January 31 – Anniversary of the Founding of Milwaukee
on January 31, 2017
read that Milwaukee formed, on this date in 1846, after the Milwaukee
wondered, “Wait? The Milwaukee Bridge War? It wasn't about bridges,
right? It was...a battle on a bridge? Maybe?”
to some extent, it was about a bridge (or two or five!).
see, back in the early 1800s, there was no city of Milwaukee
(Wisconsin). Instead, there were three settlements on the Milwaukee
River. Solomon Juneau started Juneautown on the east side of the
river way back in 1818. Some sixteen years later, Byron Kilbourn
started Kilbourntown on the west side of the river, and George W.
Walker started Walker's Point to the south of the other two
though Juneautown had been in existence for more than a decade when
Kilbourn founded his settlement, he didn't pay any attention to the
street layout of Juneautown when laying out his own town. He even
tried to make sure that his newer town was THE town – the one
people knew about and used and shipped through and so forth. So, when
he drew up maps, he showed the east side of the river being just an
unnamed blank space, as if it were just wilderness. And he even lied
to people traveling by steamer, telling them that Juneautown was just
an Indian trading post.
traveling across the river from Juneautown to Kilbourntown used ferry
boats, but in 1840 the Wisconsin Territory's legislature ordered the
construction of one or more bridge. Solomon Juneau helped build a
bridge over Chestnut Street, and by 1842 four more bridges were
build: one at Spring Street, one at Oneida, one connecting Juneautown
to Walker Point, and one Kibourn built across another river.
was opposed to three out of the four bridges, finding only Spring
Street bridge to be acceptable to his shipping business.
years went by. East-siders were getting upset that west-siders
wouldn't help pay for bridge maintenance. Then, in 1845, Kilbourn's
favorite bridge was rammed by a ship, and rumors started circulating
among west-siders that it had been done on purpose by a ship's
captain who had been paid off by the east-siders.
decided to have their revenge (even though the accident was probably
just an accident) – and they grabbed some tools and took down their
side of the Chestnut Street bridge.
know what happens when one half of the bridge is taken down, don't
were mad and gathered up all the weapons they could find –
including an old cannon – and prepared for war!
cannon was aimed right for Byron Kilbourn's house. However, they held
their fire when they heard that Kilbourn's daughter had just died.
decided to remove the Oneida bridge and use the pieces to repair the
Spring Street bridge. Of course, that made the east-siders really
– because now BOTH of their favored bridges were destroyed. Time to
really take their revenge – the east-siders destroyed the Spring
Street bridge and Kilbourn's bridge that crossed another river.
next few weeks were tense, but tempers slowly cooled. Eventually, at
the end of that year, three new bridges were planned, and a month
later the three settlements merged into one new entity called Milwaukee.