Thursday, September 04, 2014

Fond du Lac to Milwaukee

On our way from Fond du Lac to Milwaukee, we stopped at the Dheinsville Settlement just outside Germantown.  It's an historic 1850's original German settlement with several of the older buildings still standing, including the 1862 Christ Church, an 1854 Hotel, along with a few others. The settlement dates back to 1842, and it was a good stop for a quick fix of history.

Another quick stop found us in Menomonee Falls. A suburb of Milwaukee, it was
established in 1892 on the Menomonee River, which the city has damned creating a water fall. The downtown area has kept it's historic charm despite the influx of population from the city over the years.

The region around the confluence of three rivers, the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, into Lake Michigan, was originally inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Fox, Winnebago, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Sauk, Menominee and Mascouten. European missionaries and traders were passing through by the late 17th and early 18th century. French Canadian Alexis Laframboise established a trading post here in 1785.

The rivers saw the first official European settlements around 1818, with French Canadian explorer Solomon Juneau establishing Juneautown. It was in competition with two others that formed quickly after, Kilbourntown and Walkers Point.

Leading up to 1840 these settlements went through some intense rivalries that culminated in what is now known as the "Milwaukee Bridge War". Mainly between Juneautown on the east side of the Milwaukee River, and Kilbourntown on the west side, the trouble began when Kilbourntown tried to isolate Juneautown to make it more dependant on them. A planned bridge over the river threatened Kilbourntown's plans, and in 1845 Byron Kilbourn, founder of his settlement, destroyed part of the bridge under construction.  Two smaller bridges were destroyed by men of Juneautown in an attempt to cut off Kilbourn from the east and south side.  It was after this that they decided the best way forward would be to make better efforts to cooperate, and in 1846 the three settlements united into one city as Milwaukee.

The name Milwaukee comes from a Native word meaning "Gathering place by the water", and was known in the early days as Milwacky, Milwarck, Milwauki and even Melleorki.

German immigrants made up a large portion of Milwaukee's early growth. So much so that clubs and societies created here made a lasting impact on American life.  Did you know it was the Germans that created Kindergarten? They also incorpoated sports, music and art into regular school curriculums. By the turn of the 20th Century, Germans made up a third of Milwaukee's population.

Polish immigrants too had and impact on the city, especially in its churches, with steeples that dot the skyline providing some beautiful views with breathtaking architecture. Milwaukee boasts the fifth largest Polish population in the U.S. to this day (around 45,000), but it was as high as 100,000 in 1915.

Other nations' immigrants were also attracted to the city on Lake Michigan, and by 1910 Milwaukee was tied with New York City as having the largest percentage of foreign born residents in the U.S.

In 1960, with a population 91% white, the city was one of the largest in the United States at almost 800,000. However it's population began to decline by the late 1960's as many moved to the burbs, and by 1980 it only had around 630,000 residents.  With it's historic districts and rich immigrant history, the city survived and is on it's way back through re-vitalization and efforts to attract new business. The city saw a population increase over the past decade, it's first since 1960.

Today the city is home to the headquarters of six Fortune 500 companies including Harley-Davidson, Joy Global, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, Manpower, and Northwestern Mutual. Other companies based here including Briggs & Stratton, Master Lock, GE Healthcare and others.

Railroads helped shape the cities future as well, with Milwaukee becoming the largest shipper of wheat in the world in 1862. This of course brought the 'suds'.  Milwaukee was at one time the leading producer of beer in the world, home to four of the worlds largest breweries; Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller. It has since declined in this regard, but is still home to the major brewer Miller Brewing Company, the second largest in the U.S. Coors also has a brewery in Miller Valley, the oldest still-functioning major brewery in the country. You may recognize some of these brewery's as they were used as the backdrop in many scenes of the popular sitcoms Happy Days and Lavern and Shirley, which were set in Milwaukee.

We couldn't take a brewery tour at Miller Valley due to some electrical problems during our visit, however we especially enjoyed our time around the old Pabst Brewery with it's many buildings abandoned for years. It gave us a glimpse of the past we wouldn't have just months from now, as these old buildings appear to be slated for demolition soon.

There is a lot to see and do in this city, whether touring the famous brewery's, enjoying the many attractions downtown, or even a dip in Lake Michigan on one of the beaches. Oh, and of course there is baseball and the Brewers (I know, there are other sports here too).  Depending on your cup of tea, this could be a weekend long adventure, or you could just be a drive through history buff like us and spend a day taking in the architecture and sites. We don't normally do large cities and like to write about the smaller places in American History the most, but what ever your taste, there is something for everyone in Milwaukee.

After traveling up the lakeside for a while we headed back making a stop in historic Cedarburg. Founded in the early 1840's by Irish and German settlers on Cedar Creek, they have carefully preserved the city's original structures and the downtown looks much as it did over a hundred years ago. In fact, more than 200 buildings of historical significance remain in the town, and remain in use as shops, homes, museums and more.

Industries here included a woolen mill, lumber and flour mills, a nail factory and a brewery, all which prospered after the railroad arrived in 1870. Although it's area population is around 11,000, Cedarburg has kept it's old world charm and we could tell it was a favorite stop for tourists which crowded the shops downtown during our Labor Day weekend visit.

See our visit to the Milwaukee area in images and read more about the history, including that of the famous breweries, in each photo's description via our Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds in one of their 18 full hookup sites. $20 a night, and only a few other campers there.  Not a place if you are into scenery, but was great for our purposes.  No wifi, but we had excellent AT&T data here (4Glte).  Fond du Lac has a lot to see and is fairly large compared to what we typically do.  The downtown has a market on certain days, and there's lots of history in this area.  Appears it is sometimes difficult to get into a spot at this fairground. As of this writing you really need to arrive when they are in the office.  If not, you may be without a key to unlock electric and water. We were lucky as there is Donny, a great RV'er that stays there a lot and actually was given the key to help others with.  He had to leave though for the weekend and we saw more than one camper pull up and leave shortly after.  We were told in the office that they are considering upgrading their on-line reservation system and campground next year with new procedures that will eliminate this problem.

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