509 West Wells St – 1967

Back before the Wisconsin Center convention center there was the Time Insurance Building at 5th & Wells. Back before the Time Insurance Building there was the Wells Hotel. It was made up of several small buildings which had rooms for rent and taverns and diners on the ground floor. These smaller buildings with diners and taverns were found in all corners of downtown. They were places for socializing during the day when people had simpler lives.

You would stop in for a morning coffee and a plate of eggs before work and find a small hole in the wall next door for a cold bottle of Schlitz after work. The smallest diners had enough business on a daily basis that they could stay around for decades. Slowly, progress eroded and closed up these places. The old buildings with lower rents to keep them in the black were still plentiful through the 70’s but those older buildings were torn down regularly. The last real old-school diner was the Michigan Street Diner between Water and Broadway but some old timers may remember Lenrak’s on Old World Third, the Belmont Cafe, Heinemann’s, etc. George Webb’s shares some of the feeling of these places but there was a character to these old restaurants with a patina of the “accumulation of the years”.

Do You Remember Newspaper Row?

The Milwaukee County Historical Society had a photo on their blog not too long ago showing Mason Street looking west of Broadway taken during the 1880’s. The exact same photo was used in this article from the Milwaukee Leader explaining the history of Newspaper Row. This was another article in the series by Frederic Heath on Milwaukee’s early history.

DO YOU REMEMBER? Newspaper Row Back in the ’80s

Milwaukee Leader, February 19, 1920

To about 1910, Milwaukee still had a newspaper row. It was located on Mason St., below Broadway. Many newspapers were born there, nursed at the usual terrific expense and then sent upon their way. Some died aborning and some scarcely survived teething time.

In the accompanying view, this portion of Mason St. is shown as it looked in the late ’80s. About all that remains intact today is the building at the corner in the left side of the picture, now the home of the Kuryer Polski, and the old Kirby house at the corner of East Water St. Across from the Kirby is he old Brodhead Blk., now replaced by the First National Bank skyscraper.

Papers Combine.

The Kuryer Polski building formerly was the home of the German Herold. The building was erected by the publisher, W.W. Coleman, who was an able man in his line, and built up a tremendous business with many different editions and auxiliary publications. His greatest competition came from the Germania of George Brumder, then published at West Water and Cedar Sts. Eventually the papers were consolidated.

Next to the Herold Bldg. is seen the old Sentinel Bldg. In its business office for years one of the head clerks was William George Bruce, secretary of the Commerce Association. Editors and reporters were on the second floor and the printers on the top floor.

Across the street with the old Daily News office – not the Daily News of more modern times, but the Democratic organ of which Col. E.A. Calkins was for a time editor. A door or so further east was the old See Bote building, P.V. Deuster’s establishment.

Fight Changes Names.

A famous newspaper fight of those days transformed The News into the Republican and News, with Horace Rubins as editor, and eventually “got” The Sentinel, the name of which was changed for a time by the consolidation to Republican and Sentinel. From the old Republican and News office, across the street, Dr. E.W. Magan, as editor, issued a small afternoon daily called The Daily Dispatch, but it did not live long.

On the same side of the street, across the alley further west, where Marnits the Tailor now is located, there was located the Sunday Telegraph, started by Calkins and with which Col. J.A. Watrous was later identified. The type was set on its own premises on the second floor and the printing done in the basement of the Herold Bldg.

A door or two west of The Telegraph Bldg, with the old Freie Presse Bldg, a paper that is now but a memory, along with its editor, whose name was Siegl.

Old Haunts Recalled

Next to the See Bote office was the old Kahlo saloon, a veritable newspaper man’s home, while at the corner, seen at the right side of the picture, there was the old Quiet House of Adam Roth, also a haunt for newspaper men. On the top floor the Press Club had its quarters in those days. The building is now replaced by a high structure.

The list of newly born newspapers would not be complete without mention of The Daily Journal. It first saw the light from a room near the corner of The Herold, or Kuryer Polski Bldg., the windows of which appear in the picture. Lute Nieman, former managing editor of The Sentinel, was the editor, and the financial angel was Mike Kraus. Nieman and his assistant, William Bowdish, sat about a long table, grinding out as sensational yellow stuff as their imagination permitted, and the paper had a tough reputation during the time it was “catching on.” How Nieman and Bowdish managed to live has never been explained. Later on, Niemann married into a wealthy family and The Journal became very respectable.

Times Have Changed

Mason St. o’ nights is tame and quiet now, but in the real days of Newspaper Row it was noisy with printers, racing printer devils, clattering mail wagons, boys with handcarts filled with mail bags and reporters darting about or foregathering in the establishments already named. It was the ceaseless clank of old style newspaper presses, and over all the smell of printers ink that is anise to the nostrils of the newspaper man.

But all this is gone. Newspaper Row is scattered. The city is big and newspaper methods have changed.

The Milwaukee Fish Fry

Fish Fries have seemingly been around forever. But when did they become a huge Milwaukee tradition? Where did they begin? The answer may surprise you.

July 9, 1933 – Milwaukee Journal

Fish Fry Taste Conquers City in Wake of Return of Beer

“Fish Fry. Fridays. 8 p.m. to 12 p.m.”
“Fish Fry. Free. Fridays. All Day.”
“Fish Fry. Tuesdays and Fridays. 9 p.m. to 12 p.m.”

These and hundreds of similar signs in the windows of taverns, beer gardens and hotels throughout the city and suburbs tell the story of the popular hold the fish fry has taken on Milwaukee. On Friday nights thousands of people, young and old, go out to eat fish and drink beer, listen to music and song, and while away a few sociable hours. The fish fry is the city’s latest fad – a hobby that has developed into immense popularity since 3.2 beer became legal. Never has the town had such an appetite for fish.

But the fish fry is also serving as a center around which some of the better drinking places are reviving the spirit of sociality which in beer days was known as “gemuetlichkeit.” The fish fry is becoming a sort of family affair, a weekly event which father and mother and even the youngsters are attending. Sister brings her boyfriend and brother his best girl. It is an inexpensive past time. A dollar goes a long way.

Credited to Speakeasies

Who started the fish fry craze in Milwaukee? None other than the cunning operators of the “speakeasies.” According to the manager of a downtown hotel, it was one of the best-known speakeasy owners who stumbled on the idea. To offset his outrageous prices for drinks, he served free fish. It promoted good feeling and struck a popular chord with the night rounders. His competitors copied the idea and long before beer came back the fish fry was a popular institution here.

When beer returned and taverns were opened in such numbers that few owners could make money, the costly free lunches of other days were replaced by a weekly fish fry. The beer drinkers fell for the idea, and today a thousand or more taverns are serving fish lunches, but most of them only on Friday nights.

The free Fish Fry is a simple affair. A piece of boned perch or a boned pike, with a slice or two of rye bread is served. A good customer will probably buy several beers before he finishes his fish.

Revive Family Nights

Some of the taverns and beer gardens that cater to family trade fell into the fish fry stunt and ask their customers to bring their families on Friday nights. Now many of these places every Friday night serve almost as many women as men. Fish dealers say that some of the taverns have become their best customers. buying from 5 to 50 pounds for Friday night’s lunches.

“Fish lunches are popular, but just now fish is so expensive that even with increased beer sales on Fridays we do not make much profit,” said a tavern keeper, who has considerable family trade. “Some people eat and buy only a nickel glass of beer. But others are more liberal. Fish and beer is a good combination. I believe it will go just as well in winter as in summer.”

Not all the fish fry lunches are free, however. Some of the places of the beer garden type, serve more elaborate fish lunches, furnish music and entertainers and do everything they can to promote that old spirit of “gemuetlichkeit.” A charge of 10 cents for a fish plate lunch is made. It consists of fried boned perch or boned pike, rye bread and butter, cole slaw or potato chips, and a pickle. To give these fish parties every Tuesday and Friday nights is a more democratic air, at one of the beer gardens near the City Hall, the linen tablecloths are removed and the lunches and beer served on the beer table tops.

Recalling Old Days

An orchestra plays beer music, mostly old and popular pieces that bring back memories of the nineties and the early part of the century. German favorites are not overlooked. As the evening progresses and the crowds get into the right mood, out steps a young woman, making her way among the diners while a large chart of verses is hung on the wall. She is going to sing “Schnitzelbank.” The young woman knows her stuff and in a few minutes everybody is singing with her.

“Singing is always an important part of our program,” said the manager of this place. if we can revive the spirit of the former beer gardens, with the whole family went and was entertained in a wholesome way, we feel well compensated. Milwaukee is responding.”

Not all fish fry parties are public affairs. Not long ago at a resort north of the city a large private fish fry was held that was attended by 80 invited guests. The lunch started with a spiced herring and a carefully prepared sauce. Then came fried boned fish and potato chips, coleslaw, radishes, pickles and onions, and lots of rye bread and butter. The beer steins were kept filled. An orchestra played and following dinner the chairs and tables were removed and the rest of the evening spent in dancing.

Popular in Homes

Fish Fry parties are becoming popular at many Milwaukee homes. Just now, Milwaukee is decidedly fish minded.

Fish prices just now are high, far higher in proportion than meat. Boned perch, mostly from Lake Erie and Green Bay, is selling at 27 and 28 cents a pound. Undressed perch is about 18 cents a pound. Boned pike is worth 32 cents a pound, while the price for undressed pike is about 20 cents a pound. Trout also are high and so are whitefish. The former sells for about 25 to 30 cents a pound. Whitefish costs more.

The city’s fishing fleet consists of about a dozen fishing tugs, but some of them have been laid off for the summer because the catch has been small.

“It costs about $60 to 65 dollars a day to operate a fishing tug,” said a south side fisherman. “Last year perch were quite plentiful, but this year they are so scarce that we are hardly catching any at all. Sometimes a boat brings in less than a hundred pounds of fish for the entire day’s work. Trout are just as hard to catch. The day when we caught whitefish near Milwaukee is gone.

Experts Give Recipe

Fishermen say that many people spoil good fish because they do not fry it correctly. Fish should be carefully dressed and scaled, say these experts, then be dipped in beaten egg and rolled in corn meal, or cracker or bread crumbs. A kettle of hot, deep fat or oil should be ready and the fish submerged in the fat immediately after the crumbs have been applied. The crumbs should not be allowed to get soggy before the fish is dropped in the hot oil or fat. Fried in deep fat the cooking will be uniform all over the fish and a fine crisp, brown fish is assured. Fried in a pan with but a little lard or not enough to submerge the fish results in uneven cooking.

Milwaukee years ago was noted for its fish dinners. At that time the resort at Whitefish Bay was known throughout the country for its whitefish meals. On Jones Island “Gov.” Kanski and later another well-known islander, named Plambeck prepared delicious fish dinners. They also had crab lunches. But Jones Island is no longer what it used to be.

Daniel Wells, Jr. Birthday

The well known pioneer Milwaukeean, Daniel Wells, Jr. would be 205 years old today. This article from 1899 takes a short visit with him on his 91st birthday and tells a little about who he was. His legacy today gives us the Wells Building on East Wisconsin Avenue and the street name of Wells Street. He died a few years later on March 18, 1902.

Milwaukee Sentinel, July 16, 1899

Daniel Wells, Jr., is 91 Years Old Today

Daniel Wells, Jr., the pioneer of pioneers in Milwaukee, is 91 years of age today.

“A man of my age,” said Mr Wells yesterday, “does not care about celebrating his birthday anniversary. I’m a little too old to be able to entertain much company, and I shall spend the day quietly on my farm near Wauwatosa.”

Having imparted this information, “Uncle Daniel” turned the tables on the ubiquitous representative of the press and became the interviewer, and, having gained a clear insight into his pedigree and prospects, closed the door after him by declaring:

“Now don’t go and advertise me; let me get over the birthday quietly and without interruption.”

“Uncle Daniels Wells, Jr.,” as the old settler’s call him, has been a resident of Milwaukee sixty-four years. He was not only the first lumberman, the first hotel keeper, but he brought the first blooded pig to Milwaukee and with him took the first prize at the first county fair ever held in Wisconsin. He picked Mons Anderson, the “merchant prince of La Crosse” up on the street just after he landed here direct from Norway, made him the cook at the City hotel, and later started him in business at La Crosse. Mr Wells was a marvel of enterprise in his younger days. He made money and he invested in all directions, becoming a silent partner in dozens of enterprises in which there was not the slightest suspicion that he was interested. In addition to his Milwaukee investments, he started the First National Bank of La Crosse.

Mr. Wells is a native of Maine. He was born in Waterville, Kennebec County, July 16th 1808. From his native place, as a young man he went to Florida, working as a surveyor, and afterward conducting a country store in his native town. He came to Milwaukee July 27th 1835, just at the close of the Blackhawk war. As a surveyor he began his career here, and laid out a large portion of the present City of Milwaukee. However, being from the state of Maine, he saw the value of the timber lands in following the Indian trails, and drifted into the lumber business in which he was successful. He was the first justice of the peace in Milwaukee, his territory extending over the present counties, of the Milwaukee, Washington, Ozaukee, Jefferson, Racine, Walworth and Kenosha. He was a member of the Territorial Legislature, and in 1852 was elected to congress.

Mr. Wells, notwithstanding his advanced age, enjoys good health, and spends several hours each day in his office in the Old Insurance building looking after his large business interests.

Missing Milwaukee Walking Tour

Join me on a walking tour of downtown’s missing buildings as featured in my book, Missing Milwaukee on June 27th. Books are not included in the price but will be available for sale at the beginning of the tour.

Missing Milwaukee Tour
Thursday, June 27, 5:30pm

Join the author of Missing Milwaukee: The Lost Buildings of Milwaukee on a tour of the vanished buildings in Milwaukee’s downtown. The tour will include images of what was once there and the history of why it no longer is.

Call 414-277-7795 with any questions.

$10 HMI Members
$20 Non-Members

Reservation and Advance Payment by Check or Credit Card is Required
Reserve a spot today!

Broadway & Wells Early Brick Houses

Milwaukee Leader – July 7, 1920

Frederic Heath

The early day homes and business stores that were clustered at Oneida St. and Broadway, across from the central police station, have been torn down and a large auto supply house is being built on the site, the site runs clear to the alley on Oneida and a quarter of a block on Broadway.

These old buildings are shown in the accompanying illustration and particularly the odd little two-story brick house on the corner has occasioned much speculation as to its past history, some persons contending that it was at one time used by a city court. This is an error.

The corner house was built by Williams Lee in 1844. It was the sixth brick residence erected in Milwaukee. The bricks that were used were made at the intersection of Muskego Ave. and Madison St. and could truly be called original cream city brick. Lee lived in the residence for many years and raised a family there. Recently when the corner was excavated, two extensive brick-arched tunnels were found running under the Broadway sidewalk, large enough to suggest use by some early brewery. But they were not for such a purpose but the northerly one was made the opening of a great vein of spring water, that ran obliquely toward Oneida St. and thence across the present Pereles corner to the center of the city hall (Market) square, where for many years, in there earlier days, there was located the town pump. This pump supplied water for a great many residents even from the west side of the river. The other vault was for provisions.

What do you imagine Lee paid for having the brick laid for his residence? He paid $3.75 a thousand, as is vouched for by his son, who is a prominent member of the Old Settlers’ club. In those days there was a heavy Irish immigration to Milwaukee and Lee Sr., employed a large gang of men with wheelbarrows to help grade down a ridge of land that skirted his property on the west is well as all along the adjoining district, and to fill up a deep and wide depression, called a kettle hole in those days.

Later Lee sold parts of his holdings on Oneida St. to others, among them William Harper, the early day painter and wallpaper man. The Harper shop was there until recent years. After the Lee occupancy the corner house was used by various tenants and Robert Schilling lived there at one time. Latterly, as shown in the picture, the front was given a show window and a china decorator used it.

Williams Lee was from Chester, Mass., and opened a saddlery store at 413 East Water St. Later he had his store at 85-87 Wisconsin St. Finally his business was removed to the United States hotel, East Water and Huron Sts. in the store next to the corner entrance on East Water St., and was notable for the figure of a horse on a pole in front of the store. He occupied his corner dwelling as late as 1881.

Mondo Milwaukee Tour

Learn all about Milwaukee’s scandalous and hidden past with the Milwaukee Boat Line! Join historian and author Matthew J. Prigge for the Mondo Milwaukee Boat Tour from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 at 101 W. Michigan St.

The tour will include all-true stories about such topics as the old downtown vice and brothel districts, the deadliest disasters of the lake and rivers, the years when the Milwaukee mafia ruled the Third Ward, and a long-forgotten mass grave on the city’s waterfront.

“Mondo Milwaukee will give a history of the city that often goes untold. We’ll see infamous sites and hear bawdy tales of Milwaukee’s past,” said Prigge. “This is something that has never been attempted before and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Prigge is a PhD student in the history program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and has spent the last three summers leading tours of the city for the Milwaukee Boat Line. He has published extensively on off-beat topics of local history, including pornographic theatres, UFO sightings, Depression-Era terrorism, and early-1900s transvestitism.

The tour is for adults only. Tickets cost $15 each. They can be purchased online at www.mkeboat.com or dockside the night of the tour. Visit www.facebook.com/mondomke for updates.

For more information, contact Matthew J. Prigge at 920-901-4866 or at mjprigge@uwm.edu.

Do You Remember Frederic Heath?

Milwaukee Socialists were multitalented and interesting people. They were very well-read, knowledgeable, and studied history because if you understood the mistakes of the past you could better avoid them in the future.

Frederic Heath was one of these people in Milwaukee who was a leader and teacher and generally talented man. He was very involved in the Socialist movement of the turn of the century. The Wikipedia article explains many of his accomplishments. He wrote tremendously for the Milwaukee Leader newspaper, including this series from 1920 about short topics of Milwaukee history, called “Do You Remember?” He researched and wrote these daily. As I looked through a month’s worth of microfilmed newspaper, it was amazing to find all these little detailed nuggets of Milwaukee history that he uncovered.

The following article about the Prairie Street school which still exists as the Best Place in the Pabst City complex was published in the Milwaukee Leader of April 9, 1920.

Upcoming Library Presentations

The Central Library has a few upcoming programs of interest:

House History – An overview of resources the library has to research your house history. Space is limited so call now if you are interested – 414-286-3011
Saturday, May 4 – 9:30 to 11:30am, Richard E. and Lucile Krug Rare Books Room

1890s Library Design Competition – John Chojnacki will talk about the design competition held by the City of Milwaukee in the early 1890s for the Central Library. He will show the different designs submitted by various architects.
Saturday May 11 – 10:30 to 11:30am, Meeting Room 1
This program has unfortunately been canceled. Sorry!

The Voice of Germania – Historian John Eastberg will offer a look in the world of Milwaukee publsiher Geroge Brumder, a 19th century immigrant to Wisconsin who, by 1910, became the nation’s leading publisher of German-language literature. Call 414-286-3071 to register
Saturday, May 18 – 2:00 to 4:00pm, Richard E. and Lucile Krug Rare Books Room

Matthew Prigge Lecture

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doctoral student Matthew J. Prigge will present a lecture about the incredible tale of Cora Anderson, a Milwaukee woman who passed for nearly a decade as a man named Ralph Kerwineo. As Kerwineo, Anderson lived openly with her partner, Mamie White, and was able to obtain “men’s work” and make a steady living for herself and White. In 1914, ‘Kerwineo’ left White and legally married a younger woman, driving White to expose her former partner to the police. The arrest of Anderson/Kerwineo set off a tumultuous week in which Anderson told her fantastic tale and the nation gaped in wonder at the “Girl-Man of Milwaukee.”

The lecture will take place 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., Wisconsin Room, Second Floor.

This event is co-sponsored by the UWM Department of History and the Milwaukee Historical Society.