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

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

East Side Trains: Take A Pictorial Tour at HWTN’s June 5 Meeting

When the wind is right, train whistles still echo across the East Side, including the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood, but they’re always coming from another part of town.

Chicago & North Western’s “Peninsula 400” train from Green Bay easing south down the hill from Lafayette Place and about to rumble under the former Brady Street footbridge on its way to the downtown lakefront depot in the summer of 1954. The site no longer has tracks and is part of the paved recreational Oak Leaf Trail. Jim Scribbins photo.

Before the 1980s, however, the neighborhood had its own railroad scene, and an auspicious one at that. Whether it was the luxury passenger trains of the Chicago & North Western on the lakefront, or the workaday freight trains of the Milwaukee Road’s “Beer Line,” there was plenty of railroading within earshot of Prospect and North.

Kevin P. Keefe

Kevin P. Keefe

Local journalist and HWTN member Kevin P. Keefe takes us on a pictorial tour of the trains of the East Side, including such memorial subjects as the late, lamented North Western depot; the Twin Cities 400 passenger trains; and the Humboldt Yards.

Kevin is former editor of Kalmbach Publishing Co.‘s Trains Magazine and currently vice president-editorial, publisher of Kalmbach.

His talk takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday June 5 in Lake Park Pavilion’s Marcia Coles Community Room, below Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro. It’s free and open to the public. HWTN’s regular monthly meeting will follow Kevin’s talk. We start gathering around 6:45 for conversation and Bartolotta coffee and cookies.


May 1 talk features story of influential California architect and his first commission — on Milwaukee’s East Side

A Milwaukee couple has become experts on an historic E. Kenwood Blvd. home in more ways than one – restoring the 1899 structure, which they live in, and writing about its architect, who later became renowned working in California.

Chris Szczesny-Adams, associate professor of Art History at MIAD, and Christopher L. Adams, CEO at Dominion LLC, will discuss her research on Elmer Grey, the architect of their home, the Frederick R. Buell Residence, and his work on the restoration of their property, both inside and out, at 7 p.m. Wednesday May 1.

According to Wikipedia:

Grey designed many noted landmarks in Southern California, including the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Huntington Art Gallery, the Pasadena Playhouse and Wattles Mansion. He is credited with being one of the pioneers in the development of the new American architecture in the early 20th century, with a focus on harmony with nature and eliminating features not belonging to the local climate and conditions. Grey was also a noted artist whose paintings are in the permanent collection of the Chicago Art Institute.

Born in Chicago but raised in Milwaukee, Grey joined Milwaukee’s Ferry & Clas (designers of the Central Library and Pabst Mansion) after completing high school.

Buell Residence, 1905, from Inland Architect

Buell Residence, 1905, from Inland Architect

Buell Residence today

Buell Residence today









He started to work on his own 1898. In that year, he designed his first building, a house he built for himself as a country retreat on the Lake Michigan shore in Fox Point. The American Institute of Architects made him a Fellow based on that design.

Elmer Grey cottage, Fox Point

Elmer Grey cottage, Fox Point

Beverly Hills Hotel

Beverly Hills Hotel








His first paid commission was the next year for the Frederick Buell Residence at 2726 E. Kenwood Blvd., the home now belonging to Szczesny-Adams and Adams.

Grey completed other transitional Prairie School designs during his next four years of practice in Milwaukee. Grey moved on and spent the majority of his career in Pasadena completing well over 100 works and was singled out frequently by Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman magazine.

Elmer Grey (1872-1963)

Elmer Grey (1872-1963)

Buell living room and parlor, House Beautiful (February 1900)

Buell living room and parlor, House Beautiful (February 1900)

Chris Szczesny-Adams’ current research is on architect Elmer Grey and his transitional arts and crafts designs from the 1900s in the Midwest to his bungalow designs of Southern California.

Christopher L. Adams, CEO at Dominion LLC, is a former Cream of Cream City award winner. Dominion LLC is a private company that invests in mixed-use and residential real estate and recently completed renovations on the multi-family apartments on Belleview and Lake.

The talk takes place at 7 p.m. Monday May 1 in the Marcia Coles Community Room, which is in the lower level of Lake Park Pavilion. HWTN will hold its monthly business meeting after the talk. The talk and meeting are free and open to the public.

– Jeff Bentoff

Alexander C. Eschweiler, designer of HWTN homes and iconic Milwaukee buildings

Alexander C. Eschweiler, the architect of many landmark historic Milwaukee buildings, also designed several notable mansions in and around the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood — including homes for himself and his mother.

The list of Milwaukee buildings designed by Eschweiler or the firm he founded includes downtown’s Wisconsin Gas Building with its famed weather flame, the Wisconsin Telephone Building on N. Broadway, the Milwaukee Arena and the John Mariner Building (now Hotel Metro).

Eschweiler also designed four 1911-1912 buildings on the Milwaukee County Grounds constructed originally for the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. They are now threatened with potential demolition, and preservationists are working to save the buildings.

2409 N. Wahl Ave. Photo by David Hay Jones / http://www.livemilwaukee.org/index.htm

2409 N. Wahl Ave. Photo by David Hay Jones

Work by Eschweiler in the HWTN includes the Robert Nunnemacher Residence, 2409 North Wahl Ave.; Edward G. Cowdery House (also known as the Albert C. Elser House), 2743 North Lake Dr.; John Murphy House, 2030 E. Lafayette Pl.; Victor L. Brown House, 2690 N. Lake Dr.; Frank Ward Smith House, 2405 E. Wyoming Pl.; Hayes-Friend House, 2651 N. Summit Ave.Alexander Chadbourne Eschweiler House, 2810 E. Bradford Ave. (his own home); and Hannah Lincoln Chadbourne Eschweiler House, 2825 N. Hackett Ave. (which he designed for his widowed mother).

Former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Whitney Gould, in a story discussing Eschweiler’s life, career and impact on Milwaukee, said that his “work for Milwaukee’s movers and shakers a century ago left a lasting imprint on east side neighborhoods and shaped our civic identity. So powerful was his influence that even today, ‘living in an Eschweiler’ is almost akin to owning a Rembrandt.”

EschweillerAccording to his Wikipedia profile, Eschweiler was born in Boston and opened his practice in Milwaukee in 1892. In 1923, sons Alexander C. Eschweiler Jr., Theodore and Carl joined him at the firm, which was renamed Eschweiler & Eschweiler. The senior Eschweiler died in 1940.

Buildings he or his firm designed just outside the HWTN boundaries include the Charles Allis House, 1801 N. Prospect Avenue (now the Charles Allis Art Museum), the Elizabeth Black Residence, 1537 N. Prospect Ave.; and on the current University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, the Thomas A. Greene Memorial Museum and the Milwaukee-Downer “Quad” on the NW corner of Hartford and Downer Aves.

Thomas Eschweiler, a grandson of the elder Alexander Eschweiler, and Thomas’ wife Gabrielle, were longtime members of HWTN. They lived in a 1925 home at 2659 N. Terrace Ave. that was designed by Thomas’ father, Alexander C. Eschweiler Jr. Like his father and grandfather, Thomas also was an architect, and he joined the family firm, later working as director of construction for Milwaukee Public Schools and founding the Wisconsin Architectural Archives. After his death at age 90 in 2012, his memorial service was held at the Charles Allis Art Museum, which his grandfather designed.

Many Eschweiler buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are part of Milwaukee preservation districts.

– Jeff Bentoff