Milwaukee has many parks, and city residents often go to them to find respite from urban life and a bit of quiet, or to spend time near nature. While MKE’s smallest park offers none of those things, it comes with the history of an oft-overlooked portion and people of this city. But first you’ll have to find it.
Kaszube’s Park is by far the tiniest park in Milwaukee county; it features a whopping 6 trees, 1 picnic table, and an anchor. Many longtime Milwaukeeans know the south side was predominantly Polish, but few (save this active Facebook group) remember the low-land Polish people known as Kaszubes who inhabited Jones Island. From the 1870s, and for 70-some years after, immigrants from a small Baltic Sea region came to and squatted on Jones Island, living in close quarters and turning the unwanted swampland into a fishing village reminding them of home. This small peninsula (it was never an island) is where old-timey Milwaukeeans went to for their fish frys, as well as being a popular tavern district. In fact, Kaszube’s Park is supposedly located on the site of the tavern owned by Jones Island’s first baby born and final permanent resident: Capt. Felix Struck.
Most Kaszubes did not own the land on Jones Island; it was just that nobody cared. But when the city wanted another harbor (and a place to send their wastewater and, eventually, road ice), it was the free-loading Kaszubes who had to make way. Most of the 1,800 inhabitants dispersed in the 1920s throughout the Bay View area, though Capt. Struck stayed until the 40s.
The park remains to remind us of one of the least-understood and mostly-forgotten ethnic groups in Milwaukee. It’s a bit poetic that the park is so small and so remote. The only way to get to it is via an industrial entrance in Bay View, though in fact it’s a public road: Carferry Dr, following signs from I-794 that lead you to “Port of Milwaukee.”
You’ll see stacks of shipping containers, mountains of road salt, miles of train tracks, and a skinny oak tree above a red sign and an old anchor bearing “S.S. Lisa” graffiti but actually cast with the name “Powell – 1852” (total coincidence). Do yourself a favor and track this little piece of Milwaukee history down, take a seat on the bench, and imagine how much fish those Kaszubes could’ve preserved with the mounds of salt now residing on their home island.