Recently I got this question from reader Mark Grauer: “What's the story behind the ‘secret’ sidewalk that connects 13th to 20th Streets between Morgan and Wilbur? I've not seen this kind of passage before. I suspect that it was created partially for kid traffic to Morgandale School.”
It piqued my curiosity because I’ve seen others all over town, but especially lately on the far South Side – like the two-block one that connects 19th and 21st Street where Abbott Avenue is interrupted, and like the single-block one between Carpenter and Halsey Avenues, where 22nd Street dead ends before picking up again a few blocks south.
But the one in the original question is interesting, because it’s pretty long. Where most of the others I’ve seen are relatively short, this one runs from 13th Street all the way along to 20th Street and even past the house on the corner to the alley.
It is on the same alignment as Warnimont Avenue, which to the east ends at 6th Street, due to Holy Trinity Cemetery. Warnimont, interestingly, briefly picks up at 21st Street, and the "secret" sidewalk runs alongside it, becoming the Warnimont sidewalk, and continuing as the 21st Street sidewalk when Warnimont becomes South 21st Street, just north of Wilbur.
I suspect Grauer is onto something when he mentions Morgandale School. The sidewalk does pass just north of the school, which is between 17th and 18th Streets, so it would serve children arriving from both the east and the west.
And that path that replaces Abbott? It leads right to James Fennimore Cooper Elementary. The one-block sidewalk between Carpenter and Halsey? That one goes right to Reagan High School.
“It's kind of a unique situation,” says Yance Marti, who is an engineer in the City of Milwaukee Central Drafting & Records department. “A lot of these sidewalks around the city were created as part of a subdivision. This one in particular was created in 1939 as part of the subdivision. However, it wasn't paved until 1952.”
The Morgandale School building dates to 1932.
Were they desire paths, worn into the landscape by informal use and then later paved?
“It's hard to tell what the motivation is, why they had it,” says Marti, “and there are a lot of pedestrian walkways like that throughout the city that became more popular in the '50s and '60s when they’re building subdivisions and they wanted to include that.
"You'll see that on the Northwest Side. You'll see it on the South Side.”
Marti has also noticed that often these paths often lead to school sites.
“It seemed like up on the Northwest Side, there were quite a few of those,” he says, “and I think it was kind of connected to schools because I think it was mostly used by kids to get to schools.
“Because in these subdivisions, you really don't have any commercial areas. So it wasn't like people were using those to get to the store or the bar or whatever. So it was considered kind of a safe thing. Safer roads to schools.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.