Street name origins uncover young Milwaukee
It's obvious that some Milwaukee street names derived from presidents' and other prominent people's names. We also see some generic names, like "Main," "Water" and "Commerce." But what about some of the funky street names? Where'd they come from?
There are a number of Milwaukee streets with unique name origins. To get a full compilation check out Carl Baehr's incredibly thorough "Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names." In the meantime, here's a quick tour of some of Brew City's well-traveled roads.
Lapham Boulevard was named for Increase Lapham, land surveyor, mapmaker, writer and publisher, alderman, school commissioner and founder of both Downer College and the United States Weather Bureau. Yes, he was a busy guy. Born in New York in 1811, he died in 1875 of a heart attack while boating. Not only did he have Lapham Boulevard named after him in 1856, but since provided the inspiration for a genus of plant (Laphamia) and Waukesha County's highest point (Lapham Peak).
Edison Street was once known far and wide as River Street, which hosted a wide array of houses of ill repute during the 1890s and 1900s. Milwaukee received quite a reputation from River Street, and convention business boomed. Some of the men visiting the area would say they were on Edison Street, using the name of the power plant that stood at the corner of River and Wells. Once River Street's rollicking bordellos were closed for good, the name change was made official in 1912. The former power plant functions today as part of the Pabst Theater. The original "Edison" name, of course, is a derivative of Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and about a million other patented items. A more complete story about Edison Street, and its River Street origin, is here.
Juneau Avenue. A park, an avenue, a school and a statue are all named for Solomon Juneau, who served as the city's first mayor and postmaster, and is generally credited with being the city's main founder along with West Sider Byron Kilbourn and South Sider George Walker. Arriving in Milwaukee in 1818 from Canada, he married a young French-Menomonee Indian girl named Josette; together they had 17 children. Juneau eventually became the first Milwaukee mayor to leave the city and establish another town, which he called Theresa after his mother. The present Juneau Avenue was named in 1885, the same street Juneau originally named Division Street.
Vieau Place. While Solomon Juneau is credited with being the founder of the city, and he was its first mayor, his father-in-law Jacques Vieau was actually the first European settler to spend a substantial amount of time in Milwaukee, building a cabin overlooking the city in what is now Mitchell Park. His wife was a member of the Menomonee tribe, and his half Native American, half French daughter Josette married Solomon when she was only 15.
Kilbourn Avenue. Byron Kilbourn was perhaps the most aggressive of men who founded the three towns that would become Milwaukee. Kilbourn was a tireless promoter who surveyed and sold off lots west of the Milwaukee River, originally called Kilbourntown.
Whitnall Avenue, named for Charles Whitnall, credited with laying out the modern-day Milwaukee County Park System. Whitnall also has a park named after him that bridges Greendale, Franklin and Hales Corners.
Farwell Avenue. Leonard James Farwell (nicknamed "Lenny") had some serious ups and downs. Arriving in Milwaukee in the 1840s, he started the largest wholesale hardware business in the Midwest. His wealth led him to Madison, where he owned a sizeable piece of the city and, at age 32, became Wisconsin's youngest governor. His good fortune ran dry after that. The 1857 depression wiped out his business. During appointed service in Washington DC, he witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Three years later his wife died. His relocation with his children to Chicago ended when his law office was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. He lived the rest of his days in Missouri, where he died in 1889. Farwell Avenue was named in 1854.
Fratney Street. Frederick Fratney was Polish-born but fled Austria as a political refugee. He came to Milwaukee and for a time edited a German newspaper (one of many) in town. Fratney was a "Forty-eighter," a German revolutionary group. They advocated numerous positions that the United States has but Germany at the time did not -- freedom of speech, trial by jury, and representative forms of government. Fratney preached independence of thought and the need for education, but apparently harbored hatred for both Catholics and the Irish. Ironically, his wife, Bridget, was an Irish-Catholic. Fratney Street was named in 1857, two years after his death.
Finger Place was named for Emanuel Finger, a German-born immigrant who started a diary farm in the town of Greenfield in 1866. His sons sold the farm in the 1920s to developers, and Finger Place was plotted when new streets were laid out.
Good Hope Road. This major thoroughfare across the North Side was named for the community of Good Hope, which hosted an inn, a post office and a stopping point for the mail stage between Milwaukee and Green Bay, at what is today the intersection of Good Hope and Green Bay Roads. No trace of the original community exists; a bank, a Mobil station, a fitness club and apartments adorn the intersection today.
Calumet Road. LaSalle, the French explorer, offered a calumet to a group of Potawatomis in 1679 as a peace overture; they accepted it and provided food for his journeys in return. What is a calumet? It's the French word for a peace pipe used by many of the Native Americans in the area. A smokes-for-food exchange, if you will. Calumet Road was named in 1927, after both the Calumet Land Co. and Calumet Cement Co., each of which owned huge tracts of land in the area that is now Fox Point.
College Avenue. Originally called Town Line Road, College Avenue was named after Downer College announced plans to move to what is now Lake Drive and College Avenue. Those plans, announced in 1893, became moot after Downer College instead headed for the East Side, where UWM lies today. Nevertheless, the name stuck; MATC has a campus off College Avenue today, near Howell Avenue.
Mill Road. Though not formalized as the name by the town of Milwaukee until 1917, Mill Road, as far back as the 1850s, connected two mills: Ver Bryck's Mill by the Menomonee River on the west and Bender's Mill on the Milwaukee River on the east. These mills used the power of the rushing river water to grind grain and saw wood.
Wausaukee Road. A strange concoction of Washington and Ozaukee counties' names, Wausaukee Road is the 124th Street equivalent on the far Northwest side, riding along the Milwaukee-Waukesha County line from Brown Deer Road to County Line Road, continuing north from there. One interesting twist, a tiny corner of land in Washington County was annexed by the City of Milwaukee. A restaurant owner on the northwest corner of Wausaukee and County Line wanted Milwaukee's police and fire protection; Milwaukee at the time was annexing land and grabbed that parcel.
Vliet Street. Garrett Vliet, a Dutchman, surveyed much of the land west of the Milwaukee River. Vliet Street was named in 1835, beginning many years of people saying "What the heck is a 'Vliet?'"
Increase Lapham was quite a special man. He actually predicted the Chicago Fire and the Great Peshtigo fire (much more deadly than the Chicago fire) weeks before anyone else. Unfortunately, the wire service between Chicago, Milwaukee & GB was void of the necessary urgency needed. Increase Lapham might have been the smartest man to set foot on our beloved streets.
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