Archives for July 2013

Picturing the long-lost era of East Side Milwaukee trains

Mighty locomotives once dominated the East Side, but today these vanquished iron horses carry on only in old photographs and memories.

LMD trainHWTN members were recently treated to a presentation of some of these rare and fascinating historic photos. And these photos are now available on our website.

Kevin Keefe, former editor of Kalmbach Publishing Co.’s Trains magazine and current vice president-editorial, publisher of Kalmbach, showed a rapt HWTN crowd on June 5, 2013,  many such photos as part of a fascinating talk on Milwaukee’s historic railroad days.

Kevin’s presentation included then-and-now shots taken from the exact same locations —  with, and without, locomotives.

Kevin, a self-professed train fanatic, allowed to us post here on our website a copy of his slide presentation full of amazing, rare pictures of East Side trains. Many of the pictures come from Trains magazine’s archives.

He set the scene with this fascinating introduction about the history of trains in Milwaukee on the East Side (excerpted):

Kevin P. Keefe

Kevin P. Keefe

“Several of us at the office were talking one day about great railroad towns, and I think we agreed that of all the big American cities with ties to railroading, Milwaukee had fallen the furthest. Today, we’re a backwater compared with Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, or Minneapolis, to name a few comparable cities. But it wasn’t always that way.”

“Just 60 years ago, you’d have to look pretty far to find a city with as much going on as Milwaukee (as long as you keep Chicago, player of railroads, out of the picture, thank you Carl Sandburg).”

“Milwaukee’s heritage is deeply tied to trains. Alexander Mitchell, whose name now adorns major streets and parks, made most of his wealth by running the old Milwaukee Road in the late 19th century. Milwaukee once boasted one of America’s finest street transit systems, the late, lamented Milwaukee Electric. And, of course, the city gave its name to one of America’s most famous railroads.”

Valley trains

“The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific railroad descended into bankruptcy in the 1970s, but for decades its commercial name—the Milwaukee Road—was known throughout the U.S., thanks mostly to its famous and fast Hiawatha trains of the 1930s and ‘40s. Although the railroad’s executive offices were in Chicago, the company’s operational heart and soul was here, specifically at its sprawling shop complex in the Menomonee Valley, where generations of Polish, Irish, and other workers populated nearby neighborhoods and walked or took streetcars to the shops to build and maintain the Milwaukee Road’s locomotives and cars. Even Milwaukee’s great gift to industrial design, Brook Stephens, made one of his biggest splashes designing the Hiawatha trains of 1948.”

“There were other railroads in Milwaukee, of course, principally the Chicago & North Western, which in the glory days of the Thirties and Forties competed head to head with the Milwaukee by pitting its fleet of 400 trains against the Hiawathas. Both railroads emphasized speed: the North Western with its promise of “400 miles in 400 minutes” between Chicago and St. Paul, and the Milwaukee with its daily 100 mph operation on some of its Hiawathas. Behind steam locomotives, yet.”

Juneau Park rail“This entire drama played out on Milwaukee’s stage, the Milwaukee Road at its downtown station off Michigan Street, and the North Western at its beautiful depot on the lakefront at the foot of Wisconsin Avenue. In Chicago, both railroads’ headquarters were only a few blocks apart. Ditto their glitzy passenger trains serving Milwaukee.”

“A quick aside: Those of you who enjoy using today’s 7 Hiawatha Service trains on Amtrak might like to know that, as recently as February 1961, you could choose between nearly 60 trains running every day from Milwaukee to Chicago. The North Western fielded 9 trains from the lakefront. The Milwaukee Road competed with another 11 trains. And at the corner of 6th and Michigan Streets, another railroad, the electrified North Shore Line, added another 38 trains. I think that’s an amazing statistic.”

“So, with that background, I’d like to take you on a pictorial tour of the North Western’s and the Milwaukee Road’s trains of the east side. Almost all of the historical photos you will see are from Trains magazine’s vast railroad library, which has about 100,000 photos.”

“A caveat before we start: for the purposes of this program, I’m defining the east side as including the downtown lakefront near Summerfest, and the Milwaukee River corridor along Commerce Street, known in the past as the Beer Line.”

Kevin, an East Sider since 1980 and an HWTN member, is interested in giving a talk next year on the history of electric trains in Milwaukee. We hope that will happen. Such informative presentations about our past help us appreciate what we are today and how we might want to develop in the future.

– Jeff Bentoff

Fall Events Scheduled Following Summer Recess

Historic Water Tower Neighborhood is taking its annual summer vacation from monthly meetings, but we’ve planned a solid schedule for fall:


  • 7 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 4: State Senate Majority Leader Chris Larson, who represents HWTN, will speak and take questions.
  • 7 p.m. Wednesday Oct. 2: A talk about the new book celebrating the history of art in Milwaukee, “Layton’s Legacy – A Historic American Art Collection 1888-2013,” by Milwaukee historian John C. Eastberg and architectural historian Eric Vogel.
  • 7 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 6: Election of 2014 officers and trustees at the HWTN annual meeting — and celebration of our 40th anniversary.
  • Evening of Saturday Dec. 7: Annual HWTN Holiday Party at the home of Andy Nunemaker, 2221 N. Terrace Ave.

Be sure to mark your calendars. We’ll see you after the summer break.

Architect Fernekes left legacy of stately HWTN homes

Max Fernekes was a Milwaukee architect whose two firms in the early 20th Century designed about two dozen stately East Side mansions and homes. Yet despite his helping grace Milwaukee’s built environment with beautiful homes, Max’s son, also named Max Fernekes, is much better known today.

The elder Fernekes was born in Milwaukee in the late 1800s and established his own architectural practice in 1895 with J. Walter Dolliver. The firm, Fernekes & Doliver, was housed in the University Building in Downtown Milwaukee (on the southeast corner of Mason and Broadway, since demolished).

Pabst HighlandThe firm designed several East Side homes but was best known for the Fred Pabst Jr. house, built for an old school friend of Fernekes and son of Pabst Brewery founder Frederick Pabst. This classical revival mansion was built in 1897 at 3112 W. Highland Blvd. The mansion today has been restored and is home to Quorum Architects (company motto: “We Recycle Buildings”).

In 1900, Fernekes started a new firm with partner Edwin C. Cramer. Their Fernekes & Cramer was located in Downtown’s prestigious Pabst Building, formerly at 100 E. Wisconsin Ave. but since demolished. Before the partnership dissolved around 1919, the firm designed nearly 20 impressive homes that are integral to the fabric of today’s historically preserved HWTN and East Side.

JulieCJPicFrameFINALThe styles of these homes include Colonial Revival, Early Georgian, Tudor, Eclectic and English-Inspired. One such home is a lovely 1909 Arts & Crafts at 2516 E. Newberry Blvd., said to be the first on the block and pictured here — in an historic photo (courtesy of current owners Julie and C.J. Krawczyk) before adjacent houses were built — and in a recent photo. The original owners were Charles G. and Fannie Davies. Charles was the assistant manager of the Pritzlaff Hardware Co. Fannie, who outlived Charles, lived in the house for 40 years, until her death.

Among the many other prominent homes Fernekes & Cramer designed in the area were a Georgian Revival at 2242 N. Lake Dr. and others on N. Hackett Ave, N. Summit Ave., N Terrace Ave., E. Linwood Ave., N. Marietta Ave. and N. Lake Dr.

Rock BottomFernekes & Cramer also designed several Downtown Milwaukee commercial buildings, including the eight-story, terra cotta / brick / reinforced concrete Merchant’s & Manufacturer’s Building, 740 N. Plankinton. Today, the building is best known as home of a Rock Bottom Brewery on the Riverwalk.

While Fernekes and his partners’ names are not commonly remembered today, an online search for Max Fernekes produced many results, but mainly for another Max Fernekes – his son. The younger Max Fernekes is known for etchings and watercolor painting. As a young man during the Depression in Milwaukee, he and other struggling artists hung paintings on clotheslines around the fountain in today’s Cathedral Square, selling their artwork for $1 or more. He later relocated to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, the first artist to move to the community.

PabstToday, his paintings are available for purchase and are in the collection of the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.

Much of his work was inspired by the small town and rural character of Mineral Point and Door County, but one painting shows his Milwaukee roots and perhaps is an homage to his father – it’s a painting of the Pabst Building, where the impressive architectural firm Fernekes & Cramer once operated.

 – Jeff Bentoff

Check out photos of Cocktail Party at Via Downer, Fourth of July Celebration

The summer’s in full swing, and to prove it, check out fun photos from two recent events: The HWTN Cocktail Party at Via Downer and the Fourth of July Parade and Celebration in Lake Park. You’re sure to see a neighbor or two, and maybe even yourself!

Neighborhood History Exhibit To Be Unveiled Friday July 26

As you may recall, as part of our 40th anniversary this year, HWTN has been sponsoring an exciting UWM study of our  neighborhood history.

On Friday July 26, the study will be unveiled to the neighbors. Below is a flyer with details on the event. Come and learn what UWM students and staff have found through their studies and join us in this fun event celebrating our neighborhood.

07.03.13 HWTN Save the Date Pic Mke