteran has buried himself in the placid waters of the artificial lakes in these grounds, which at night are so ghoulish and lonely in appearance, and now the veterans of the civil war who are living at this home call one of these lakes “suicide pond.”

By day it is merry and gay, but at night still and dark, and frogs croak and crickets ring. Most of the suicides by drowning have been at night, and it is said that the beauty of the grounds is a thing which attracts men to this place, and some have returned here for the sole purpose of dying in the sentimental surroundings.

“Suicide pond” lies to the west of the path that leads from the street car station to the big buildings which house the 2,000 or more veterans who fought in the civil war and have become disabled therefrom, or have not been over successful in life since. It would take days to go through the records and find the exact number of men who have become tired of continuing in their seemingly useless life, and ended their earthly existence in this beautiful stretch of water – men who with valor faced death by bullet and exposure through the long and weary campaigns of the sixties, but finally saw the futility of their escape in those exciting days.

Favorite Pond for Suicides.

There is another little pond back of the buildings, and over toward the cemetery, which has been the grave of many a disheartened soldier, and several rows of white headstones on the eastern side of the little hillock near Calvary show where the bodies of these unrecognized heroes lie. This is also a pretty little pond, and it is lonely and apart from the scenes of activity around the home. One other pond is in the park surrounding the home, but no cases of suicide have taken place there.

On a summer afternoon when the beauty and the chivalry of all South Side has gathered in the park, the bands playing inspiring military airs, and the surface of the little lake is dotted with graceful white swans and row boats occupied by the languishing swain and his fiancee, there is not the slightest suggestion of the gruesome finds that are made there some mornings. The lake is alive with laughter and fun, and the old soldiers who lie about on the bank and gaze dreamily at the little ripples chasing one another from the prow of a skiff toward the shore, speculate who will be the next to be pulled from the sparkling waters.

Seek Beauty Spot to Die.

The grizzled veterans who live at the retreats provided by the government make up an itinerant body of men, and they go from home to home in search of peace, which is hard to find among so many men who have little to do but talk over their troubles. It is said by men at the home that such a beauty spot is the little lake; that veterans who have searched in vain all over this broad country for peace in life have returned to Milwaukee and sought peace in the ideal little sheet of water, where they bury with them the stories of fortune or misfortune in war and peace.

Governor Wheeler was not at the home yesterday, and figures on the number of veterans who have ended their lives in this pond were not available, but there have been scores of them.

The last man to commit suicide on the grounds was James Rachford, who was a member of Company G of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts volunteer infantry, and was 86 years old. He selected for his piece of eternal rest the little pond over near Calvary, but his remains will be buried at the angular, black and white plot where his comrades lie.

“Switch Annie”– A Nice Railroad Story

This wonderful story about a rather unique woman sounds like some type of movie line. It differs slightly, as the railroad does not appear to be as evil as usually portrayed in the movies. I hope “Switch Annie” lived happily ever after. Maybe some one knows.

Milwaukee Sentinel February 3, 1895

“SWITCH ANNIE” WEDS

Anna P. Gsandtner, better known in railroad circles as “Switch Annie,” is a bride. She was married on Jan. 25 to Charles W. Green, a yard Foreman in the employ of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul road.

“Switch Annie” is one of the most unique characters in the West. For years she has enjoyed the reputation of being the only regularly employed woman switchtender in the country. She has been in the service of the St. Paul road for about fifteen years and has had charge of a set of the most complicated switches on the system, but never had an accident happen near her post of duty. She has performed hard manual labor in all kinds of weather and did it with such ability that she soon won the distinction of being one of the most faithful employees of the road. She was paid the regular salary of $50 a month for twenty-six day’s work and extra pay for all over time.

“Switch Annie” became a switch thrower by fate. She was the successor of her father, who was killed near the switches she attended to. She is now about 32 years of age. When a girl of about twelve summers she assisted her invalid father at this work. Her father had been injured by a train, and so the company promised to employ him as long as he lived. He was placed in charge of the switches just east of the West Milwaukee shops and the company built him a home near by. Annie often assisted him in his work and became familiar with the switches, so one day years ago when he was struck by a train and killed she was ready to take his place. Being left without means of support Annie applied to the company for work and was placed in full charge of the switches. As the traffic in the the yard where she was stationed increased her position became more responsible, but she was always equal to the occasion. Up to three years ago she threw the switches alone, but at that time the work became too much for one person, so she was given an assistant. She resigned her position last summer when she became engaged to Green, who was the yardmaster and her superior. Her husband is about 40 years of age and up to the time of her marriage was a widower. Father Naughton performed the ceremony.


Dennis Pajot

Oldest Business Street – February 16, 1896

Oldest Business Street


East Water Street the Birthplace of Milwaukee’s Commerce

Maintains Its Business Prestige For Over Half A Century

The Historic Street Holds All Its Business Advantages

February 16, 1896 – Milwaukee Sentinel

Ever since Milwaukee was established as a mere trading post, during its village days, down to and including the present time, East Water street, the first of the great thoroughfares to be laid out, has held a commanding influence on the trade and commerce of this great city. This is due to the fact that of all the streets it is by nature and location the best adapted for business purposes.

Solomon Juneau and Jaques Vieau when they established the first trading post along the Indian trail which ran parallel to the river, never dreamed that they were laying the nucleus for one of the greatest wholesale and retail thoroughfares in the western country. Yet they came here to do business in their small way and in selecting the place instinct or good judgement guided them to locate on the natural line of travel. For centuries previous to the coming of the white man, the Indian had a trail along the route now traversed by East Water street which led to the peace grounds, near the mouth of the river, which has played such an important part in the development of the commercial greatness of Milwaukee. It was in 1818 that the the first trading post was established here, and when the white settlers, following in the footsteps of the founders, began to come in the early thirties those who located on the east side of the river endorsed the good judgement of the first traders in locating along the river by building their homes and their small places of business along that same old Indian trail.

When the character of the buildings and the great volume of business which is transacted on the East Water street of to-day is considered, it is hard to believe that less than half a century ago this great emporium of trade was little more than a wagon road with a few houses, widely separated, constructed of poor material and scattered from Walker’s Point bridge to Racine street. It was in 1818 or 1819 that the first building, a rudely constructed log hut covered with cedar bark, was built for the accomodation of traders during the winter months. In the summer the men of those days had the blue sky for a shelter. From that time until 1832 there were a few cabins erected for the acommodation of the traders. It is in 1832 or about that time that the real business history of the street begins.

The First Frame Building

The first frame house built in Milwaukee was a 12 by 6 box erected by Solomon Juneau on the present site of the Pabst office building, in 1824, and was used as a school, a justice shop, the recorder’s office and a barber shop. The building had a historic interest aside from its origin in that Scott and Bennett, two men accused of an Indian murder, and the first to be charged with such a crime in this community, were incarcerated here for a short time, and this was the only punishment which was ever meted out to them.

Between that time and 1835 there were a few similar buildings erected. In the latter year there was a change; emigration began, settlers poured in freely and the village of Milwaukee began to assume proportions beyond that of a mere trading post. Commerce commenced to grow and it was no longer confined to the mere bartering of trinkets for the furs of Indians. Warehouses and general stores were established and the supplying of the demands of the white settlers became a more important branch of business than the Indian trade. This was made possible by the development of the agricultural interests of the immediate surrounding country. The extent of East Water street as a business thoroughfare in that year may be gleaned from the fact that the total population of the settlement was about 3,000 and that on the street which is so crowded to-day there were only a few houses and stores. But even then it had a greater proportion than other sections. On the east side of the street beginning at Buffalo street there were the houses of George Bowman, the cottage inn, Col. Morton’s, Juneau’s, Jonah Brown’s restaurant, George Peter’s saloon, U. B. Smith’s, Benton & Parmlee’s shoe shop, J. Rowell’s, Hayden’s grocery and Levi Blossom’s auction shop. North of Wisconsin street were the stores of C. C. Dewey, Harrison Reed, Lee & Thurston, J. L. Smith and Jas. Murray. On the west side of the street were the Dousman warehouse, wagon shop of Hiram Smith and the stores of Finch & Winslow, Higbee, William Payne, George Bowman, William Brown, J. Stoddard, J. C. Shermerhorn, Richard Hadley, John Gale, Weber & Starke, C. Shepard, G. Cady, A. O. T. Breed, Samuel Brown, D. S. Hollister, Luddington & Burchard, D. L. Week, J. W. Pixley, M. W. Cawker, D. W. Patterson, and Prentiss & Bird. These incuded general stores, shops, saloons, hotels or, as they were called at that time, taverns, and every description of business necessary to supply the wants of a growing frontier settlement.

Pioneer in Brick Construction

In 1840 the settlers were surprised at the energy and faith of C. C. Dewey, who erected the first brick building in Milwaukee on East Water street. Mr. Dewey’s block, which years afterwards became the Heide block, was a three-story structure which occupied the place on which is now located the Hansen Empire fur factory. It was divided into three stores and William Sivyer, Milwaukee’s first master mason, was the contractor. Mr. John E. Hansen who is among the public-spirited business men of to-day, is the possessor of a photograph of this building from which the cut accompanying this article is made.

From that time until the period of depression during the administration of Buchanan in the latter part of the fifty’s, East Water street grew rapidly. The frame buildings were, according as they had outlived their usefulness, replaced by brick buildings, the marsh on the west side and south end of the street was filled in, and every foot of the property was brought into use for business purposes. It is remarkable to note that in the directory of 1847 attention is called to the blocks and buildings of the city and among those were the following located on East Water street: Chapin’s Cheapside, Heide’s and Johnson’s. The street even then gave promise of its future commercial greatness and it was well built up, nearly all of the leading business houses of the city were located on it. Many of the firms which are there are a credit to the city to-day had made their beginnings at that time.

Lively From The First

Perhaps the most noted example of this class is that of Chauncey Simonds, who located on East Water street in 1845 and has continued ever since in the same neighborhood, developing his business with the growth of the city. In some respects the East Water street of the early days was a much livelier thoroughfare than it is to-day, although more people pass through this street in a single day now, and any one of a half dozen of the leading firms do more business in a day at the present time than was done then in a month. This lively appearance was owing to the crude and undeveloped means of transportation and the methods of doing business. Myriads of farmer’s wagons, of one horse drays teetering up and down and making an incessant din which was increased by the bobtail carts at all times thronged the street and made it at the time the most lively and enterprising business street in the western country. The buildings for the most part were frame and during the early years of development many of them were wiped out by fire. The most disastrous of the early fires was the conflagration of 1857, which destroyed a half a block south of Wisconsin street on the east side of the street. But through the fires were in a measure disastrous, in the end they proved to be a blessing for all of the burned structures were replaced at that time by more modern brick buildings, more roomy and better adapted to the necessities of the growing trade.