Lisbon Plank Road – October 22, 1899

This story from 1899 tells of the very early days of the Lisbon Toll Road and the people that lived in the area. It goes into details that are long gone but gives a detailed description of places along the road. The Sanborn Map portion shown below is from 1894 and shows the area around Lisbon Avenue and North 27th Street(Washington Av.) The beer garden at the southwest corner of the two streets was where tollgate #1 used to be and the start of the plank road. For more reading on the plank road, check the Sussex-Lannon Area Historical Society page.


Milwaukee Sentinel, October 22, 1899



The Lisbon Plank road between Tollgate No. 2 and “Bell’s Tavern” was an attractive stretch of highway last Sunday morning, when the weather was Indian summer-like and the sky distant blue. Tollgate No. 2, so-called in 1851, has become Tollgate No. 1 now. Tollgate No. 1, when the Plankroad opened for business about forty-nine years ago, was at the southwest corner of Twenty-seventh and Lisbon avenue. Austin Wheeler, the first keeper of that tollgate, died in Winona last year, and the old gate house he lived in, which stood at the time of his death, a half block north of its original site, has vanished this year. The gatehouse at North avenue is now No. 1. George Kries was the first gatekeeper there. None of the original gatekeepers are left. Even the picturesque little German gentleman who closed a seventeen-year career of toll-taking at the North street gate, has retired this year.

Lisbon road follows the line of an old Indian trail that led to the inland cornfields. It crosses the Menomonee river on the line between sections 6 and 7, town of Wauwatosa, but up to that point it runs along a ridge, affording a far-away view that is rarely obscured. The purple blue of autumn was conspicuous at the horizons at the right and left last Sunday. The journey to “Bell’s Tavern” and back required all the time from 9 a. m. to 4 p. m., the best hours of the day’s sunshine. It was a leisurely pace, through a section that showed the progress of sixty years of effort. Most of the men who made the clearings have retired from active life, and new men have come into possession of the fertile fields and broad barns.

Holds His Farm From the Government.

The “Bell Tavern” property is an exception to this rule. Francis Bell, who bought a farm from the government in 1842, still occupies it, and will be 83 years old next month. He kept a tavern for twenty-two years on the site now occupied by his residence. “I used to give away,” said he, “more liquor than the two saloons up the road sell. My house was well patronized. I furnished good meals and there was plenty of everything. I have seen thirty ox-teams tied to the fence all night while the owners were at my hotel. A barrel of whiskey would not last over two or three days. I went to California in 1852 for two years, and shut up the hotel, and when I came back I opened it again. I always had plenty of customers. I hire a man to run my farm now, and don’t do anything myself. He has just finished digging six acres of potatoes, and has dug 1,600 bushels. That is a pretty good yield. There are seven acres still to be dug.

Helped Build the First Dam.

Mr. Bell was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, Nov. 18, 1816, and is an Episcopalian. He came to America in 1839, and to Milwaukee in 1841. He immediately secured employment on the Milwaukee & Rock River canal, helping to construct the dam. In the spring of 1842, he located his farm on the Lisbon road in the town of Brookfield, and erected, the same year, a log cabin 18×28 feet in size. He moved his family there the following winter. His farm consists of 102 acres lying on both sides of the road, about a half mile west of Butler postoffice. Mr. Bell was the father of eighteen children, sixteen of whom are living in various parts of the country. Henry C. Bell of the police force, is the only resident of Milwaukee. James C. Bell is a mine owner in Arizona, and George Bell is an artist at Boston.

Born, on the High Seas.

“My oldest son, James,” said Mr. Bell “was born aboard the ship Sea in mid-ocean. The captain asked my wife if she would not name her little son in honor of the ship, and when she promised to do so he gave her $5 to pay the christening expenses.”

This interview took place on the porch of the town of Brookfield residence. The walk there from West park recalled many old residents, whose homesteads have survived them. The first was the Walter Burdick homestead, on the left of the plank read, just west of the cluster of saloons at the gate of the park. The old house, a story-and-a-half frame, faces northwest, and its corners are towards the four points of compass. A honey locust hedge is conspicuous on the west of the house, which was built in 1843. Walter Burdick’s farm was part of West park.

Forge of a Pioneer Blacksmith.

At the North avenue, in days before the tollgate, Robert M. Jacks, a pioneer blacksmith, established his forge in 1841 on the point of land now occupied by Neumiller’s park. He was a typical village blacksmith “with large and sinewy hands” and “brawny arms.” This land, as well as the property of the House of the Good Shepherd, was part of the quarter section bought by the late Elijah G. Fowler from the government in 1836, which lay for a half mile along North avenue and Lisbon road, just west of the Charles James quarter section. The Fowler homestead, built in 1854, is still to be seen on the right after passing the tollgate, but the original log cabin, occupied for many years, was northwest a quarter of a mile. The homestead is a brick edifice with red trimmings and a veranda on the east. The group of trees in the front yard, most of them planted by Mr. Fowler, include two white ash at the fence, a white pine, two balsam firs, and two huge silver poplars.

Old S. S. Merrill Residence.

The house next west was built, as near as can be remembered, by a man named Teed, in 1846. It is a rambling style of architecture, to which a wide veranda with four Doric pillars give a colonial aspect. S. S. Merrill resided there some years.

Standing on a slight elevation just west, is the Lyman Wheeler homestead, built fifty years ago. Lyman Wheeler was a pioneer of 1836, and his farm was a 160-acre tract next west of Mr. Fowler’s. East, north and west of the old homestead are clumps of trees, with foliage still green, bearing round black berries that are succulent in appearance, but bitter to the taste. One might fairly wonder why they were planted there, and the dense foliage at this time of the year attracts attention from the road.

The site of the log cabin, which stood on the farm when Mr. Wheeler bought it, and in which he lived for several years is still marked by a half-filled cellar south of the road, surrounded by locust trees.

Spring That Bubbled for Indians.

Here, on the north side of the road, is a fine sugar maple, leafless now, but with its seed samaras still persistent. Behind it, on a gentle slope, is an old spring filled with small limestone boulders from the quaternary drift. The spring was one of the sources of a little brook that winds northwest. Perhaps the wandering course of the brook indicates the direction of the last glacier. Many Indians, no doubt, built their campfires near the spring at the time when the only road was an Indian trail.

George F. Knapp Homestead.

A red brick house on the south side of the road, just west of the Fond du Lac road corner, was built by George F. Knapp, a pioneer of 1836, who came from St. Lawrence county, New York state.

The old “Ben Throop” place, known to old settlers, lies between the Fond du Lac and Lisbon roads, the house fronting on the former and the barn on the latter. The residence is a roomy red house with a north veranda, which apparently was enlarged by its successive owners as exigency required. The yard is full of evergreens, planted by Peter Van Vechten in the ’40’s. Subsequently it was owned and occupied by Caspar M. Sanger and by “Count” Spangenberg’s widow, and it is now the property of James G. Flanders.

Going westward, along the Lisbon road, a series of fine landscapes lie to the right and left, with all varieties of autumnal shading. Brown stubble runs into vivid green of winter grain, relieving the copper hue of oak foliage and bare grey boughs of elms and maples. Yellow butterflies flitted aimlessly across the country, apparently pondering on the approach of winter, and giving a taste of life to the scene.

Site of the First Frame House.

The barn Capt. Stephen Hubbell built in the early ’50’s is still standing south of the road, but the house has passed away. So also has the first frame house on the Lisbon road, which was built in 1845 by a man named Barrett. The site on the north side of the road, is owned by Assemblyman Frederick Hartung, whose father, Henry Hartung, settled there fifty years ago.

Typical Oak and Maple Group.

Across the road from the Hartung residence may be noticed a typical group of forest trees. It includes specimens of white oak, red oak, burr oak, sugar maple, white elm, black ash, and basswood. The trees apparently represent the forest that spread over the country, out of which the pioneers cut their farms.

Just before coming to Smithville, where stands at three corners the “Five Mile” house, the wayfarer notices large quantities of bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) draping the fences. The homestead of Deacon Erastus Smith, seen further along on the south side of the road, was built in 1850.

George E. Knapp’s Well.

A little road house, standing at the junction of the Lisbon road with the north and south section line road, gave an opportunity to rest, and observe the well across the way, which George E. Knapp dug in 1841 for his log cabin hotel that stood there. The well is a good one still, 100 feet deep. His hotel was 15×30 feet in dimensions. A barrel of whisky stood in the bar room, and it sold for a shilling a gallon. He had some tame deer, with bells on their necks, which he kept in a pasture, and the wolves got at them and ate them one night. Only the bells and bones were found next day.

On the section line road, just north, is the farm that Robert Farries bought in 1847. He died of cholera a year later. His son, John Farries, a veteran of the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin, owns the farm. Adjoining it on the north, is forty acres where Thomas Tobin, an early-day politician lived, and not far away was the homestead of another early settler, Thomas McCarthy, who died a year ago at the age of 90. Opposite the Farries place, on the section line road, was the David Bastin farm. He came early in the ’40’s, went to California in the gold excitement, and from there to Australia, never returning to Milwaukee.

An Old-Time Race Track.

Across the fields southwest is the flat on the bank of the Menomonee where Martin Curtis built a race track when he owned a 320-acre farm there. A short distance west is the Lieut. Dexter residence, and the grove where, in war time, a picnic was held to raise money to get hospital supplies for the soldiers at the front. The grove is on section 8. At the picnic articles were raffled, and some were sold at auction.

High Price for a Toy Sheep.

It is remembered that George L. Davis, a prominent dry goods merchant of that day, bid off a toy sheep for $25.

Some sites of houses that were important forty-five or fifty years ago are not discernible now, but along the country side are still a few who can point them out with tolerable exactness. Old poplar trees alone show where the vanished tollgate once stood. A hickory tree growing on a hill is the only landmark left to show where the old school house stood, visited by Indians occasionally. The Albert Fowler homestead on the hill west of the Beaver dam creek, built in 1841, has disappeared, even the cellar being leveled off, but the oak trees he planted in front of the house, close to the edge of the road are thrifty yet.

A House of a Poet.

Mr. Fowler had a quarter section of land and on a part of it George W. Chapman, the poet, coming West after the panic of 1857, built a residence which still stands there.

Slightly further west on the south side of the road, was the farm of Alexander Munroe, an early settler. His log house burned in March, 1850, and on the site he built a hip roof limestone house that summer, taking the stone from the quarry on the bank of the Menomonee. In one of the voluminous barns Mr. Munroe built, a Methodist quarterly conference was held one day, and the Rev. Benj. Barrett, who lived near by and died last year at the age of 90, was presiding elder.

Sanford Wheeler, brother-in-law of Mr. Munroe, took up the quarter section next west in 1837, and the house, built in 1850, is almost untouched except by the fingers of time, although the property has long been in other hands.

A Gate Half a Century Old.

The gate with diamond figures which Sanford Wheeler made and put in place in 1850 is still doing duty in the same place. On his farm the stump of an old Indian sugar bush can be seen. Mr. Wheeler was killed in 1865 by a runaway while hauling wood on his own farm, but his widow is 85 years old, and, visiting the place a year or two ago, recognized the gate.

Sawmill and Ashery Site.

The place on the river bank where the mill stood to saw plank for the Lisbon plank road in 1850 is still pointed out. Before that, it was the site of the Clark Brookins ashery. Clark Brookins settled on the quarter section in 1837, and he gave the acre or two of ground for Oak Hill cemetery, a quarter mile west of the river. The sawmill mentioned was not the first in the locality, as an Englishman named Petford built a water power mill about a mile north, in the early ’40’s.

Seen in the Cemetery.

A visit to the cemetery, in passing settled some dates. Clark Brookins and his wife are both buried there, both dying at the age of 75, two years apart. Robert Farries, the cholera victim, died July 15, 1848. Three graves in line show the last resting place of George F. Knapp, the merry innkeeper, and his two wives. The first wife died in 1848. Mr. Knapp followed her to the grave in 1873, and his second wife survived him five years. The oldest grave in this pioneer cemetery is apparently that of Abner H. Briggs, who died in 1846, at the age of 30. His tombstone has fallen flat, inscription side down.

West of the cemetery is the Brookins residence, fully a half a century old. His next neighbor on the west for the fifteen years between 1845 and 1860 was William Reynolds, who came with his handsome bride on their honey moon trip from Buffalo.

On a Honey Moon Trip.

They resided there fifteen years before returned to their native place, Attica, N. Y., where they still reside at a quite advanced age.

How Butler Postoffice Was Named.

Butler postoffice, standing just over the county line in the town of Brookfield, was in sight after leaving the cemetery, and it was practically the end of the journey. It may not be generally known that the postoffice was established in 1848, and was named after Gen. William D. Butler of Kentucky, the defeated Democratic candidate for vice president in 1848. The postoffice is in the old tavern kept in early times by John W. Gieb. who was living in Alaska up to a few years ago. His wife died in 1854, and was buried in Oak Hill cemetery.

The two bits of still life that stand out most prominently in this trip are the wooden guard around George Knapp’s well and the gate that Sanford Wheeler hung in 1850.

P. W.

Rohn’s Swimming School – June 21, 1908

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Milwaukee River above the dam near North Avenue was a very popular swimming and recreational spot. There were plenty of swimming schools and pleasure boating was also a fun activity. This article tells the story about the first swimming school on the river which was founded by Julius Rohn. An article I published in 2011 has an aerial photograph showing where Rohn’s was located.

Julius “Papa” Rohn

Milwaukee Sentinel, June 21, 1908

Milwaukee Has Oldest Swimming School in the Country, Over Half Century Old
By Charles Tenney Jackson

Milwaukee’s “ol’ swimmin’ hole” is to have a recrudescence of usefulness. Rohn’s place up Milwaukee river, known familiarly, even lovingly to every native son of the good old town, for here every mother’s son of them learned to paddle “dog fashion” and dive like a muskrat long before the days of the hifalutin overhand stroke, before fancy trunks emblazoned with monogram and club colors were ever heard of, is to be restored and a sturdy aquatic athlete of local renown is to reopen the school on a scale that dwarfs its former memories.

“The ol’ swimmin’ hole of Milwaukee” is the oldest swimming school in the United States. Away back in 1856 Julius W. Rohn came over from Leitmoritz, Bohemia, and picked out that little plot of ground on Milwaukee river, 50×150, which has a loved fame to all Milwaukeeans greater than any spot in all the city.

Julius Rohn knew how to swim ere he saw the land of the free. He had been a swimming instructor in the armies of Austria and an ardent lover of athletics since his childhood. When, in 1855, he came to Milwaukee from New York, “the ol’ swimmin’ hole” up the river was a picturesque bit of wildwood – nothing more. Mr. Rohn purchased the piece. Milwaukee was a thriving immature city some miles down the river then and it seemed a far call to the day when folks would come out as far as the old dam to take swimming lessons or disport in the pools, but the young Austrian soldier set up his swimming school and let it be known to the city. Its patronage at first was not flattering to success. In those days there were no street cars and people on warm summer afternoons and evenings had to drive or walk up the old canal road now Commerce street to reach Rohn’s school. But even the old time kids had found out the loveliness of Milwaukee river, its placid pools and rippling rapids; many a skinny shanked youth had learned in the upper river, regardless of instructor or the blushing askance of the chance passerby, the perplexing details of the breast stroke and the uncanny sensation of trying to float chin high out of water for the first time.

To the young city of Milwaukee in the fifties, nestling below the sylvan river reaches, came the Austrian soldier swimmer. He was six feet tall and of powerful build, quick of eye and judgement, as many generations of Milwaukeeans were to learn. It was these qualities that made “Rohn’s school” famous, and which now gives his sons just pride to say that in fifty-two years of its existence but one life was ever lost of all the thousands of the instructor’s pupils.

In this little plot of land above the old wooden dam of that day, Julius Rohn established the first swimming school of America. He had a tiny shanty along the water margin, and here with his young wife he lived in the summer and here his four sons grew to be as expert in the water as their father. Mr Rohn had married Ida Seidemann of German birth and devoted his time thenceforward to making Rohn’s school the place of all lovers of the water. As the city down the river grew more and more, people found their way of Sundays and holidays to the swimming school. Merchants and brewers and professional men came to perfect themselves in the pool below Rohn’s bathhouses and to leave their children in his care, for his watchfulness and care became a proverb and sometimes a strict disciplinarian he was. The instructor made a strict rule that none of his young charges should try to swim across the river, more than one adventurous lad dared to disobey this, for when one was half way over, it appeared safe for the culprit to ignore Teacher Rohn’s warnings and paddle to the east shore.

But woe to the culprit when he came back. There are middle aged men in Milwaukee’s business life today who can remember how the former Austrian soldier seized the shivering youth, laid him all bare and wiggly across his knee and soundly smacked him where it would reach the most superficial area that would feel a smack from a large firm hand.

Wow! And without any trousers on and wet and squirmy. No wonder some of these Milwaukee men remember Julius Rohn!

But he taught them how to swim. The modus operandi was much as that of today, though many new racing strokes have been added. The Milwaukee river at this point was and is about 430 feet wide with an average depth of eighteen feet. In those days, after its first year below the dam, near where Becker’s tannery now is, the school clung to the bank just across from the heavy woods later known as Sigel’s camp during the civil war. The space before it was a clear, fine pool, as clean as the lake water and along the platform over the water Instructor Rohn conveyed the kicking youth with a hand under his breast while carefully telling him the stroke and the way to breathe.

There was a rule in those days that no lad could leave the protecting tether under Rohn’s guidance until he was able to swim thirty minutes unassisted. Of late years this wise, if arbitrary old rule, was lessened to ten, and today there are no words that will call up more pleasant memory to the generations of the native born than these: “Say, are youse swimmin’ free yet?”

“No, but I’m going to swim free next week.”

That meant the aspirant had graduated. And what a glorious independence it was! No more instructor at the end of the rope; the youngster could dive off the boards and breast it out to midstream as much as he pleased and even risk a spanking to gain the further coveted shore.

“I believe it is safe to say that every boy in Milwaukee, now grown beyond his twenties, has swum at father’s place,” said Julius Rohn Jr., the other day, “and we have had pupils from every state in the union during the long time the family conducted it. It was not uncommon for father to teach 200 boys there during the season and in the fifty-two years that would make more than 8,000. And as to the number who have swum there, apart from the students, it is simply incalculable in the half century. Our bathhouses and swimming privileges used to open at 5 o’clock in the morning and close at dark, and on hot days there would be boys there at the opening. Some days at least 600 boys have been in the water, and as the season lasted from the first of June to the middle of September, you can estimate roughly how many lads used to seek the river here. I think every lad of the old German families has been taught by my father. The charge used to be $10 for the complete instruction, and all sizes of youngsters were taken. I think Robert Nunnemacher was the youngest father ever taught, for he showed him how to swim at the age of 6 years. The record that our school had for its freedom from accidents was remarkable. Excepting the drowning of one young woman, there never was a fatality at Rohn’s in the fifty-two years. My father was granted a gold medal from the government for saving life; but the particular instance for which this was given was but one of many. He rescued at least seventy-five drowning persons during his career. He was a big, strong, fearless man, and had the confidence of every pupil in the school as well as that of all the Milwaukee river frequenters.

“In the early days when I and my three brothers were young, father used to have much trouble with toughs who came up from town Sunday and created disturbances. We had a lunch counter and bar with our bathhouses and these fellows from the city – for Rohn’s was then outside the limits of Milwaukee – a great many times started a row. They got worsted once or twice and then after that they used to come up on purpose to “do up that old Dutchman.” Then all of us boys came to father’s help and the five of us cleaned out those gangs so thoroughly that the trouble soon stopped. The police could offer no assistance, of course, as we were not in the city. The family practically lived there in the shanty on the river during the summer when father’s school was open. I think that all the best known citizens of Milwaukee for generations learned to swim. The bathhouses were a big feature of the business up the river in the days before the city water works were effective over large areas; but when people got so they could take a bath handily in their homes they no longer came to the river in such numbers and we gave up the houses.

“But the swimming school continued in popularity up to the time of father’s death thirteen years ago. For many years our brother Louis continued as swimming instructor while my mother managed the place. But after their deaths, the others of us were too engrossed in other business to carry on the old school and it rather ran down.”

But better days are coming again for “the ol’ swimmin’ hole.” Although the Rohn brothers have sold the school, site and buildings to the Wisconsin Lakes Ice and Cartage company, have now been leased by Edward Dierolf, who for five years was an instructor at Rohn’s and is a capable teacher as well as an expert fancy swimmer and diver. Mr. Dierolf was for many years in charge of the famous Lurline baths in San Francisco and also instructor in the best known schools in the west and has friends among all the thousands who have patronized Rohn’s in the last half decade. The ice company will expend $3,000 in fitting up the old buildings and Mr. Dierolf will this summer conduct “the ol’ swimmin’ hole” for the benefit of Milwaukee lads and girls who wish to learn the art, while making it in every way the same old spot of fun and laughter that it was for more than half a century.

Waukesha Springs – June 6, 1953

This article was written by Frances Stover, who is not as well known as most Milwaukee historians. Although he was primarily an art critic for the Milwaukee Journal newspaper from 1921 to 1962, he also wrote many historical articles which have never been republished. I will try to post more from him as I get a chance. This one deals with the history of the Waukesha Silurian Springs resort which saw it’s peak in the 1890s.

Waukesha, Wis., Bethesda Springs, the pavilion

Milwaukee Journal, June 6, 1953

“Surely, you must know The Springs'”. The elderly lady in black with a white ruche who made the observation was in the drawing room of her Columbus (Miss.) home. All about were remembrances of her years as a southern belle. She could not understand that a Milwaukeean did not know all about “The Springs, the gayest summer society gathering place west of Saratoga” when she was a girl.

When she mentioned Bethesda and Silurian, the Fountain House and the Park hotel, it was all plain. She was speaking of Waukesha. Wis., when it was the Saratoga of the west. She was recalling her happiest days, the summers when with her father and mother, the family servants, the family landau and the carriage and riding horses they entrained for “The Springs” to spend a delightful three months. “Taking the waters” was an excuse for enjoying a summer social season of prebreakfast quaffings of the water, mid-morning musicales, luncheons, tennis, croquet, drives, dips in the pool, formal dinners, balls and most of all, flirtation with the young dandies from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi to say nothing of the Waukesha boys.

On June 14, Waukesha is going to recall the 30 years during which it was the Saratoga of the west, the summer social capital of a dozen states. The restored Silurian spring is to be the scene of the celebration.

Travelers From Southern States

The rise and decline of Waukesha as “the spring city,” is material for an opera. It is a natural, too, for topical songs and handsome stage settings. We can start with the summer of 1868 when, to settle an estate, from New York came Col. Richard Dunbar, a railroad contractor who found himself afflicted with diabetes. Driving around Waukesha with his wife’s sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Carney, the colonel asked where he could get a good drink of water.

“There are several fine springs in the pasture over there,” said Mrs. Carney. Col. Dunbar drank one cup of water, drew another and another. Every day he continued to quaff the refreshing water, feeling like a new and better man. Returned to New York, he sank back into his former lassitude. “There must have been some powerful curative agency in that Waukesha spring water,” he said.

Result, he returned to Waukesha, bought the 40 acre tract where the springs were, chased off the cattle and, remembering his Sunday school days, named the spring “Bethesda” after the Jerusalem spring where an angel troubled the waters, which then took on curative powers. Now in first rate health, Col. Dunbar began the development of the Bethesda spring. He built a handsome family home; Dunbar av. was laid out; the spring itself was covered with a pavilion and rustic benches were placed in the park grounds.

The Milwaukee Daily News said in 1872, “The use of Bethesda water is no longer an experiment. No one can converse with a tithe of the hundreds now in Waukesha without being convinced of the spring water’s miraculous powers.”

News of the Wisconsin Saratoga got into national publications and summer travelers began to flock to Wisconsin instead of going to the famous Virginia springs or to Saratoga. Several outbreaks of yellow fever did their part in hurrying wealthy people from New Orleans and Mobile to the Wisconsin springs. In the main, early visitors were drawn by the boldly advertised powers of the waters to “cure” diabetes and Bright’s disease. Before long gout, rheumatism and all manner of urinary troubles were added. Waukesha’s hotels, boarding-houses and private homes, too, soon had every available room occupied and still visitors clamored to be entertained. In this emergency, from Chicago, to “take the waters” came Matthew Laflin, a keen businessman and a millionaire. Restored to buoyant health, he resolved to build a magnificent hotel. With another Chicagoan, Thomas B. Bryan, Laflin put up a $100,000 stone structure and a fine stable. This was the original Fountain Spring House.

At its opening, July 1, 1874, 250 newspaper editors were entertained and the story of the springs and the hotel spread over the country.

Each of the two grand old promoters suffered disaster. On July 30, 1874, Col. Dunbar’s son, Edward, associated with his father in the management of Bethesda, drowned while on a fishing trip to Little Muskego lake, and early in September. 1878, Laflin’s Fountain House burned, with the fire starting in a kettle of lard on a range. Seventy-one year old Laflin did not hesitate a day, and the season of 1879 opened on time with a new Fountain House, its capacity doubled. It covered three acres, built of stone and Milwaukee brick. It had a frontage of 450 feet and three of its four floors were surrounded by “galleries.” Its dining room, arranged for 500, had three domes and life sized peacocks on the balustrades. The roof had as many chimney pots as Paris, since the southerners were determined to have open fires on cool mornings.

Smiling Eyes and Spring Water

Now began the 30 years of the Saratoga of the west. Now came the gay belles and beaux who had neither rheumatism nor gout and were only weary when they had danced all night. Now came the immense, round topped Saratoga trunks to he lugged upstairs and deposited in the extra large closets. Now came the young ladies and the matrons, the children in Fauntleroy suits and in blue sashes, the broadly smiling Negro nurses, the young gentlemen in striped blazers carrying both tennis rackets and silver cups to drink the water, not because it would cure them of something they did not have hut for the flirtatious moments around the bubbling spring.

Gaily the “dipper boys” filled the ladies cups, or glasses if they did not carry their own. Eyes above the rims, they drank, then tinkling a dime in the cup, they handed it back to the dipper boy, who rinsed it, in the spring, of course, and then returned it.

Now began the jaunts in their own carriages, to Pewaukee lake, to Mr. Dousman’s trout pond near Brookfield, and to Nashotah lake. Several times a week there were hayrides for the youngsters and tournaments and much progressive visiting on the balconies.

The single figure which typifies this gay social life was Miss Bettie Brown of Galveston, Tex., the sparkling queen of the spa. The season was not considered to have opened until Miss Bettie had arrived with her 16 trunks, her maid, her carriages, her grooms, her coachman and her horses. She was a true southern lady, golden haired, of the Grecian type, gracious to everyone but allowing no presuming. She had studied painting in both the United States and Europe but to exhibit was too commercial for her. Her costumes were the talk of the place. People never forgot a black velvet princess gown, molded to her elegant figure, its train heavily embroidered in gold bullion. She invariably led the grand march at a Fountain House hop.

Cotillions and pink balls with powdered hair and patches were favored. Older ladies presided at favor tables where such delightful trinkets as sachet bags, card cases, glass vinaigrettes and long handled button hooks were given to the ladies while the gentlemen received silver filigree necktie pins.

The guests wore moire and silk faille and albatross and china silk with point lace, diamonds, Marechal Niel roses and they carried Mary Anderson fans. They knew exactly how to swing a court train over one arm, how to smile above a jewel scintillating fan and cast roving eyes at the young men.

It was only human that the Waukesha girls should resent the southern belles absorbing all of the attentions of the local boys.

“Let ’em stick to their southern boys and not try to grab off our fellows,” the Waukesha misses said.

In the fall of 1883 the enraged town girls pledged each other that no local boy who had paid court to the southern girls in the summer should be invited to the winter’s parties.

They carried out their pledge too and the Waukesha young men had to look on enviously while the Waukesha girls danced with partners imported from Milwaukee.

Auto Spelled Doom of Resort

After the end of the century the gay life was changed. There were several shiny red automobiles and a White steamer in the carriage house along with the landaus and breaks and dog carts. Too, the northern woods were beginning to make inroads. A period of lessening formality was just around the corner. Fishing became the fad and high laced boots were beginning to take the place of silver buckled slippers.

In the summer of 1905 the Fountain Spring House was sold by the heirs of Matthew Laflin to the Metropolitan Church Association of Chicago. The Waukesha springs with their romantic names:

“Silurian, Bethesda and Horeb
Hygela. Glen Rock and Henk,
Crescent City, Almanarius and Clysmic,
Arcadian. Sotarian, Acme and White Rock . . .”

were “springs” again and not celebrated summer trysting places.

The June 14 exercises will recall when Silurian was a joyous place of daily band concerts given at the casino. There was a theater on the edge of the park where stock companies and traveling troupers gave the best of the old plays and some new ones. Often local groups presented light operas. In the summer of 1899 Arthur Cyril Gordon Weld of Milwaukee directed a presentation of “The Mikado” with Miss Bessie Greenwood, now Mrs. William D. McNary, and James C. Wall of Milwaukee in the cast. Hermann, the magician; Capt. Magnus Anderson of Viking ship fame and Edison’s Vitascope in 1895 were some of the attractions.

Before being moved downtown and refitted as a movie house, the once gay casino was the scene of serious political discussion when both Senator John C. Spooner and Robert Marion La Follette in his first campaign for the governorship spoke from its stage.

Mrs, Edith Tallmadge, historian at the Waukesha county museum, knows well the story of the old Silurian casino as well as the history of the spring. In the late 1890’s she worked a year as a stenographer for the Silurian Spring Co. in an office about 300 feet west of the spring. One of her jobs was to follow the itinerary of Ringling Brothers circus with the proper shipping labels and datings for carloads of bottled spring water, the circus people taking no chances on the drinking water for their employer.


Milwaukee 1875

Here is a longer than usual article from a magazine that existed back in the late 1800s and was published locally. It’s an interesting magazine which I found on Ebay for a bargain price due to a missing cover on the bound copy of the volume. Thanks to the magic of a scanner with optical character recognition I scanned this article and made some minor corrections to the electronic copy. Here is the article without the illustrations. A pdf copy can now be found here. There also is another article about the city in the magazine from February 1875 which I have scanned here.


The Milwaukee Monthly Magazine – January 1875

Spring street, is on the West Side. Here one gradually leaves business with its bustling activity, the crowding and jostling of the lower portion, behind, and finds the street broadening into a fashionable, much-frequented avenue. This street runs west, commencing at the river, and the streets crossing it are numbered from that point. On Spring, occupying the block between Ninth and Tenth streets, is the Hon. Alexander Mitchell’s magnificent Northern home. None other in the city or in the state approaches it in beauty and extent. The house is in the modern Italian style of architecture, and has nothing of that look too common to very large houses, of being merely a huge pile of stone raised by its possessor as a monument to his own money, but rather the hospitable sunny expression of the elegant, commodious dwelling place of social-hearted people — people of great wealth, it is true, but who are warmhearted, sensitive and charitable.

There are two entrances to the place, one on Ninth street leading straight up to the house, the principal one on Spring street, where a gate of the most elaborate and handsome design opens to a fine driveway curving through the grounds. On either side of the gate are large marble pillars supporting vases that in the summer time are filled with thriftily-growing vines and a profusion of blossoming flowers. Just inside the gate is a Swiss summer house, one of the notable and attractive features of the place. It is very elaborate and beautiful in design, and is said to be the finest structure of its kind in this country. The floor and wainscoating are of Trentan tiles, manufactured in Europe expressly for the places they occupy here. The ceiling is exquisitely frescoed, and the doors and windows are filled with the finest stained glass in a harmonious blending of brilliant colors. Not pausing with the vain attempt to give the reader an idea of the interior of the house, of the statuary and paintings, and the many articles of furnishing and adornment that make it a delightful abode, let us devote what space we may to the conservatories, entered from one of the parlors. In the center, in front, plays a beautiful fountain, the waters falling into a large basin where gold-fish dart about among the rare aquatic plants; farther on a fantastic rookery affords a congenial place for ferns and trailing vines, while ornamental foliage, and other curious and rare plants, make it a fairy-like wonderland. Still farther away, under the staging of the green-house, are grown quantities of mushrooms, those dark-loving delicacies which epicureans so seldom enjoy in this country. In this house soft-wooded plants are being constantly brought into blossom, and in the early spring the place seems fairly flooded with bloom, the air burdened with many subtle odors. The part of the building running parallel with Tenth street is a veritable tropical kingdom. The wall toward the street is covered with moss, from which springs in native luxuriance the innumerable and wonderful plants of the hot climate. Here, too, is a strange and beautiful rockery, showing some curious petrifactions, and over-arching a cavern or grotto into which the waters trickle, dancing over stones and glittering sea-shells, taking their varied hues and sparkling in reflected light. This part of the house is devoted exclusively to the propagation and growth of tropical plants, which not only bear full blossoming, but come into fruitage. There are over sixty varieties of the orchids growing on bits of cork, wood or bark suspended from the roof, without a particle of soil, feeding on air, and throwing out their weird uncanny blossoms in the-shape of birds and other living things. Natives of the Indies and of Australia, human skill has arranged for them in this uncongenial climate the conditions essential to their life and growth. There is also a pine-apple house, where a large amount of this delicious fruit matures into luscious ripeness; and a vinery, where are grown, in the ground, and in boxes and tubs, exotic grapes of splendid size and fine flavor. In the rose house the lovers of this sweet, matchless flower may feast upon a profusion of bloom, eight hundred varieties brightening and perfuming the air. In the orchard house grow peaches, nectarines and other fruits—peach-trees thirty inches in circumference, bearing in a single season as many as five hundred peaches, growing in boxes but eighteen inches square, the quantity of fruit being twice the amount in bulk of the soil in which the tree is grown, a marvelous result produced by scientific feeding with chemical solutions during the fruiting season. There are over twenty thousand square feet of glass, in this structure; beneath it grows in perfection almost everything “under the sun.” In the grounds out of doors there are borders and flower-beds and floral embellishments everywhere; bowers, arbors, rustic seats, vases, urns and baskets filled with trailing vines and brilliant flowers from early spring until late autumn time. The main fountain on the front lawn is of a design of unsurpassed beauty and artistic elegance. It throws a large volume of water, and was a rare new attraction last season that had the effect to make the street more popular as a drive than it had ever before been in the summer time. We have but briefly and imperfectly sketched in the merest outline this beautiful residence, a place where money and taste have done their utmost to form an earthly paradise, and have succeeded in making it a delight not only to its possessor and the many guests who share his hospitality, but to neighbors and strangers, to all lovers of the beautiful who pass that way. This illustration will have greater interest for the reader from the fact that Mr. Mitchell is a man so widely known for his great railroad enterprises and his wonderful success in life. He is now counted among the richest men in this country, and his immense fortune he has made since he became a resident of Milwaukee, in 1839; made it fairly, and now spends it liberally and judiciously. Some may be inclined to question a part of this statement, perhaps, sincerely believing it impossible for any one to accumulate a great fortune honestly. Some fanatic, too, may read it, who firmly believes no man has a right to more than the bare,necessities; who would distribute the wealth of the world, and give the lazy lounger about saloons, or the hardly less disgusting one who thinks the world owes him a living and sits idly waiting for the paymaster to coma round, a nuisance to himself and everybody else, an equal part of the well-earned dollars of the temperate worker. Well, this may be the correct way, but a Wiser than we, in arranging the affairs of this world and setting it in running order had a different plan, and from the beginning it has been, and will be to the end, that to the worker is given the wages. The skilled artisan receives better pay than the rough hewers, and the sagacious, resolute business man makes the fortune. Mr. Mitchell’s whole life speaks of him as a man of great force of character and rare executive ability and shrewdness; but it seems to have been to his faith in the future of the West, a faith amounting almost to prophecy, more than to any and everything else, that he has owed his success. He saw farther than most other men could see, and believed as inevitable what others doubted. He identified himself entirely and heartily with this section of the country, and with its unparalleled growth grew his prosperity. He has made a great fortune for himself, and in making it has done more than any other one man has ever been able to do for the West. Of this his record in Congress speaks in part, and the Milwaukee and St. Paul and the Western Union Railroads tell the story more fully. Mrs. Mitchell is a lady eminently worthy of the place the kindest fortune has called upon her to fill with her womanly presence. The mistress of this establishment, and having designed or suggested most of what is delightful in its surroundings, she bears herself modestly, using her riches freely, yet unostentatiously, and doing many a kindly unrecorded deed; while all who know her speak of her as a cultured, generous-hearted woman.

The illustration on the second page gives a view of Broadway, a block or two farther up, and looking toward the New-hall House, pictured last month in the foreground.

In our last month’s issue we had occasion to remark that Milwaukee is not lacking in educational facilities. Prominent among the educational institutions in which our citizens take a special pride, is our well-known and highly popular Milwaukee Academy, an English and classical school for boys and young men. This school occupies an eligible location on the corner of Cass and Knapp streets, on the East Side of the city. A view of the Academy building is given on the preceding page. It is a modern built and commodious edifice, admirably adapted for its purpose in every respect.

The school sprang from a local necessity, which the growth of our city naturally developed. A large number of our prominent citizens, feeling the need of a home institution, where the higher education might be fostered, and especially where our young men might receive a thorough preparation for our best American colleges, with commendable enterprise united their efforts, and secured the permanent establishment of the Academy. The work of preparing young men for college has always been made a special feature of the school; and in doing this work the Academy is answering, for this vicinity, one of the greatest educational needs in this country. Our colleges are demanding a more advanced and a more thorough preparation on the part of those applying for admission. At their annual meetings the great educational associations continue to repeat, from year to year, with increasing emphasis, that our most urgent educational want is not for more colleges, or for better common schools, but for more and better secondary schools or academies, where students may receive an adequate preparation for the college and the university. It was with the view of supplying this want for Milwaukee and vicinity that the Academy was founded, and the equipment and management of the institution has ever had this end in view; and the scores of young men, who, having received their college preparatory training here,, have gained creditable admission to our best colleges, have helped to give the institution an enviable reputation abroad.

But the work of the school is not confined exclusively to preparing students for college. The Academy carries on a comprehensive graduating course of English, scientific and mathematical instruction, and such other branches as have a more immediate application to business pursuits. Ample facilities are provided for illustrating the principles of the natural sciences, and for answering the urgent and increasing demands of the present day for more extended courses of instruction in these branches. The German and French languages are thoroughly and practically taught. The prominence which has always been given to artistic English reading and elocution, constitutes a feature of the school which is highly appreciated by its patrons.

For the continued prosperity of the Academy the largest measure of credit is due to the eminent administrative abilities of its principal, Prof. A. Markham. To his efforts the institution, in reality, owes its origin, as he was the leading spirit in inaugurating the enterprise of establishing such a school in our midst, and the management from the beginning has been in his hands. Here he has devoted ten years of his professional life, and here the choice fruits of his labors have been seen and appreciated by all. A gentleman of scholarly tastes and superior culture, of untiring energy and industry in his profession, he has accomplished, and is still accomplishing, a great work for the cause of education in our community. The eminent success of his labors has justly entitled him to the widespread reputation which he sustains as one of the ablest educators in our state. The Board of Trustees, having the general management of the institution, comprise many of our leading business and professional men, who have ever been ready to cooperate in any measure which might enhance the usefulness of the school. A very great degree of credit is especially due to the President of the Board, C. F. Ilsley, Esq., for the deep interest which he has always taken in the building up and maintenance of the interests of the Academy. With a manifest appreciation of the value of such an institution, he has ever been prompt to contribute his influence and his means towards securing the welfare of the school. Under the fostering care of its able Board of Trustees, the Milwaukee Academy must continue to prosper and carry on its good work ; and, by its excellent facilities, attract hither a larger number of young men from abroad, year by year.

The Milwaukee Female College is one of the oldest institutions at the West established for the higher education of young women, its charter having been granted in 1851. More than a thousand women have received their best education here, and nearly one hundred and fifty have completed the course of study and received its diploma. The College has recently entered upon a new epoch in its history. Under the direction of President Charles S. Farrar, the late senior and popular professor in Vassar College, a decidedly successful impulse has just now been given to its material and its work. Besides a general and most thorough renovation, a new chemical laboratory, library, philosophical and natural history rooms have been provided. In addition to Professor Farrar’s valuable apparatus and cabinets, a large number of new specimens and instruments are being procured. By enlarging the building, the number of new and commodious students’ rooms have nearly quadrupled the capacity of the institution for resident students. These rooms are newly and tastefully furnished throughout. The most approved heating apparatus, on every story a full supply of water from the city water-works, ample sewerage, ventilation, and all the comforts and conveniences of a modern and first-class home, have been introduced. With these improvements, and with the reorganization of the Board of Instruction,under the supervision of the new presi- j dent, it is confidently believed this institution is fully equal to any of the kind in the country in its facilities for a high and thorough course of instruction and training, in its elevating influence upon the manners and deportment of students, and in its provisions for their health and comfort. Those young ladies who reside in the college are members of the family of the President, enjoying daily the society and care of Mrs. Farrar and the ladies composing the Board of Instruction. The college is on the East Side, in one of the finest localities, and the illustration pictures accurately and beautifully the buildings as they appear since their reconstruction. The influential people of our city have certainly been wise in assisting to build up, and in supporting liberally schools where then sons and daughters can thoroughly prepare for college or for the active duties of life, while still happily surrounded by the influences of home. It is a notable fact that they very uniformly avail themselves of the facilities they have created, and the effect this is having upon the happiness of many family circles, and upon the whole lives of our young people, cannot be estimated, while it gives parents from the distance placing their children in these schools, surety of their companions and associates, being all they could desire, and that any friendships their young hearts may make will be such as can be sanctioned by a maturer judgment and experience.

Mr. Packard’s is another of the pleasant homes on the rapidly growing West Side. It is on Eighth street, a few blocks south of Spring street. The fine exterior appearance of the house is in keeping with its pleasant interior, a model of convenience in its arrangement, with large sleeping rooms, baths with hot and cold water, and all the modern conveniences on the ground floor. Mr. Packard is the well and widely-known dealer in iron and wood-working machinery, and one of the successful business men of our city. He is one of a few enterprising, public-spirited men who have done more to advance the interests of the city, and make its institutions and capacity for business known to the country at large, than all the rest together, in the last three or four years. He is constantly talking through the newspaper press of the West to his customers and the public. The consequence is they think of him when desiring anything in his line, and this brings them to think of Milwaukee, and to inquire if she has not establishments of other kinds of equal extent and importance. This delightful home and its surroundings, and his fine business, are but one more illustration of the opportunities Milwaukee offers to capable, intelligent men.

The Jewish Temple is one of the finest church edifices in the West. The artist has given us so perfect a representation of its imposing exterior that words could add nothing. The interior of the church is magnificent in every detail of decoration and ornament. The fine organ was made in this city by Marshall Bros., whose extensive organ manufactory was illustrated in the December number. The Jews are a strong element in this, as in most other cities, and are, as a class, good citizens, generally intelligent and enterprising, and while clinging firmly to their un-altering religious belief, are tolerant to those of another faith. A notable example of their liberal spirit was recorded at the time this church was dedicated. Ministers of Christian churches were invited to take part in the services, and did take part, joining right heartily in a fellowship for humanizing the world, though differing so radically in other matters.

The suburban village of Bay View, three miles from the city post-office, with its mixed American and foreign population of 3,000, has grown up since 1860. Here is one of the largest iron manufacturing establishments on the continent. In that year the “Milwaukee Iron Company” purchased the territory of several farms and commenced the erection of their works, and the building up of the village, now one of the most attractive locations in the vicinity of the city. It is occupied mostly by the officers and employes of the company. Many of the residences, which are of tasteful and convenient designs, are owned by the company, and are rented to workmen at reasonable rates. Others are the property of individuals, who take great pride in adorning and beautifying their homes. With a commendable liberality, the proprietors of Bay View sell the village lots to their employes at prices and terms, so that every one can become the owner of a snug house and garden. But there ‘ is attached a praiseworthy sine qua non to every title, which is—a forfeiture of the property in case of the selling of any kind of intoxicating liquors upon the premises. No saloon is therefore permitted within the boundaries of Bay View to deal out its demoralizing poison to the employes of the company. Instead, they have their reading rooms and lecture hall, and four handsome Protestant church edifices, belonging to Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans. There is also the inevitable Romish chapel, and there are about 800 children in attendance upon the schools.

A somewhat detailed description of the Bay View Iron Works has been given to the readers of the Monthly in a previous number. But since writing that article very important additions have been made, which we wish to refer to. The establishment of these works, and the employment it furnished to hundreds of persons, and the demand for machinery, building materials, iron ore, transportation, and a thousand other items required, gave an impulse to the business interests of Milwaukee which nothing else had ever done. It was indeed the initial point of her commercial and manufacturing success. Every manufacturer of steam machinery, every foundry, every worker in iron, was taxed to the utmost capacity to meet this demand. There was not a mechanic’s shop or a mercantile house but immediately felt the cheering effects. “Business is looking up,” said people as they met on the streets. Real estate, which had been slowly advancing, took at once a rapid stride. Property increased rapidly in value all over the city. Lands south of the city, which in 1865 could be bought for one hundred dollars per acre, ran up to thousands. The good times so long predicted for Milwaukee had come. The large capital requisite for the erection of these works, and carrying on the enterprise, was distributed here, and the thousands of dollars monthly paid out to the employes passed immediately into circulation. The population of the city has more than doubled since 1806, and it is patent to every one that for this she is, in a great degree, indebted to the Milwaukee Iron Company. The capital first invested was $250,000. Up to 1870 the business of the works was confined to rerolling old railroad iron, and equaled each year the amount of the first investment. At this time they found one building—the rail mill, 180 by 211 feet—large enough for that kind of work, and employed but: about one hundred men. In 1870 the works were increased by the addition of a; blast furnace of large capacity, and a puddling mill with nineteen furnaces. Each year still more additions were made, till, in the year 1878. the products of the works, in rails and pig iron, amounted to $3,000,000. That year they turned out about 36,000 tons of rail and 32,000 tons of pig iron. Twenty-five thousand tons of this pig iron were used by the company in the manufacture of railroad iron. The balance, 7,000 tons, was sold to Milwaukee foundrymen. The works continued to-increase in capacity and products, with a capital of upwards of $2,500,000, till last year (1874) when about 26,000 tons of railroad iron were made—less by 10,000 tons than the product of the previous year; while of pig iron was made about 18,500 tons. This great falling off of the business of the mills is attributed in part to-the uncertainty with regard to the currency of the country, the failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad scheme, and the consequent disturbance of money matters. But the principal cause is attributed to the passage and enforcement of the so-called Potter law, since which all railroad interests in this state have been seriously affected. The roads which had been previously projected were abandoned, and no new ones thought of. Railroad men became discouraged, not knowing how far our wise law-makers at Madison might pursue their ruinous policy against the roads. Mr. Hagerman, the energetic secretary and manager of the company, informs us that all the rails ordered last year for new roads were made inside of four weeks.

A very important addition to these great works has recently been completed in the new rolling mill for the manufacture of merchant bar iron. This mill has three trains in operation, and is now producing sixty tons daily of the best quality of flat, round and oval bars; also plates for Bridge work, etc. We have seen some specimens of the bar iron made from scrap iron (a material which can be had here in large quantities, and cheap) which we judge to be of the best quality. We saw a bar of this iron, three-fourths of an inch in thickness and two inches wide, completely folded upon itself, while cold, without breaking a fibre. This is the most severe test bar iron can he put to.

The rails manufactured here are from the ore obtained at the Company’s mines in Dodge county, tempered by the ores obtained from the Michigan mines of Lake Superior. The pig iron has a wide celebrity among foundrymen, and is capable of being moulded into the most minute and perfect castings found on the shelves of hardware dealers, as well as into the largest masses used in machinery or for building purposes. When running full capacity the Milwaukee Iron Company’s works, give remunerative employment to more than 1,000 men, some of whom, who do what is termed piece-work, earn from $10 to $15 per day. The most skilful operatives are English, Welsh and Scotch. There are, however, employed some Irish, and a good number of Americans. The officers and clerks of the Company are all of the last nationality.

Near the rolling mills is the foundry establishment of Messrs. Geo. L. Graves & Co., which now makes much of the heavy castings used in the mills. This firm is doing a large business in connection with these works, and contracts to make large and small castings for buildings, and other purposes.

It is large manufacturing establishments like the Milwaukee Iron Company’s that give character to a city. They furnish material for other smaller concerns, and are thus encouragements to manufacturers of everything of which iron is the principal component. Besides the benefit they are thus to a city, they put and continually keep in circulation a large amount of money that would otherwise be either locked up in the vaults of the banks or directed in other channels less profitable to the city at large.

Milwaukee is the largest grain market of the West, and the amount of wheat received here exceeds that of the next largest market by over 1,418,000 bushels. Within the last year Angus Smith & Co., well known in connection with the elevator system of Milwaukee, have erected here, in addition to those we already had, the largest elevator west of the lakes. Its location, as will be seen from the illustration we give, is such that the largest vessels can load, and as the river seldom freezes over at this point, shipments can be made all winter through the open roadsted via Grand Haven.

We next present the reader an illustration representing the warehouse of a firm whose name is familiar to the trade in every town and village in the Northwest, and well known to all readers of the Milwaukee monthly. During eight years of successful business the house of Peirce & Whaling has earned a reputation and established a trade acquired by but few houses in a lifetime. Although having received many tempting offers to remove its business to a neighboring city, this firm has thus far declined them, preferring to join its fortunes with the city in which it has achieved its success, and believing it to be as favorable a location for the maintenance of a large trade in their line of business as any in the West. The large and growing business of the house is conducted under a system suggested by years of practical experience, so complete that its minutest details never fail to receive personal supervision; and, notwithstanding the general depression of the past year, the sales of the firm show a greater tonnage than for the previous year, with a good prospect for the year just commenced. The sales of this house run from one and a half to two million dollars per annum, being the largest sales of iron and heavy hardware of any house in the west, and the tonnage handled necessary to supply this trade is enormous, frequently an entire train being made up of their freight.

The steam boiler works of J. W. Eviston, located far down on Broadway, is but one more of the many illustrations showing the advantage for business and manufacturing enterprises Milwaukee, with its facilities for transportation and its great iron interests, presents to straightforward, capable men. These works were started about seven years ago, on rented premises, and with a capital of less than a thousand dollars. The work undertaken was all so thoroughly well done that it brought customer after customer in rapid succession, and Mr. Eviston soon found himself with too little help, after having increased his assistants from one, employed in the beginning, to seventy more. In seven years the works have grown to the extensive proportions illustrated. The ground on which they are located has also become, by purchase, the property of Mr. Eviston, and is now very valuable. The work manufactured in this establishment comprises everything made from plate iron— stationary and portable boilers of all sizes, oil tanks, smokestacks, and all kinds of blacksmith work and repairs. So well known and appreciated is the reliability of work done under Mr. Eviston’s supervision, that he is frequently called abroad to superintend important constructions; and at home the most particular work is unhesitatingly placed in his hands. He constructed the great boilers for the city waterworks, which we shall picture in the February number of this magazine. It will be remembered that the engines were also made here, at the Reliance Works of Edward P. Allis & Co. It would be difficult to give the reader unfamiliar with establishments of this character any idea of the extent, power and perfection of the machinery required to do its work. Steam punches that cut smooth holes through bar iron, and shears that snip it off as if it were paper, only seeming the most wonderful because the easiest understood and appreciated. The boilers in use at the breweries of Best, Blatz, Schlitz, Miller and Fox, were made at these works, and Mr. Eviston now stands as the leading boiler maker of the Northwest.

The Cream City Iron Works—formerly Bay State Iron Works—passed into the hands of Filer, Stowell & Co., the present proprietors, and were rebuilt by them in 1867. Starting with a total force of but 15 hands, this establishment has grown to a capacity of 150 men and a product of $300,000 of manufactured work annually. All kinds of machinery and every description of castings are made here; but their special line, to which they have hitherto devoted most attention, is the manufacture of lumber machinery. Isolated specimens of their work may be found in nearly every state and territory, but there is no region of country on the face of the globe where lumber in all its variety is so rapidly and cheaply made as in the lumber districts of Michigan and Wisconsin. To this firm, more, perhaps, than any other, are the lumbermen of the Northwest indebted for the rapid approach toward perfection in machinery for their use, which has placed them immeasurably in advance of all others in the Union. The want of an adequate comprehension by the great mass of people in the United States of what is being done in this line in the Northwest, is illustrated in a most ludicrous manner in a recent number of a contemporary magazine (Harper’s Magazine for January, 1875). In one of a series of articles entitled “The First Century of the Republic,” the rise and progress of the manufacture of lumber is described and illustrated. A little “popgun” of a portable rotary saw-mill is therein pictured as the ultima thule thus far reached in this department. Were this little machine placed in one of our mammoth establishments, and the usual speed and force applied to it, the first log striking it would send it so far into futurity that it is doubtful if a sufficient fragment of it would remain “on the shores of time” to excite a suspicion that a sawing machine ever was. There is little likeness between such an instrument and those built here, whose daily cut of 50,000 to 75,000 feet, is. not now an uncommon occurrence. To this firm is due the introduction of the best specimens of gang machinery—as gang edgers, gang bolters, gang lath mills, etc. They, also, were the first to use and introduce vulcanized friction paper for pulleys, which is now so common in other departments besides lumber manufacture —the senior member having experimented with the first one in one of his mills. This enterprising firm have ever managed to stand in the very van of progress, and they are to-day introducing novelties in this line destined to supercede some of the present modes, and revolutionize the methods of yesterday. The latest invention is a mill “dog,” very superior to any before in use. Anything that goes to cheapen so necessary a product as lumber is a public benefaction, and it is for this reason we hail and bid God speed to every such enterprise that makes its home in our midst.

Blue glass and other topical subjects, 1877


A letter from Lee Hayden Daniels, age 16, writing to his childhood friend, Adelaide Stoddard, in Chicago:

Milwaukee, March 4th, 1877.

Dear friend Adelaide, —–

I am the guilty one this time as far as answering letters is concerned. One reason is “Lack of time,” that is quoted from one of my previous letters, and also an overflow of debates. One week from last Friday I debated upon the following question —- Resolved, Party spirit is more beneficial than injurious. Now without telling you the side I took, I want to ask you what you think about it. Another reason for delaying is the interest I took in the presidential contest. Now it is just 12 hr. and U.S.G. will “take a rest” to use a common expression.

How did you enjoy the sermon this morning? I mean on “Who is the Genuine Unitarian”? Did you conclude that you are one? And then give me Miss. Congers views of it. There certainly must be news by this time from her. Doing well I hope.

Hurrah! “Turkey”! For that has just been the announcement. It is very seldom that I refuse to eat a part of one of those birds.

Just finished and I will finish this. What books have you read lately?

We received a letter from New York from Walter yesterday and he enclosed a small sketch which I will send to you. It is a sketch of a statue given by France to this country and is to be placed in New York Harbor. This is the only part that has arrived and it measures, from the elbow to the hand, 20 feet. Think what an enormous figure that will be when completed.

Milwaukee has an awful fever over blue glass, but I can not find anyone, except General Pleasenton, that can give a reason of its beneficialness. All of my teachers think it a humbug.

In looking over this letter, I find I have said little only asked questions. Probably enough for a good long letter from you which will come soon I hope. I do not see more room on this sheet and will close.

Ever your friend

My notes:
[1] “U.S.G.” refers to President Grant, of course, who would be leaving office the following day. The election results had been the subject of unprecedented political and legal challenges (comparable only to the Presidential election of 2000), and the winner, Hayes, had finally been determined by an electoral commission on March 2nd–less than 72 hours before the inauguration!

[2] Nellie B. Conger is one of Addie’s friends, born in Madison County, New York in 1861, who moved with her family to Chicago at a young age. Adelaide attends a Universalist church; her grandfather, Jeremiah Stoddard, was a Universalist minister in Maine and Massachusetts. I suspect that the Daniels family are Universalists, also, but have not confirmed it. Was there a Universalist church in Milwaukee in 1877?

[3] Walter Allen Daniels is Lee’s older brother, who is 25.

[4] Augustus J. Pleasonton (1801-1894) was a general during the Civil War. He presented a pseudo-scientific paper, “The Influence Of The Blue Ray Of The Sunlight And Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky”, to the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1871 and (after shrewdly securing patents) published a book with a similar title–bound in a blue cover and printed in blue ink–in 1876.

The paper, or a portion of it, can be found at

Even a casual reading of the paper shows that Pleasonton has little or no understanding of the electromagnetic theory which Maxwell formalized between 1861 and 1873. In the paper, after presenting his experimental results, his theory and claims get increasingly eccentric (starting about p. 12).

The entire book is available here.

His theory was that the blue wavelengths of light from the sun are especially beneficial in the growth of plant and animal life by virtue of their electrical effects. His experiments included growing grapes in greenhouses where he alternated direct sunlight with filtered blue light. His claims went far beyond agriculture, of course, and included all sorts of health benefits–giving birth to the “chromotherapy” movement.

His theory and experimental methods met with much criticism from the scientific community, but the public was excited by his amazing claims. The demand for panes of cobalt blue glass, particularly the color called “Royal Mazarine”, remained high for several years, which led manufacturers to over-produce; eventually they would have to scrap enormous quantities when the fad ended. Thirty years later, houses could still be seen with alternating blue and clear panes in each window. I wonder if there are still some Victorian houses in Milwaukee with a few panes of blue glass remaining.

It appears that Mazarine blue spectacles were also popular.

The “blue-glass craze” faded, of course, but never completely disappeared. There are still a few isolated adherents to the belief, even today. Through the medium of the Internet, they can now find each other and organize to spread General Pleasonton’s message, anew:

David Thomas
Sugar Land, Texas
Originally posted on Wed Feb 22, 2012 in the forums.

Happy New Year!

A big thanks to all of you for helping to make a popular place to get your dose of Milwaukee History! Have a Happy New Year’s Eve! See you in 2014.

This is a view of an ice castle from a winter festival sometime in the 1940s.

1920’s Snowstorm

After this weekend’s continuing blizzard I reached into the Oldmilwaukee archives to find this picture from the late 1920s of kids walking to school after a snowstorm.


On This Day

In 1886 the Union Depot train station opened on December 19th to passengers on Everett Street between Third and Fourth streets. It was Milwaukee’s first grand railroad station and lasted until the new train station was built at 5th & St. Paul Avenue in 1965. It was torn down the following year in 1966.


When the Well for the Pabst Brewery Ran Dry

Breweries were always well known for the purity of their product and all the Milwaukee breweries originally used artesian wells to tap into a very clean source of water to brew beer. Of course those wells don’t last forever especially when the well is used heavily. The Pabst brewery well lasted until 1902 when it was forced to use city water drawn from the lake. This article tells about that problem and a little bit of the history of that spring.

Milwaukee Journal – June 12, 1902


Famous Springs Which Had a Reputation in the Days of the Indians Appear to Have Yielded All Their Resources to the Making of Beer and Another Supply is Needed.

The artesian wells which have for many years supplied the water for the famous products of the Pabst Brewery have failed and the company has petitioned the city authorities for water accommodations and will be supplied with a large main, which will be laid from Third and Prairie streets.

The springs at the brewery were famous long before the site was selected for the largest brewery in the world and the water which gushed from the earth there was known among the Indians as the great “Mankaki waters” at a time when the great northwest was a wilderness. The springs were enlarged by Jacob Best, founder of the brewery, and later the artesian wells were sunk as the flow from the springs was not sufficient to supply the greatly increased needs of the brewery. For nearly a score of years this water has been used to make the body of the Pabst beer and its purity and wholesomeness have been a great boon to the company. About one year ago the supply began to fail and it has been a great source of worry to the company, and at present a large quantity of city water is being used. Last month alone more than $5,000 worth of water was purchased from the city mains and as soon as the big 15-inch pipe which the city engineer will ask to be laid is tapped, the company will probably become the largest user of municipal water.


The Free Lunch Controversy of 1912

For a very long time in the late 19th century until Prohibition closed taverns in 1920, Milwaukee saloons were well known for providing large spreads of free food for their drinking patrons. The higher class taverns and hotel bars downtown served free hot lunches of sandwiches, ham, beef, and sausages with their 5 cent beers. These were extremely popular among the gentlemen of the time and places such as the Pfister bar, the Plankinton Hotel bar, the Gargoyle, and the Schlitz Palm Garden were busily packed by downtown clerks and business-men during lunch time. A man needed a drink at lunch to ease the pressure of the work-day and a healthy snack of sausage would make that glass of beer so much better. Extra salty ham or pretzels would require an extra beer or two to help wash it down. (Milwaukee Journal, March 13, 1952)

Today, although it is becoming harder to find, a rare few local bars have free happy hour spreads which bring back memories of the old days. Otherwise, you have to travel to Spain to get the traditional free tapas with your beer. A good spanish tavern will provide you with a small sandwich tapa or “cover” to keep the flies out of your beer!

Back in July of 1912, at Fred Smith’s saloon at 30th & Clarke, Alexander Polatsch stepped in with his last nickel for lunch-time beer and a snack. When he grabbed at the free plate of liverwurst with his dirty hands, proprietor Smith made a strong complaint and the two ended up in a fight. A passing patrol officer stepped in and arrested Alexander. At court the next day Judge Neelen fined the young man $10 and costs for disorderly conduct and pronounced, ” I wouldn’t eat any free lunch if I was starving. If a man is hungry he ought to buy a lunch. These fellows go there, and fill up on beer and eat a few bites of sausage and then delude themselves into the belief that they have had a square meal.” (Milwaukee Journal, July 25, 1912)

By the next day the Milwaukee Journal continued to try and feed the controversy that Judge Neelen brought to light. It interviewed several prominent Milwaukee men such as Pat Donahue of the Chamber of Commerce who stated, “Well, I’ll have to starve, that’s all.” Amos F. Gould, on the other hand said, “I don’t see of what benefit they can be to the saloonkeeper, when a man comes in and buys a 5-cent beer and then eats 35-cents worth of lunch. Those free lunches of limburger cheese and serve-a-lot sausage ought to be put just as far away as possible.” (Milwaukee Journal, July 26, 1912)

In the July 27th edition of the Journal, an article entitled “Alderman Denies Reporting Opposition to Free Lunch”, Alderman W. I. Greene of the 18th ward denied a rumor that he was going to introduce an ordinance into the council to abolish free lunches.

Although it might seem like a ridiculous idea, according to the American Brewer’s Review of September 1, 1909, Cleveland was working on passing an ordinance to abolish the free lunch. The article stated “It is intended to introduce an ordinance in the common council making illegal the supply of free food in any retail drink establishment. In case the Common Council refuses to pass such an ordinance on the ground that it would be unconstitutional, an appeal will be made to the city health office for the abolition of free lunch on the ground that it is unsanitary and a breeder of disease.” The law was eventually enacted for the entire state of Ohio limiting saloon lunches to pretzels, crackers, and cheese. The city of Los Angeles was also at the time working on a similar ordinance to abolish free lunches but in December of 1912 it was, “…defeated by a heavy vote.” (New York Times, December 4, 1912). Chicago enacted their anti free-lunch ordinance in 1917. San Francisco too enacted an ordinance abolishing the free lunch in February 1918. That ordinance stated:

Section 1. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation engaged in the business of selling spiritous, malt or fermented liquors or wines or any admixture thereof in less quantities than one quart or to whom has been issued a Retail Liquor Dealer’s License by the Tax Collector of the City and County of San Francisco, to set up, maintain, conduct or carry any lunch counter, table, sideboard, buffet or other device whereon are kept, served, furnished, distributed or consumed any meals, parts of meals or articles of food for the free use of or gratuitous distribution to patrons of any such business.” (San Francisco Municipal Record, February 28, 1918)

Eventually, the larger battle against alcohol resulted in the Volstead Act, beginning on January 17, 1920 and saloons had the bigger worry of not being able to sell beer at all.