In case you missed our last article, the great city of Milwaukee was created by three “Founding Fathers.” Solomon Juneau – the fur-trading, courthouse-creating, father of thirteen – was the first to settle along the Milwaukee River in 1818. Fast-forward to 1834 and we meet Byron Kilbourn.

Byron Kilbourn and his beard. Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Byron Kilbourn and his beard. Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society.

Byron Kilbourn, born in Connecticut in 1801, was the son of a U.S. Representative. He came to Milwaukee in order to strike it rich by buying and selling land: think of it as 19th century house flipping.

Byron Kilbourn was a “Coastie”. As a “Sconnie”, I was often left confused by the “Coasties” of the Northeast while attending UW-Madison. When Kilbourn came to Milwaukee he brought Northeastern culture, which forever changed the Milwaukee area.

Kilbourn settled west of the Milwaukee River. Modern day Kilbourn Town consists of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Milwaukee Public Museum, and the Riverside Theater, to name a few. Here Byron Kilbourn created a community, contracted buildings, and established a newspaper, The Milwaukee Advertiser.


Map of Kilbourn Town. Courtesy of Google Maps

Kilbourn settled across the river from Juneautown. If you remember, Solomon Juneau was a big man, and he was not intimated by a gentleman from Connecticut. In fact, Solomon Juneau wanted to work with Byron Kilbourn, selling land and creating the city; but Kilbourn refused. This ultimately created a lot of tension that finally boiled over in 1845 – but more on that in future articles…

Though he refused to work with Solomon Juneau,  Kilbourn truly helped develop the state of Wisconsin. During the Antebellum period of United States history, railroads changed the industry of the North. As a native of the Northeast, Kilbourn understood this successful industry, and he created the first railroad in Wisconsin. His track traveled from Milwaukee to LaCrosse by way of the Wisconsin Dells, which was originally named Kilbourn City after the man who founded it. Kilbourn was also elected Mayor of Milwaukee in 1848 and 1854.

During the Kilbourn era, another man settled to the south. Who do you think it was? How will his presence change Milwaukee? Find out next time!

2 thoughts on “The Founding Fathers of Milwaukee: Byron Kilbourn

  1. What about Garret Vliet, the government surveyor from NJ who supposedly laid out the streets of Milwaukee? …and was an associate of Kilbourn?

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