Bay View Historical Society to celebrate 35 years

August 3, 2015

By David Drake

Brinton House DAVID DRAKE

The Beulah Brinton House, 2590 S. Superior St., is the home of the Bay View Historical Society.

The Bay View Historical Society will celebrate its 35th anniversary Friday, Aug. 28 and Saturday, Aug. 29.

The Bay View Historical Society was formed as an outgrowth of Bay View’s centennial celebration in 1979. The idea was the brainchild of neighbors Paul Kohlbeck, who was a teacher at Fernwood Elementary School, and Audrey Quinsey, who with her husband Bob, lived in the historic Beulah Brinton house, 2590 S. Superior St.

The society was established in 1980, and the Brinton house was purchased by the Bay View Historical Society for its headquarters in 2003.

The festivities will kick off on Friday evening at 5pm with a Historic Bay View Pub Crawl that will conclude at 10pm.

Saturday’s celebration takes place at the Beulah Brinton house, which will be open for tours. The first event is a walking tour of the area surrounding the Beulah Brinton house beginning at 9am. At 11:30am there will be a rededication of the Pryor Avenue Well, which is about half a block south of the Brinton house.

A lawn party from noon until 4pm features croquet, music by Dangerous Folk, a display of vintage hats, vintage costumes to wear in the photo booth, and an opportunity for children to make hats. There will also be an ice cream social with food for purchase provided by St. Francis Brewery. Everyone is invited to share memories of Bay View with friends and neighbors.

There will be a two-hour break in activities from 4pm to 6pm. The celebration resumes at 6pm when the anniversary celebration begins. The evening’s highlight will be a performance by Milwaukee chanteuse Robin Pluer.

All events during the two-day celebration are free and open to the public.

Download an event brochure: More info:

Looking back at Chill On The Hill’s first years

August 3, 2015

By Jay Bullock

Chill on the Hill, a weekly summer concert series presented by Bay View Neighborhood Association (BVNA) in Bay View’s Humboldt Park band shell, is in its eleventh year. The following is an excerpt of recordings made by Jay Bullock to capture the oral history of the concert series. This excerpt documents the start-up of the series by those who were there at the beginning and those who have contributed to its development and expansion over the past decade. 

The interviews were conducted around Bay View, including in Humboldt Park, between July 13 and 16, with Carol Voss, BVNA’s first president and the “mother” of Chill on the Hill; Stephanie Harling, a former BVNA board member; Patty Thompson, former BVNA board member and president; Christa Marlowe, current BVNA vice president; and Nichole Williams, current BVNA president.

Stephanie Harling, Patty Pritchard Thompson, and Christa Marlowe, along with Carol Voss (not in photo), were the key founders of Bay View Neighborhood Association’s and Milwaukee County Parks’ signature summer concert series in Humboldt Park. The concert series launched in 2005 with a single concert and has grown to 14 concerts in the 2015 season. PHOTO JENNIFER KRESSE

Stephanie Harling, Patty Pritchard Thompson, and Christa Marlowe, along with Carol Voss (not in photo), were the key founders of Bay View Neighborhood Association’s and Milwaukee County Parks’ signature summer concert series in Humboldt Park. The concert series launched in 2005 with a single concert and has grown to 14 concerts in the 2015 season. PHOTO JENNIFER KRESSE

Beginnings: Chill On The Hill

Carol Voss: There were five of us that started the Bay View Neighborhood Association (BVNA) in 2004. Each one had their own agenda, in terms of what they wanted to see for the neighborhood association and the activities it created for the neighborhood. Everyone put their desires on the table. Then we started having public meetings and talking about different concepts to try to see if there was community support for them.

Stephanie Harling: Carol and I were putting our heads together on some different ideas on how to develop another trademark event for the neighborhood association, in addition to Bay View Bash, which was  originally created and managed by BVNA. We had always talked about the under-utilization of the Humboldt Park chalet (band shell), and what the chalet used to be and how we could start utilizing it. It was such a wasted resource. That started the talks about perhaps having a monthly concert series.  Basically, I was there at the inception of the idea with Carol, but it was really Carol’s baby.

Voss: I had to do an oral history project with an older adult when I was in high school, where I talked about what it was like for them when they were high school age.

I sat down with my grandmother, and she basically said, “You know, people didn’t have a lot of money in those days, but what they did have were all these beautiful parks. They had music and dancing in the parks everywhere.”

It was something that, honestly, I personally had not experienced. I thought, What would that be like?

I held on to that and I thought about it periodically.

My son is now 16. When he was very little, I spent more time at Humboldt Park, at the playground, for example. I happened to notice that nothing was really happening at the band shell at that time. It was almost like a hidden thing in that park. People were really using the pavilion and the playground area and maybe the lagoon area, but people weren’t really going into the area of the band shell.

Patty Thompson: Milwaukee County had been doing concerts in the park for 50-, 60-some years. Long before we started Chill On The Hill, they were doing a Tuesday-night concert series, but only in the month of July.

Voss: I discovered that there were cutbacks in the park funding for music performances, so the band shell was almost never used. And it was very much not taken care of. And in the community, the band shell was not understood as being a community asset. I thought, Let’s put this back to use.

I didn’t know if there was anything happening in Milwaukee County Parks with respect to music.

So when BVNA organizers said, Let’s work on that and see what we can do, I thought about what would it take for me, personally, to convince park officials to let the neighborhood association take ownership of it more.

Harling: That’s really how it started. We thought a concert series was a way to better utilize the park, bring positive activities to the park, and to create a community gathering that would be a trademark event for the neighborhood association.

Voss: Sue Black was in charge of Milwaukee County Parks at that time and her newly-employed marketing person was Jeff Baudry. I started making some calls to them and convinced them to give me a meeting.  I came up with a case, basically, to work with them to try to bring something new to the parks and to bring new people to the parks who weren’t currently using them. That was the real pitch: under-utilized resource, create new community interest in the resource, give it a trial.

I met with them with my list of persuasive topics. I thought about how I would talk about it with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and pied-piping. I wanted to paint the vision of what the concert series could be.

They gave me a date. The first year, 2005, was just one concert date, which was a trial concert. I busted my butt to get as many people there as possible, and I think we had about 400 or so show up. It was a success because that was 400 who would not have been there without the event. It was enough for the county to give me a few more dates. We got three dates the following year — 2006, and then we got six dates the year after — 2007, and then we got the full summer beginning in 2008.

Harling: We were all pretty seasoned in planning events for communities. I had already been working on the South Shore Farmers Market for quite a few years. BVNA had experience with running Bay View Bash.

We put corporate sponsorship packages together for the concerts and shopped them around, just as we would any other event, to local businesses. The community was just happy to have something at the band shell, and they were wanting more, and wanting it to be sustainable. The response was positive.

Christa Marlowe: I was kind of around when Chill got started. I wasn’t really part of the first plan, but I was part of the, How are we going to run this thing from now on?

So I’ve been involved in the growth of Chill on the Hill. I was there with some of the planning, when we increased it to three concerts. We did one concert, then we did three concerts, and then we started gradually filling in over three or four years until we were up to all 13 concerts each season.

Voss: The first couple of years we conducted a survey. We hoped people would say where they were from, what they liked, what kind of bands and music they liked. We found, and this was curious to us, that in the first five years people came from five counties to attend Chill on the Hill, even in the early days. We didn’t do much advertising because we found we really didn’t need to do that. It grew organically, and we also ended up getting mentions in the media or the articles about the bands that we booked. So we were getting earned-media that worked to grow us organically.

Harling: What’s interesting is that when you look at who started this and took the ball and ran with it, you discover a lot of us come from a music background. Some of us went to the High School of the Arts or currently play an instrument or just have a passion for music, in general. When you have a passion for music and a passion for community, of course you’re going to want a concert series and be good at making it happen. Those are just the talents that we’re lucky to have.

Carol’s connection to the music scene and my connection to the Bash were integral for our ability to connect with performers and bring them in. It just seemed kind of natural that the concert series would be our next thing to do, given the mission of the neighborhood association.

Voss: My husband is a drummer, and I was very well connected at the time. So essentially, I just asked a bunch of friends who were involved in the music scene if they would concede to doing me some favors. In some cases it was more of giving them a shot to perform than them giving me a favor. So I’m not saying there were perfect lineups by any means. We had a very, very loose structure — a couple of people would say that they knew somebody and then we’d follow up to see if we could book them.

From the beginning there were always preference points given to musicians who had a Bay View tie. I felt like the concerts were first and foremost for the Bay View neighborhood and that we wanted to showcase our local neighborhood talents. We have a very creative neighborhood. We have a lot of musicians who live in this neighborhood, and a lot of them hadn’t ever been showcased.

Nichole Williams: From an administrative standpoint, we have a lot of creative flexibility at Chill. Because we are the organizers, with Milwaukee County Parks having final approval, we have creative control of the themes for each night, scheduling of music, promotions, runs, and partnerships. Our sponsors of Chill are very connected to our community and are predominately local businesses in the neighborhood. I think we have over 75 different sponsors this year. That is a reflection of our diverse and eclectic neighborhood. I can’t say if Washington Park and Botanical Gardens have that same type of flexibility but for us, it has allowed our event to evolve and adapt each year based on the feedback we receive from neighbors. And the BVNA board of directors has an annual turnover which brings new ideas each year.

Voss: Sometimes the county would strongly suggest that we have a certain band, and there were times when I sort of acquiesced. It wasn’t that it was a bad band or anything, but it was more that it didn’t necessarily fit the model we were looking for. The model evolved. I mean, De La Buena has played there a couple times. They’re a hugely exciting group. Swing Nouveau was also a big name that I was able to get with a local connection. Paul Cebar — he’s huge no matter where he plays. But he’s a Bay Viewer. His family is from here so he’s ultimately from here. Chill was something that he was really committed to doing and that was a big thing. It was always a fun night when he performed. So, yeah, I had a lot of favors, a lot of favors.

Marlowe: Our number one is that Chill’s bands are non-cover bands, as local as possible, and that there is a diverse selection. There’s always room for more diversity, there’s always room for growth, but we really resist the temptation to have cover band after cover band, which some of the other music series do.  Cover bands will bring out people who like those bands, and people will sing along and the kids can dance, but we try to have more creativity and diversity in our music.

Voss: I really wanted to challenge the acts to be creative. We became a really preferred venue for bands to play at, not just because it was a huge stage, not just because it was a plug-and-play environment, not just because it was opportunity for a lot of people to see them, but because it was an opportunity for them to really innovate and have fun at the same time.

So you’ll see things like the samba drum unit performing with little kids and older adults joining the drumming and doing the different dances on the stage. Or bands will bring guest partners and soloists and who have some really unusual things. I was really proud to have Robin Pluer playing with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra; you just didn’t see that kind of thing. Or having four different bands of different types come together for a really crazy one-time, one-night experience. And there was kirtan chanting, and a longshoreman from the port who did spoken word.

Also our commitment was to mix genres and not be pigeonholed into one genre. Music in Milwaukee is so diverse, and I felt like it was important for us to show a variety of diversity. There’s a commitment that I have personally to female-driven musicians and bands, so I really always wanted to have at least one, if not as many as possible female-driven acts, because I wanted to make sure that there were equitable exposure opportunities for them.

Thompson: Sometimes we get kind of knocked around for not having this band or that band. Or we’ll hear, “Why didn’t you book ‘this’ band again?” You know, we’re trying to give a little bit of variety, and so every year is going to be a little bit different, along with our formula for original and local music, and to do the things that we try to stay true to.

For example, we are always going to have, and I repeat, we are always going to have the American Legion Band. The American Legion Band has been playing on that hill long before most of us were born, so they get to keep playing. If anybody asks, “Why do we keep having the American Legion Band?,” the answer will be, “Because they have been there longer than we have and because we say so.”

But definitely people want to see different things. Not every band is for every guest. A lot of people come regardless of what the band is. They don’t care, and we still want to make sure we put on a good show.

This photo was published in the September 2008 Compass. It was taken in August of that year and we reported that “hundreds” of people attended the Chill on the Hill concert. Attendance has grown, and this year averages 2,000. PHOTO MICHAEL TIMM

This photo was published in the September 2008 Compass. It was taken in August of that year and we reported that “hundreds” of people attended the Chill on the Hill concert. Attendance has grown, and this year averages 2,000. PHOTO MICHAEL TIMM

Harling: The first concert, when people started dragging up and coming to the hill, I think we were all kind of standing there and thinking, This is going to work.

I remember Carol and me standing on the hill at our little table thinking, I think this is something. I think people are really going to like this. I think we can build on this.

You know it was a little different feel then because it wasn’t as big but there was a real sense of community. You’re sitting next to your neighbor or you’re sitting next to the guy you went to high school with, stuff like that, so you had that real sense of intimacy and community.

It’s a little different now because it’s bigger and it has a bigger following, but we thought from the beginning that the series created a sense of community, and we thought, We could build on this. But I don’t know that we thought, We can build on this to thousands and thousands of people. — I think we just felt like we could probably get about a thousand people to attend. Then it just took off.

According to the Bay View Neighborhood Association, attendance at Chill on the Hill averages around 2000 people every Tuesday all summer long. Milwaukee musicians and performers covet a place on the series’ 14-week schedule of bands, and the series is a model for how community organizations and the county parks can work together to make something special.

In September or October, you can read a longer, more complete version of this oral history online to be published at

Avalon Theater landmark ceremony features Vel Phillips documentary June 1

May 1, 2015

By Ron Winkler


The Joseph Williams home, as it appeared during construction of the Avalon Theater. Courtesy Bay View Historical Society

The Joseph Williams home, as it appeared during construction of the Avalon Theater. Courtesy Bay View Historical Society

The Bay View Historical Society is hosting a ceremony to bestow landmark status on the Avalon Theater, 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Monday, June 1.

The Avalon Theater is the twenty-second landmark bestowed by the Bay View Historical Society. Its first landmark was the Beulah Brinton House in 1986. (The society purchased the house for its headquarters in 2005 and paid off the mortgage last month.)

Landmarking by the society is honorary and is not encumbered with any restrictions, as is the City of Milwaukee’s landmark award, which stipulates modifications must be approved to ensure they are tasteful and historically appropriate. A copper plaque identifies the society’s landmarks. The Avalon Theater will receive the society’s twenty-second plaque.

Although the society’s landmark is given mainly to schools, churches, homes, and other buildings, the Pryor Avenue Well and the Wisconsin Champion European Copper Beech Tree in South Shore Park are among its designated landmarks.

The Avalon Theatre* opened in 1929, but was shuttered in 2000 due to dwindling attendance. It stood vacant, in danger of being converted to offices by the previous owner, Craig Ellsworth, until purchased by Lee Barczak in 2005. His optimistic plan to reopen the theater within two years was postponed time and again due to the economic downturn and his desire to do more than a pedestrian renovation. When the long-awaited opening finally took place in December 2014, Avalon fans  agreed the $2.5 million restoration was worth the wait. It exemplifies Bay View’s ongoing renewal.

The theater was designated a City of Milwaukee landmark in 2004.

Doors open at 4:30pm. Tours of the Avalon will be given prior to the ceremony. Refreshments will be served.

The event is free and open to the public.

Vel Phillips early in her career, wearing a sticker that reads, “We’re here for Wisconsin Human Rights Legislation.” Courtesy David Glisczinski, Wisconsin Public Television

Vel Phillips early in her career, wearing a sticker that reads, “We’re here for Wisconsin Human Rights Legislation.” Courtesy David Glisczinski, Wisconsin Public Television

Dream Big Dreams

Following the landmark ceremony, the one-hour public television documentary, Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams, will be shown. The screening will be followed by a discussion about equity and civil rights. Wisconsin Public Television produced the documentary and asked the Bay View Historical Society to host WPT’s ninth and final program of community engagement projects. The society was asked to further the discussion about community activism, especially as it relates to Bay View.

The documentary celebrates the life and work of Milwaukee native Vel Phillips, a groundbreaking civic leader and Civil Rights activist, who rose to prominence in the midst of violent racism. The film, produced by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and Wisconsin Public Television, uses archival footage and contemporary interviews with Phillips, her family, and friends, including Hall of Fame Milwaukee Braves and Milwaukee Brewers baseball player Henry “Hank” Aaron. Other interviews feature Phillips’ son Michael, the late Wisconsin Governor Patrick Lucey, former members of the Milwaukee Commandos, and Professor Patrick D. Jones, author of The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee. 

Phillips graduated from North Division High School in Milwaukee and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. on a scholarship. In 1951, she became the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. She and her husband, fellow attorney W. Dale Phillips, moved to Milwaukee, where they became the first husband-and-wife couple to be admitted to the Wisconsin Bar.

In 1956, Phillips became the first woman elected to Milwaukee’s Common Council. In 1962, she introduced the city’s first open-housing ordinance. In 1958, she was elected the first black member of the Democratic National Committee,

In the 1960s, she joined Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council, leading marches for fair and open housing to Milwaukee’s predominantly white south side. Day after day the marchers endured great hostility and violence while singing songs of freedom. Milwaukee’s open housing bill was finally passed two weeks after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968.

In 1971, she became the first black woman to serve as a judge in Wisconsin. In 1978 she was the first woman and African-American elected to a statewide constitutional office as Secretary of State.

Vel Phillips is still active today as head of the Vel Phillips Foundation. Courtesy David Glisczinski, Wisconsin Public Television

Vel Phillips is still active today as head of the Vel Phillips Foundation. Courtesy David Glisczinski, Wisconsin Public Television

Vel Phillips Today

Her advocacy and charitable work continue today with America’s Black Holocaust Museum, the NAACP, and the committee for the Joshua Glover statue in Jackson Square. She is active on the boards of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Community Shares, and the Haggerty Museum.

The Vel Phillips Foundation was created in 2006. Its website describes its focus as “giving scholarships to qualified minorities and grants to organizations that focus on social justice, educational initiatives, jobs, and equality in housing…also (funding) cutting-edge initiatives, individual or collaborative, that will enhance harmony among people of different socioeconomic levels, races, sects, and ethnicities.”

Pioneer, activist, humanitarian, and diplomat, Vel Phillips celebrated her 91st birthday in February and is expected to attend the event at the Avalon Theater. *Originally spelled “theatre,” the current owners changed the spelling to “theater” when the Avalon reopened last year.

Bay View Historical Society Landmarks

Beulah Brinton House
2590 S. Superior St. (1872-73) May 15, 1983 

Bay View United Methodist Church,
2772 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (1888) May 6, 1984 

State Historical Society Marker
for Bay View Rolling Mill
Northeast corner of Superior Street and

Russell Avenue, June 2, 1985 

Puddler’s Hall
2461-63 S. St. Clair St. (1873) May 3, 1986 

St. Augustine School 2
507 S. Graham St. (1888) August 28, 1988 

St. Lucas Lutheran Church
2605 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (1888) October 16, 1988 

Estes House
2136 E. Estes St. (1880-81) June 4, 1989 

Kneisler’s White House Tavern
2900 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (1891) October 6, 1991 

Club Garibaldi, 2
501 S. Superior St. (1907) October 1, 1992 

Trowbridge Street School
1943 E. Trowbridge St. (1893-94) May 20, 1994 

Dover Street School
619 E. Dover St. (1889) December 5, 2001 

Wisconsin Champion European
Copper Beech Tree
South Shore Park, across from

2116 East Estes St. September 24, 2005 

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
1023 E. Russell Ave. (1907) May 20, 2006

Keller Winery
324 E. Deer Pl. (1909) September 30, 2006 

Groppi’s Grocery
1441 E. Russell Ave. (1900) June 21, 2008

South Shore Park Pavilion
2900 S. Shore Dr. (1933) November 10, 2008

Delaware House
2499 S. Delaware Ave. (ca. 1870) June 27, 2009

Eschweiler House
2445 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (1903) June 27, 2010

Joseph Williams House
606 E. Homer St. (1865) June 18, 2011

T.H. Stemper Company
1125 E. Potter Ave. 2012

Pryor Avenue Well
1700 block E. Pryor Ave. (1882-83) 2013

Avalon Theater
2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (1929) 2015


A beautiful life on the water

August 1, 2013

By Katherine Keller

 Bay View’s Alvin Anderson is one of the last of those hardy souls who made a living fishing the waters of  Lake Michigan. For nearly seven decades, he began his day at 3:30am, chugging out over the water to set his nets or lift his harvest. But those days have slipped away. The once abundant wild fishery has been decimated by lampreys, viruses, and zebra and quagga mussels. With the devastation of the these species came the destruction of a way of life that once characterized many of the communities along the Lake Michigan shore. For decades commercial fishing was a way of life — a way to support a family and to provision a market hungry for the local catch.

Alvin’s wife Sandy and their sons Dan and Steve were vital to the operation of the family business. Both sons actively fished until the altered fishery forced them to dramatically alter their course. Dan Anderson and his family moved to Alaska, where he is still able to support himself as a commercial fisher. Steve Anderson left the vocation and is now employed in a local manufacturing shop.

These are some of the stories you will hear if you sit down and talk to Alvin “Gabby” Anderson. They resulted from an interview with Alvin and Sandy Anderson. Scott Slick, also a commercial fisher and friend of the Andersons, was an interview participant.  It is the first of an occasional series we plan to publish that will chronicle the stories told by Bay View’s elders.

Alvin Anderson spent a lifetime plying the waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior fishing for trout, chub, whitefish, and perch. —photo Katherine Keller

Alvin Anderson spent a lifetime plying the waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior fishing for trout, chub, whitefish, and perch. —photo Katherine Keller


Bay View resident Alvin “Gabby” Anderson was born in 1933. His mother Anna Carlson Anderson was Swedish and his father, Oscar Anderson, was Norwegian. Oscar owned a parcel of land between Ellison Bay and Gills Rock in Door County. He worked a number of jobs to make ends meet. He sailed the Great Lakes, kept the boilers burning in a cherry factory in Sturgeon Bay, and he worked with rock crushers, part of road-building crews. The family kept a cow and an orchard of about 200 cherry trees. He helped his family earn a living during the Depression by picking cherries in Door County. If you want to get Anderson’s dander up, ask him about cherries.

Have you ever picked cherries? So you haven’t picked cherries? You haven’t went to prison then!

“When you were little back then, you had to help the family. If you made a dime, 50 cents, that went into the family. You know, we were so poor, you know. I mean, it was all the same them years because everybody was poor, you know?

“I had a little rotten pair of tennis shoes, and one of them had hole in it. Okay, you’re walking through the orchard early in the morning when there was a lot of dew around and the tennis shoe filled up with sand and you were walking in that. The tennis shoes got wet from the dew and you were walking in that all the time, all day.

“And then, when the owner would assign you to a tree and you would hadda pick that tree clean, every cherry. Up on the ladder, yah. Walking around the tree wasn’t bad because you could pick them off but after that you had to go up to the ladder. You got so high up. There was a branch and all of a sudden, you reached up and your head was hit a cherry bunch. The juice would run down your head.

“And then you’re gonna sit down on top of the ladder and the branch got on seat before you did, and you sat down, and ooh! Real fun! Nice! You gotta be that way all day. Sticky!

“I think, if I got ten pails a day, I was lucky. If I come back with just a level pail, they’d take me back to fill it up. They wanted a heap on that pail. I love cherries, but them suckers, oh, they got the best of me!”


In 1941, Anderson began his six-and-a-half decade career, working on a commercial boat catching whitefish and trout.

“When I was eight years old, right before cherry season in Door County, way up in Ellison Bay, a fishermen, Clarence Lind, he come down to the house one evening and asked if I wanted to help him. I was small, real short. Well, I jumped at the chance because I knew cherry season was coming right around the corner. I never asked how much I was going to get. I was so happy because those cherry trees…no way!

“I worked six days a week about, about 11 — 10 to 12 hours a day, and I walked just about three miles to work and I was never late. I always had to be there by six, or before, in the morning.

“I helped pick the fish (out of the nets), put the nets in the box, and helped them set back (in the water).

“The trout had teeth and you had to be careful and you didn’t dare want to bust the nets either. They was all cotton in them years and they was so fragile that you looked at them and they were practically bust.

“And on the way home, most of the time, Lind dressed the fish, and I steered the boat home.”

Anderson took to fishing from the get-go, even though he got seasick the first two summers out on the water.

“I absolutely loved it. Loved it. I used to get seasick though. Oh, man, oh, terrible! Boy, if the boat rocked a little bit too much… But soon as I hit the dock, stepped a foot on the dock, I was fine.

“I got five dollars a week. To me that was big money. You know, in the 30s. And I worked the next summer when I was nine for him for the same price. I wasn’t happy with the same wage…I remember that.”

Ten-year-old entrepreneur

“When I was 10, I had another couple guys up there. They had some nets and I made a deal with these couple of guys that had these nets (that) if I could borrow them I’d give them half of what I caught. And then I told Clarence, ‘I’ll work for the same but I want to fish these two nets. (He agreed to the terms.) Well, that worked out fine. Oh, yah. I was thinking you know, hey! Hey, you have to use your head once in a while.

“And then, when I was 11, I think the nets went to heck because they were bad in the first place. They were all cotton, you know. So Clarence wouldn’t raise my wages, no. So I quit. I quit Clarence.

“All of a sudden that evening, Howard Weborg must have heard I quit Clarence. All of a sudden he come driving into our yard by our home in this pickup truck and he asked me if I wanted to work for him. Well, it was getting close to cherry time again, I remember that! So I jumped on the chance, oh, yah!

“And I didn’t have to walk to work. Howard picked me up every morning. What a relief that was.

“Well, I never asked Howard what I was going to get, you know, whatever he was willing to pay me. I’ll never forget that, never! Never ever! The first whole week, on the way home was on a Saturday afternoon, Howard handed me the check. I still can’t believe it. I should have never cashed it. I should have framed it. I should have. I looked at the check—$54! Nine dollars a day. Wow! I thought I was the first millionaire to ever hit Door County.

“Course, I don’t want to brag but I was fast. I was fast. I don’t care, I could dress, out-dress them guys, like chubs and that, I could out dress them two to one. String nets, I was faster than them. I knew everything, you know. I could mend nets, whatever. Whatever they needed me to do, nobody had to stand over my shoulder. I could do the same thing as a regular man. I knew how to do everything and I was probably faster than another man that they would have hired. I could do everything.

“Howard and them, they had orders, they’d ship them, most of them went to Chicago. Them years they put them in wood boxes, a 100 pounds in a box. Ice on the bottom; ice on top. They were shipped by truck. See, my uncle way back then, he owned a trucking a company up in Door County. Charlie Anderson. He was my favorite uncle. Oh, yeah. He was great.”

1945 school photo Alvin Anderson

When Alvin Anderson looked at his 1945 class photo, he joked, “I should have been in Hollywood instead of going to fishing!” He is the boy on the far right in the second row from the top. Lief Weborg is second from the left in the third row from the top. Four decades later Weborg and his two crew members, Scott Matta and Warren Olson, perished December 11, 1998, when his commercial fishing tug, the 42-foot Linda E, was struck by a 452-foot integrated tug and barge. The Linda E sank off the shores of Port Washington, Wis.

“Newport School. That was Newport ‘College!’ You learned more in them eight grades there than people going four years to college today. College today is all sports. What the hell are you going to do with sports? You know? We went to learn! Anyway, when I was in eighth grade, my teacher, there was six or seven of us in the class, that’s all there was, you know? The teacher called me, called each one of us up to his desk and he asked each person individually, what we wanted to be, or do in our life. Well, I had no question. I said I want to be a commercial fisherman. He looked at me, he said, ‘Good luck.’ And I never changed my mind. No. And then, we bought our first boat.”

An old photo of Anderson’s boat Aloha chugging back to shore through the ice at the Algoma, Wis. pier. —courtesy Alvin and Sandy Anderson

An old photo of Anderson’s boat Aloha chugging back to shore through the ice at the Algoma, Wis. pier.
—courtesy Alvin and Sandy Anderson

“There was four of us brothers in company. AB Fisheries. Anderson Brothers. But I worked for Harvey Olson for a while, from Ellison Bay. And, actually I worked for him until we bought the second boat.”

Fish stories

“Oh, that one sturgeon—this was way back, in 1947, when we were fishing out of Sturgeon Bay, that time with the old Pelican,” Alvin said. (Laughs). “We were lifting down off of Snake Island, my brother was by the wheel. All of a sudden, he looked out over the rail, and he thought it was a great big log coming up. I tried the lifter and all of a sudden that log started to move. Oh, my god. That doggone thing had to be nine feet long. I’m telling you, that was incredible. I don’t know, I wouldn’t even now how much it would weigh. Oh, cripes, three, four hundred pounds, at least.

“We didn’t get it. It made a couple big splashes, and it ripped itself right out of the net and went. Well, man it was a big, big thing, man. A couple of swats the tail and he was, zoom, gone. Oh, he was big.”

Anderson said the sturgeon was the biggest fish he saw in the Great Lakes, though he saw bigger fish — halibut, in Alaska. But he saw another spectacular fish in Lake Michigan.

“I could still take you within 500 feet of where I saw that fish in the bay. Green Bay. Off of Ellison Bay, right west of Ellison Bay. That was in ’70 — about ’75, I think.

“I’ve seen a lot of 18-, 20-pound whitefish. You know? Back then, a normal whitefish was four or five pounds. That thing…when I seen that, coming up, I looked out and the first thing that entered my mind was, ‘That’s mine. That is mine.’ I could just picture him on my wall, you know, mounted. That’s the first thing that come to mind. That’s mine!

“I had a great big dip net. He come out of the water. I couldn’t get him in the dip net. He would not fit in that net. He had to go 30 pounds, I would say. I don’t know. I never got him but he was three-feet, plus. I never saw a whitefish that big in my life. Never. You know, and I was so angry at myself because he was going to be on my wall. He wouldn’t fit in the net; he was that big! He got away! You know, something big like that, he busted out of there. Never got him back, I’ll tell you.

“Another time fishing out of Algoma something came up in the net. I didn’t know what the heck it was, except I knew it was some kind of a weapon. It was about that long, about that big around (three feet long and six inches in diameter). Oh, it scared me. I didn’t know if it was live or what it was. I didn’t have a clue. But I put it in the truck and I brung it over to the police station.

“And here I come walking in to the police station with that damn big…well, all the cops, when saw me, they tore off running out the back door. (Laughter.) But I mean, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have a clue! Later I found out that they were them dummies (unarmed missiles) that they were firing for practice. I think the Navy was doing that all up and down the Lake Michigan shore.”

Alvin and Sandy Anderson partners in life and in their family’s fishing business.  —photo Katherine Keller

Alvin and Sandy Anderson partners in life and in their family’s fishing business.
—photo Katherine Keller

A different catch

Alvin joined the Army, serving in the Korean War from 1951 to 1953. Stationed near Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, he was part of the amphibious corps, where he skippered a Landing Ship Tank (LST) landing craft that carried tanks in its cargo hold. Prior to his military service and again after he returned to civilian life, Alvin and his brother Floyd lived in Port Wing, Wis. and fished Lake Superior. In 1956 Alvin moved to Algoma, where his brothers Clarence and Clyde has established a fishery. The following year he met Sandy Dier, an Algoma native. Her father, Raymond Dier, was German and Bohemian and her mother, Laverne Corbisier was French Canadian and Native American. Sandy said she liked Alvin right away.

“It was the parade in Algoma, “ Sandy Anderson said. “You were in your fancy car with all these college girls and you seen me. And then you pointed me out to Regina and Regina introduced us. He was 22 and I was 16.”

“Oh…yeah,” Alvin said. “I never regretted. Almost 56 years.”

“And we were married when I was 16,” Sandy said. “We met in March of ’57 and we were married in August of ‘57.” (She turned 17 the following month.)

“We got married on her mother and dad’s anniversary,” Alvin said. “Thirty-first of August.”

“I told my mom, either you let us get married or I’ll have to get married,” laughed Sandy. “He proposed to me on the second date.” (She accepted.)

“When you know you got the right one, you better put the hook in,” Alvin said, with a twinkle.

Unbundled new net meshes

New meshes, still in their original bundles. —photo Katherine Keller

Sandy Anderson was a whiz working the needle to sew the nets to the lines that supported the floats, leads, and meshes (netting).

Sandy Anderson was a whiz working the needle to sew the nets to the lines that supported the floats, leads, and meshes (netting). —photo Katherine Keller

These trapezoidal net boxes, (lower right) are marked “A B” for Anderson Brothers, the name of Alvin and his brothers’ first fishing company.  —photo Katherine Keller

These trapezoidal net boxes are marked “A B” for Anderson Brothers, the name of Alvin and his brothers’ first fishing company. —photo Katherine Keller

Family business

Not long after they were married, Sandy began working with Alvin. She learned to mend and string gill nets. Floats are attached to the top lines and leads are attached to the bottom lines. The floats and leads keep the net vertical in the water. Fish swim into a gill net and get caught in the meshes—the net. When the nets are hauled up into the boat with a mechanical “lifter,” the crew picks the fish from the nets. The nets are folded and stored in net boxes until they’re set out again.

“Sewing nets started out when we first got married,” Sandy said. “And soon after that, I was pregnant with Dan and I wanted to be with the husband, you know. “So he was making new nets and I was [threading] needles for him.”

“We were making new nets. We bought the meshes and then you’d sew them on to the lines. That’s what we did,” Alvin said.

“All of a sudden he said, ‘Well, you’re good at crocheting and embroidery — needlework. I want you to learn how do to this.’

“And I said, ‘Oh, okay,’ you know, to please him. I can tell you after a week, I was faster than he was,” Sandy said.

“She never made a mistake. And the best part, she never made a mistake. Never made a mistake and that was very critical,” Alvin said. “If you made a mistake, it was wrong all the way through…”

“And then it doesn’t fish right,” Scott Slick explained.

Scott Slick demonstrates how a net box serves as comfy quarters to rest or sleep. He slept in boxes like these on board fishing boats. Sandy and Alvin Anderson tucked their infant son Dan among pillows and blankets when Sandy was sometimes called on help crew the boat.                       —photo Katherine Keller

Scott Slick demonstrates how a net box serves as comfy quarters to rest or sleep. He slept in boxes like these on board fishing boats. Sandy and Alvin Anderson tucked their infant son Dan among pillows and blankets when Sandy was sometimes called on help crew the boat. —photo Katherine Keller

Baby on board

Alvin and Sandy Anderson have two sons, Dan and Steve. When they were first married, Sandy helped out on the boat, in addition to sewing and mending nets. Not long after their firstborn Dan joined the family, he joined the crew. Alvin hired a crew member but needed a third. Dan was three-months-old the first time he was out on the water with his mother and father.

Anderson was given a model of his boat the D & S. The boat’s initials stand for his sons’ first names, Dan and Steve. —photo Katherine Keller

Anderson was given a model of his boat the D & S. The boat’s initials stand for his sons’ first names, Dan and Steve. —photo Katherine Keller

“We used to fish mid-lake, 40-45 miles out. It would take four hours or plus to get there. I think we used to leave the dock around 4 in the morning, 3:30 or 4 in the morning. It was eight hours, at least eight hours running time. When we were catching chubs. They were right on the bottom — 28, 30 to 30 fathoms. (A fathom is six feet.)

“I was his crew, you know. Alvin had one crew member, but he wanted three in the boat, so, I was one of the crew. And then when one of the guys got sick, then I crewed after Dan was born,” Sandy said. “We used to take a fish box, I had a good one at that time, and I had pillows and a blanket in there so it was nice and soft. I put the baby in there and made sure he was fed and changed before we got to the nets.”

“The boat rocked. What better kind of cradle could you get?” Alvin said.

B:W shot of olden days shacks

Looking west from the Becher Street bridge at Alvin Anderson’s fishing sheds and boat. Date unknown.
—photo courtesy Scott Slick

Boats & Shacks SCOTT SLICK

Fishing boats moored next to Alvin Anderson’s sheds on the Kinnickinnic River when his fishing business was still operating. —photo Scott Slick

Shacks on KK when active SCOTT SLICK

Alvin Anderson’s dockside fishing operation when it was still active, when there were was still a commercial fishery in Lake Michigan. Date unknown. —courtesy Scott Slick

“There was a couple reasons we moved down here,” Alvin said. “The fish seemed to be getting less up there and it was getting harder to transport your product to the market. There was so many more fish down here.

“Down here I made a deal with a big fish company in Chicago (Joe’s Fisheries, 1438 W. Cortland St.) They came and picked up the fish and everyday. We got along perfectly. Never no problems. If they quoted you a price, that’s what you got paid.

“Way back when we first moved down here, we caught three, four thousand pounds a day.” Alvin said. “Chubs were big back then. So they were probably two fish to a pound. The biggest lift I had was 4,900. I think we got around 25 cents a pound. But then when the fishing got a little scarce, man, then at the end we were getting a buck a pound, or a buck and a quarter, you know.”

“A thousand pounds a day, that’s a thousand bucks,” Sandy said.



This old style wooden fish box and and the newer plastic versions were packed with ice and fish to take the harvest to market. — photo Katherine Keller

This old style wooden fish box and and the newer plastic versions were packed with ice and fish to take the harvest to market. — photo Katherine Keller

When the boys were in school, Sandy began to take the fish to market.

“When Dan was in high school (Boys Trade and Technical High School) and Steve was still at Fritsche (Middle School), I used to haul fish to Chicago. I’d leave about 3:30 in the morning and I’d drive to Chicago, unload the fish, and then I would come back home and get the boys up, and off to school,” Sandy said.

“It was a pickup truck. We put built a wooden box so we could haul a lot more fish. One year, (about 1980 or so) I got caught up in, in the trucker’s strike. I used to go to Russell Road to the truck stop and I used to go there to fuel up sometimes I got caught there with the truckers. But I had two dogs with me and when the truckers would come to the window, I’d roll the window down, they’d see the dogs and they’d back off I drove in and out of the pumps and away I went! I prevailed.”

Alvin Anderson’s fishing sheds along the Kinnickinnic River, east of Second Street, are dormant now, a vestige of a vocation that disappeared from Lake Michigan with the trout, whitefish, chub, and perch, earlier this decade.            —photo Katheirne Keller

Alvin Anderson’s fishing sheds along the Kinnickinnic River, east of Second Street, are dormant now, a vestige of a vocation that disappeared from Lake Michigan with the trout, whitefish, chub, and perch, earlier this decade. —photo Katheirne Keller

Decimated fishery

“Something that I never ever thought I’d see is that the chubs would disappear. That, and all the invasive species. They come in through the ocean ships. They put all that garbage in our lake and now we got nothing, lamented Alvin.

“Perch was always, most species, always were a cycle. Up and down, up and down, but then when all these zebra mussels came in, took the food away. And they clarify the water and there’s no food. They’re worthless. And four or five years ago or so they had that virus in the water here. See, a chub is a very delicate fish and it don’t take much to do them in. I still think probably that virus that was in the water. I’m just curious if that didn’t do the chubs in.”

The good life

Anderson reflected on his 65-year career on the water.

“You’re free. You’ve got beautiful fresh air. It’s a way of life. It’s a good life, but you gotta like it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful life. I would not trade or change my life for anything. Never. I never got put in a shop. I never punched a clock. Ha! Sure, the hours were long but I never minded it. Hey, it was a way of life!”

At the end of the interview we asked Mr. Anderson if he ever considered operating a charger fishing business after his injury and developing arthritis?

“Noooo!” he said. (Laughter) Now you just swore at me!”

Wire rim spectacles hang over a bathymetric (depth) chart of Middle Lake Michigan on the wall of Alvin Anderson’s net shed. —photo Katherine Keller

Wire rim spectacles hang over a bathymetric (depth) chart of Middle Lake Michigan on the wall of Alvin Anderson’s net shed. —photo Katherine Keller


HISTORIC BAY VIEW — Frolicking in Bay View

March 1, 2013

By Ron Winkler

Nearly seven decades of festivals and fireworks

The 1949 evening gown contest.  — courtesy Ron Winkler

The 1949 evening gown contest. — courtesy Ron Winkler

Former Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier referred to it as “the granddaddy of all city festivals.” No, he was not talking about Summerfest. He was referring to the South Shore Water Frolic, held for the first time in 1949 and every year since, with the exception of 1993. Summerfest debuted in 1968 and the ethnic festivals followed, all modeled on the success of the Frolic, especially with its lakefront location.

The South Shore Water Frolic evolved from an older festival, the South Shore Yacht Club’s old Hi-Jinks, a product of the 1930s. Hi-Jinks featured boat races, water stunts, swimming exhibitions, a beauty pageant, talent show, and doll parade. Sunday evening brought Venetian night, with decorated boats displaying strings of lanterns on their riggings. Fireworks marked the festival’s close.

Hi-Jinks was discontinued during World War II, but was resurrected by the Interorganization Council, comprised of a dozen civic, service, and fraternal organizations. The new event, named the South Shore Water Frolic, retained the same activities as the former Hi-Jinks, and was held for the first time in August 1949.

As the South Shore Yacht Club grew in size and expanded its mooring facilities, the Frolic’s water activities were discontinued and new events were staged on dry land. The parade was added and the beauty pageant became popular. Contestants were identified by the business names of their sponsors, displayed on their sashes Some may remember titles, sometimes approaching the ironic or mirthful, such as Miss BiltRite Furniture (1980), Miss Rich’s Auto Body (1987), and Miss Rudy’s Big Beer Bar (1977).

In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the Frolic attracted around 200,000 people. The spectacular fireworks that closed each day are still the most popular event.

Lake Training Band in the 1961 parade at Kinnickinnic and Dover. The house and gas station were replaced in 1993 by the Bay View Library.  — courtesy Ron Winkler

Lake Training Band in the 1961 parade at Kinnickinnic and Dover. The house and gas station were replaced in 1993 by the Bay View Library. — courtesy Ron Winkler

The Frolic has had good luck with weather and has never been completely rained out, although rain has occasionally put a damper on part of the weekend’s festivities. The biggest problem faced by the Frolic is money, the majority being spent for insurance and fireworks. The Frolic almost scuttled in 1986 and 1990, but by 1993 the financial crisis forced its cancellation. Another problem that year was the lack of volunteers; although there were plenty of people willing to help, the bylaws of the Interorganization Council required volunteers to belong to a group within the council.

The event was back in 1994—the Bay View Lions Club, one of the Interorganization Council members, took charge, with assistance from the South Milwaukee, St. Francis, and Oak Creek Lions. There was a change in the bylaws that allowed nonmembers to work at the event and it was renamed the South Shore Frolics. The beauty pageant was dropped, the festival expanded to Friday evening with a fish boil, music, and a movie on the beach for children. A few years later, a mini-fireworks display was added on Friday night. Since that time, in a continuing effort to make the Frolics a family event, other activities have been added such as a classic car show, kiddy carnival, food vendors, and an arts and crafts show.

In the past, even when the festival competed against the Great Circus Parade, Bastille Days, and the Greater Milwaukee Open—sometimes all on the same weekend—it still held its own and today attracts about 50,000-70,000 people. That is quite an accomplishment, considering that volunteers do everything, and with funding coming from area businesses. Bay Viewers can be proud to have Milwaukee’s original festival, which in 1954 inspired former Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler to remark, “New Orleans has its Mardi Gras and St. Paul its Winter Carnival. Here in Milwaukee we can take pride in our city’s largest outdoor event, the South Shore Water Frolic.”

Sprucing up local icon—will you help?

August 1, 2012

—photo Katherine Keller

The Bay View Historical Society is seeking volunteers to donate a few hours of time at the Beulah Brinton House, 2590 S. Superior St., Saturday, Sept. 8.

Volunteers are needed to help with yard work, small repair jobs, window washing, and paint touch-up. Work begins at 10am. Sign up for the task you wish to help with when you arrive.

The Beulah Brinton House is owned by the Bay View Historical Society. It is the former home of Beulah Brinton (1836-1928), who welcomed immigrant families into her home in the late 19th century and early 20th century. She shared her library with them, taught them skills such as reading, cooking, and sewing and helped them to assimilate.

The historic home, built in 1872, serves as the society’s headquarters and houses its archives. The house is also used for educational and social activities that honor the legacy of Beulah Brinton.

For more info about the Sept. 8 work project: call Donna:
(414) 324-5690 or

Milwaukee sculptor Wiken, new book

July 2, 2012

Bay View writer Anna Passante has published Dick Wiken, Milwaukee Architectural Sculptor. Wiken graduated from Bay View High School in 1931. Self-taught, he was an established, well known architectural sculptor by the 1950s, respected for his work in wood, stone, and metal. Many examples of his work survive in the Milwaukee area, in Fond du Lac, Marshfield, and in Guaymas, Mexico.

To purchase the book or for more information: (414) 482-1781 or

Ambrose F. Ferri survived Pearl Harbor, grew up in Bay View

December 30, 2011

By Anna Passante

Ferri in 2008 conducting a Two-Bell Ceremony Memorial Tribute for the seven Chicago Sailors and Marines who sacrificed their lives aboard the battleship USS Arizona. ~U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom

Ambrose F. Ferri of Waukegan, Ill. died this past October of heart failure at the age of 92. He was a survivor of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, while serving on the USS Vestal. Ferri grew up in Bay View. In a phone interview this past summer, Ferri recounted his memories, including exploits of mischief perpetrated by him and his buddies.

Born Oct. 29, 1918, in Rockford, Ill., when Ferri was 4 his family moved to Bay View’s Little Italy. He attended Dover Street School and Trowbridge School and played at the former Wentworth Street Playground (2500 block) and the Pryor Street Playground (now Lewis Field). He graduated from Bay View High School.

To go for a dip in the lake, young Ferri and friends descended the stairs at the foot of E. Russell Avenue and swam off the piers in their birthday suits. Katie Canning, a former Bay View resident, remembers standing with her friends on the hill, spying on the boys swimming naked. Miss Elizabeth Morgan, a Trowbridge School teacher known as “straight-laced,” lived on the hill and chased the girls away. One time, Ferri recalled, a patrol officer caught the boys climbing the stairs. With bodies dripping wet, they denied the charge of unlawful swimming. Luckily, Ferri recalled, they got off with a warning.

Spending money was tight in the Depression years of the 1930s, but a paper route earned Ferri a few dollars. He also sold the Milwaukee Sentinel in front of the drugstore at the southwest corner of S. Delaware and E. Pryor avenues, whose name he did not recall. Business was good, since it was a streetcar stop.

Ferri also made money by going door-to-door on Saturday evenings to collect weekly dollar streetcar passes. Though they may have been used for the entire work week, the passes didn’t expire until midnight on Saturday. Hence, the teenage Ferri realized they had value to those slightly elder “young fellas,” who used the streetcar to pick up their Saturday night dates. Ferri, the young entrepreneur, resold them the passes for 10 cents each.

Ferri recalled that some earnings were spent at the Lake and Avalon movie theaters. The show began with a newsreel, then “funnies,” and finally the main movie. At the conclusion the ushers escorted everyone out of the theater before ushering in the next group of moviegoers. Ferri and friends would hide at the rear of the theater to see the films a second time.

Another bit of mischief was to get a free ride on the streetcar. Some of the boys entered through the front, paid their fare, and then ran to the back door to let their friends on. Sometimes they got caught.

Bust of Ferri by Dick Wiken. ~photo courtesy Jori Wiken Flanner

A bit of the mischievous may be glimpsed in the likeness of Ferri sculpted by a former Bay View High School student, Dick Wiken, who assisted the art teacher after he graduated. Ferri sat as Wiken’s model in a high school art class. At the time Ferri was 15. Entitled Little Italy, the sculpture was exhibited at the 1933 Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors exhibition and the 1935 Bay View Art Exhibit. Wiken became a well-known architectural sculptor. The whereabouts of the sculptured head is unknown.

At age 20 Ferri joined the U.S. Navy and in 1941 was serving as a third-class petty officer on the USS Vestal, a repair ship attached to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Ferri was on the Vestal during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Vestal sustained some damage during the attack but did not sink. Seven crewmembers were killed.

After his discharge from service, Ferri married Ruby Nasett and bought a house on S. Superior Street near Potter Avenue in Bay View. In 1953, Ferri was called back to service for the Korean War and remained in the Navy until his retirement in 1966. He was residing in Waukegan, Ill. at the time of his death.

St. Amelian’s orphanage survived three fires between 1855 and 1989

December 1, 2011

By Anna Passante


A drawing of the original 1854 orphanage. — Image courtesy St. Francis of Assisi Convent

Three fires ravaged St. Aemilian’s Orphanage, but after each fire the orphanage rose from the ashes like the mythical phoenix and was reborn. Surprisingly no one was injured or killed in any of the three fires. The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, who ran the orphanage, probably attributed the lack of injuries or fatalities to the orphanage’s namesake, St. Aemilian, the protector of orphans.

The second building prior to the 1895 fire. — photo courtesy St. Francis of Assisi Convent

The first fire took place in the spring of 1855, a year after St. Aemilian’s had moved from downtown Milwaukee (E. Wells and N. Van Buren streets) to the grounds of the newly built St. Francis Seminary on present-day S. Lake Drive. (At the time the site was in the Town of Lake, but in 1951 was incorporated as the city of St. Francis.) A carpenter started this fire while heating glue. It was devastating. Only a few walls remained, with a damage estimate of $2,000.

The burned-out buildings after the 1895 fire. — photo courtesy New Assisi Archives, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi

The second fire happened 40 years later, starting in the printing office on Dec. 11, 1895. Foreman Joseph Leutcher and several of the orphan boys were finishing up a printing job, and around 6pm one of the boys tipped over a kerosene lamp. Town of Lake fire engines No. 7 and No. 12 responded to the blaze, as well as two engines from Bay View. By 8pm, nearly the entire population of St. Francis and several hundred people from Milwaukee were at the fire scene.

Students and priests set up a bucket brigade. Staff, students, and volunteers threw bedding, bedsteads, dressers, and clothing out the windows. Bystanders, often hindered by deep snow, carried the articles to safety. Water from the orphanage’s artesian well was used up in the first hour, so the firefighters connected their hoses to the well at the nearby St. Francis Seminary. Fanned by high winds, the fire threatened the seminary and convent buildings as well as the nearby village. Luckily, the wind shifted, sparing these buildings. By 2:30am the fire was out. The main building, the chapel, and the print office building were totaling destroyed. All that remained was the 1894 addition.

Damage totaled $60,000, insurance covering $53,000. All of the 26 staff and the 224 resident boys escaped unharmed.

Rebuilding started immediately. A new main building and chapel were connected to the surviving building and dedicated on June 28, 1896. The cost was $40,000.

The third building prior to the 1930 fire. — photo courtesy St. Francis of Assisi Convent

The burned-out buildings after the 1930 fire. — photo courtesy New Assisi Archives, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi

The third fire at the rebuilt complex happened on May 22, 1930. At 1am three men and a woman were driving down S. Lake Drive past the orphanage when they saw a fire on the south end of the complex. They threw bricks at the windows to get the attention of the sleeping residents, luckily targeting staff bedrooms. The nuns took charge of the 190 boys but “found that escape from the orphanage was cut off in several directions,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Still, within 10 minutes the nuns directed them to the fire escapes and safety. Father Joseph Baier was called a hero, because he felt every bed in the dormitories to make sure no boy was left behind.

Flames shot 100 feet into the air and were seen several miles away. The fire, fanned by high winds, was already out of control by the time firemen from Town of Lake and Milwaukee responded. All the buildings were destroyed—the chapel, the dormitories, and the school rooms. Again, there were no injuries or deaths. Damage was set at $350,000. According to news accounts, fire investigators determined that the fire was of an incendiary nature, but the cause was never officially determined.

Conditions were crowded after the 1930 fire. After the 1930 fire, some of the boys were housed at the convent. — photo courtesy New Assisi Archives, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi


Beds line the seminary gym to accommodate boys after the 1930 fire. — photo courtesy New Assisi Archives, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi

The younger children were fed at St. Francis Convent, and sleeping quarters were set up for the orphans in the seminary gymnasium. Shortly after, the orphans were moved to a former Lutheran Seminary building owned by the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese at 60th and Lloyd streets in Milwaukee and later to a summer camp, Camp Villa Jerome, at Friess Lake. Land for a new orphanage was purchased in 1937 at 89th and West Capitol Drive in Milwaukee, but it took nearly 20 years for a new building.

In 1989 St. Aemilian merged with Lakeside Children’s Center and is now called St. Aemilian-Lakeside. Presently the center provides foster care, education, and mental health services to children, families, and adults.

Nothing remains of the old St. Francis orphanage except for two old pillars along the St. Francis Seminary driveway that stand sentry at the old entrance to the asylum.

Row houses at 2553-65 S. Logan Ave.

November 1, 2011

By Anna Passante

A 2011 view of the row houses, originally built in 1894. ~photo Katherine Keller

Row houses, a group of connected townhouses, were popular in Chicago and New York City in the 1890s, but the trend never caught on in Milwaukee. One of the few examples in Milwaukee, however, is found in Bay View at 2553-65 S. Logan Ave.

Built in 1894, each of the five units has about 1,500 square feet of living space. Local contractor Anton Stollenwerk designed and built them at a cost of $6,000. He owned the property until 1902, when he lost it due to bankruptcy.

A wooden roller skating rink once occupied the site and was razed to make way for the houses. In 1902 a group of investors bought the row houses, and in 1921 Spanish-American War veteran Herman Taubenheim and his wife Anna bought them and lived in the unit addressed 2559 until about 1941. According to the present owner, Betty Ruehl, Taubenheim’s unit was the fanciest of the four, with ornate woodwork and decorative doorknobs.

Each unit is identical in floor plan, Ruehl said, with a living room, dining room, a wood-carved open stairway—plus a maid’s room on the first floor. The second floor has three bedrooms. The master suite stretches across the front of the unit and includes a small separate sitting room. Ruehl has owned the row houses since 1977.

Masonic Lake Lodge #189

November 1, 2011

By Anna Passante

This gray three-story building at 2234-38 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. today owned today by Ada Duffey once hosted the Lake Lodge in the late 1800s. ~photo Michael Timm

Fraternal organizations were plentiful in Bay View during the late 1800s. The first to organize in Bay View were the Freemasons, followed by the Odd Fellows, Good Templars, and many others. The main attraction of these men-only clubs was the opportunity to engage in social and recreational activities.

The roots of Freemasonry extend back to the medieval stonemasons who built the great cathedrals of Europe. In order to protect their trade secrets, these men formed a primitive trade union consisting of groups they called lodges. Later, those outside of the stone trade were allowed to join.

In 1843 the first Freemason lodge was established in Milwaukee, located downtown, and in 1869 a second lodge opened on Milwaukee’s south side at Second and Oregon streets. By 1872 Bay View-area Masons desired their own lodge, and they enlisted the help of the Freemasons who worked at Bay View’s Milwaukee Iron Company. In September 1872 the Lake Lodge #189, 22 members strong, met for the first time at Puddler’s Hall, 2461-63 S. Clair St.

Most members of Lake Lodge were small businessmen or workers at the Milwaukee Iron Company. Prominent Bay View members included lawyer Theobald Otjen, hardware store owner Charles Lenck, mill puddler Jacob Bullock, and blast furnace builder John Meredith.

Historically, nonmembers have labeled Freemasonry as a “secret society” that conceals their activities and inner functions by the use of secret oaths, passwords, signs, and handshakes. According to Michael Clinnin of the Lake Lodge, the original medieval-era Freemasons felt a need to keep their cathedral construction techniques a secret within their lodges. “Without any of the security or verification methods we have today,” said Clinnin, “they used secret signs and handshakes to identify each other.” (Present-day Masons use security measures, such as ID cards and computer passwords. Freemasonry is no longer seen as secretive, Clinnin said, and it is difficult to hide your affiliation. “Everyone would see you go into the lodge, attend a funeral, or march in a parade.”)

In 1887 Bay View Freemason member Gustave Kuehnel built a three-story Queen Anne style building at 2234-38 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Kuehnel, a druggist, had his drug store on the first floor and lived on the second. Lake Lodge moved from Puddler’s Hall to the third floor of this building, which still exists today.

The former home of Lake Lodge #189 at 2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. is now home to the Bay View Brew Haus. ~photo Michael Timm

For 20 years the Lake Lodge met at the Kuehnel location. In 1908 a new building was constructed at 2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., designed by architect Charles L. Lesser in the Classic Revival style.

Present location of Lake Lodge #189 at 1235 E. Howard Ave. ~photo Michael Timm

The lodge met here on the second floor, but due to the lack of parking and the inconvenience of a second floor meeting room, in 1963 Lake Lodge built a new building at 1235 E. Howard Ave., where they remain today. According to Clinnin, the Lake Lodge presently has 350 members.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish

September 1, 2011

For nearly 142 years Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish has served the Catholic community of St. Francis, Wis. When Sacred Heart was founded in 1869, St. Francis was not a town, but rather a settlement or neighborhood in the former Town of Lake. The settlement took its name from the nearby St. Francis Seminary, which was established in the area in 1854. It would take until 1951 for St. Francis to secede from Town of Lake and incorporate as a city.

The first Sacred Heart church building, built in 1872. ~image from Sacred Heart of Jesus Golden Jubilee Souvenir Book, 1869-1918

According to a Sacred Heart anniversary booklet, Catholic immigrants began settling in the future St. Francis area in 1844. There were no local Catholic churches in the area, so they had to travel a distance to attend Sunday services at St. John’s Cathedral and old St. Mary’s in downtown Milwaukee. By 1850 they were able to attend Holy Trinity Church, dedicated that year in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, and St. Stephen’s in New Coeln, established in 1847, another Town of Lake settlement (named for Cologne, Germany), located near College and Howell avenues.

The first Sacred Heart church building, built in 1872. ~image from Sacred Heart of Jesus Golden Jubilee Souvenir Book, 1869-1918

Influx of Catholics

In 1854 the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese completed their seminary on 48 acres of Town of Lake land, situated along the Lake Michigan shoreline on present-day S. Lake Drive. That same year St. Aemilian’s Orphanage moved from downtown Milwaukee to the seminary grounds, and the children of the settlers attended school at the orphanage.


Sacred Heart’s second schoolhouse, built in 1872. ~image from Sacred Heart of Jesus Golden Jubilee Souvenir Book, 1869-1918

In 1866 the settlers got their own schoolhouse, a converted house, located on the site of present-day St. Thomas More High School. A professor from the seminary, Rev. J. A. Birkhaeuser, came to the school every day to give the children instruction in religion and other subjects.

As the number of Catholic settlers increased, seminary rector Dr. Joseph Salzmann invited the settlers to attend Mass at the seminary chapel. By 1868 there were enough settlers to form a congregation, and on Dec. 29. 1868, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Congregation was founded. Reverend Kilian Flasch was appointed as pastor.

 Kilian Flasch, Sacred Heart’s first pastor, 1868. ~photo from Sacred Heart of Jesus Golden Jubilee Souvenir Book, 1869-1918

Sacred Heart’s Early Days

With Flasch as their spiritual advisor, the settlers continued to attend Mass at the seminary until 1872. That year the congregation purchased three acres of land from the seminary for $300 at the present-day intersection of E. St. Francis and S. Kinnickinnic avenues. A Gothic Revival style wood frame church was built at a cost of $2,000. Architect Victor Schulte, a resident of Town of Lake, designed the church. Schulte had also designed St. John’s Cathedral, Old St. Mary Church, Holy Trinity Church, and the St. Francis Seminary. The new Sacred Heart Church measured just 90 feet by 35 feet. It seated 100.



 Mathias Gernbauer

At that point Mathias Gernbauer served as pastor with no pay, walking from the seminary each day. On cold winter days he carried “an armful of kindling wood and started fire in the box stove in order to have the church comfortable for the people,” according to an anniversary booklet. Also in 1872 a new school was built at a cost of $1,200 near the new church, and later a brick rectory was built at a cost of $1,300.

 Sacred Heart’s 1888 school building with the 1909 addition. ~photo from pre-1920 photo souvenir album

 The second Sacred Heart church building, built in 1886. ~photo from pre-1920 photo souvenir album

Growth & New Construction

By 1886 the parish had outgrown its church building. The old wooden church was sold to George Goelz for $200. It was replaced with a new brick church designed by Adolphus Druiding of Chicago. Built at a cost of $14,000, it measured 104 by 45 feet.

Two years later the school building suffered the same fate. It was sold to John Grobschmidt for $200 and replaced by a new brick building at a cost of $3,500. There were two schoolrooms on the first floor and the two rooms on the second floor served as a residence for the nuns, who taught at the school. A four-room addition, a duplicate of the old section, was built in 1909. A new rectory was built in the 1890s at a cost $4,000.

Sacred Heart Cemetery Mortuary Chapel, since razed. ~photo courtesy Archdiocese of Milwaukee

A cemetery was established just west of the church, and the first burial took place in June 1876. Before this, settlers were buried near the St. Aemilian’s Orphanage, and in 1888 those bodies were re-interred in the seminary’s cemetery located in what is now known by locals as the Seminary Woods. In 1914 architect Peter Brust, a parish member, designed a mortuary chapel (since razed) for Sacred Heart’s cemetery.

Due to increased membership, in 1961 a new church/school combination building was constructed to replace the old 1886 church, which was razed. In the new (present-day) building, the church and rectory were on the first floor and the school on the second and third floors.

While increased membership in 1886 and 1961 led to expansion, in 2011 the opposite occurred. Declining membership resulted in a need for a smaller church. Presently the church sanctuary is being downsized, the former classrooms are being turned into senior apartments, and an addition extends northward into the former parking lot providing additional senior rental units.

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