Advertise on

In Milwaukee History

The trestle stair's wooden structure might be the last easily-visible "remnant" of Commerce Street's rail links.

In Milwaukee History

Even as late as 1978, the street was an active right of way for freight trains. (Photo: UWM)

In Milwaukee History

This is how Commerce Street looked in a photo from the 1885 book, "Milwaukee Illustrated."

In Milwaukee History

Don't be fooled into thinking this is the pier where ferries unloaded visitors to Pabst Whitefish Resort...

In Milwaukee History

... these are more likely the remains of that pier.

In Milwaukee History

It's hard to tell if these walls were part of the Whitefish Bay resort, but it seems unlikely.

In Milwaukee History

The remains of Stonehaven are one of the most interesting facets of Harrington Beach State Park, up near Belgium. (Photo:

Milwaukee ruins: Pabst Whitefish Resort, Commerce Street & Stonehaven

Sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain site in parks, along roadsides, at the lakefront, are remnants of Milwaukee's past scattered. While Milwaukee has preserved parts of its past built environment, many buildings and bridges and other structures have long disappeared.

Meanwhile, stray bits of that past can still be seen. Here are a few...

The New Pabst Whitefish Resort

Remnants of "The New Pabst Whitefish Resort" seem to survive near Back Bay Park in Whitefish Bay, but it's a bit difficult to tell what's what. The park, opened in 1889 by Capt. Frederick Pabst, ran along the bluff and down to the lake, around present-day Henry Clay Street, operating until about 1914.

If you head down to the water now, you'll see a concrete pier, but that appears to be too far south to have been the dock for the Cyclone steamer that ferried visitors from Grand Avenue Bridge Downtown up to the park, which had a Ferris wheel, manicured grounds, pavilions and more.

According to Thomas Fehring's "Chronicles of Whitefish Bay Wisconsin," the steamer pulled up to a dock that was at the foot of Henry Clay. If you walk along the beach, where a stepped retaining wall at the bottom of the bluff may or may not be a remnant of the park, you can see wooden pilings peeking up out of the water near the foot of Henry Clay.

An old postcard view confirms that the dock was constructed with just that sort of wooden post.

If you take Fehring's book out to the park with you, you can also see the original park operator's house, which has been moved across Lake Drive and also the house built by a former waiter at the resort who purchased a plot of land on the old park grounds to make his home.

Commerce Street rail

Most folks "of a certain age" remember Commerce Street before anyone lived there, and slightly older Milwaukeeans will remember it as a hub of industry. But there's no one around who remembers Byron Kilbourn's Rock River Canal, which ran along the street from 1839 to 1884.

Kilbourn planned and Increase Lapham mapped to link Lake Michigan with the Rock River and his canal would've run through Menomonee Falls, Pewaukee and Delafield on its way to Fort Atkinson, where it would have met up with the Rock River.

That never happened, but the stretch along Commerce was constructed and Milwaukee industry used the water to power a range of businesses along the waterway, fueling the installation of rail connections, too.

Though the canal was filled in by 1884, the industry and the rail links remained for nearly a century.

Some of the rails survived until fairly recently and the last stretch of right of way recently became part of the so-called "trestle stair" up to the marsupial bridge. Another section was paved as a path up the bluff that runs along the north side of Commerce Street.

Though now it's become almost entirely residential, the Lakefront Brewery – which occupies the old Commonwealth power plant building – helps serve as a reminder of the street's working past. A few other buildings survive but have been so heavily altered that it might be hard to imagine their former lives.

The wood structure of the trestle stair just might be one of the last easily visible remains of Commerce Street's industrial history.

Stonehaven / Lake Shore Stone Co. quarry

Like Michigan – and of course many other states – Wisconsin was a lure for European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. One of the draws to Wisconsin were the mining and quarrying industries. A few quarries survive, including the one at Harrington Beach State Park, up near Belgium, which operated until the start of the 1920s, and is now filled with water and makes a great fishing hole or hiking site.

Just off the limestone quarry are the remains of the Lake Shore Stone Co. village of Stonehaven, which houses the folks – typically from Italy, Austria and Luxembourg – who lived and worked at the quarry. There are foundations of buildings that housed workers and foremen, as well as a company store. At the quarry itself, you can see remains of the old stone crusher.

Stonehaven was also the scene of some drama, including the story of a crime of passion. In 1920, Italian immigrant worker Dominic Manna, who apparently fell in love with the wife of his co-worker August Falcinelli, was convicted of fatally shooting Falcinelli. The trial drew media attention and a decade later, future Milwaukee mayor and war hero Carl Zeidler wrote about the case for the Marquette Law Review.

Visit this site to get a good historical overview and some vintage photos. Then visit Harrington Beach, which has a number of informational panels explaining the history and the ruins.

See more Milwaukee ruins here.


Post a comment / write a review.

Facebook Comments

Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of or its staff.