Three men settled and established the great city of Milwaukee, but they did not get along… at all. As alluded to in previous articles, Solomon Juneau, Byron Kilbourn and George H. Walker ran into some issues. It’s the climax of our Founding Fathers’ story: The Bridge War of 1845.
In the 1840s the Milwaukee area was a good land, to say the least. Byron Kilbourn, George Walker, and Solomon Juneau did their best to get people to settle on their own side of the river: Solomon on the east, Byron on the west, and George in the south. The more that people settled in each area, the more that commerce increased, trading developed, and the Founding Fathers became wealthier. Each use their respective newspapers to help draw the crowd.
Kilbourn decided to purposefully establish the streets on the west side of the river so they did not line up with those on the east side of the river (remember, Kilbourn is the most unlikeable of the Founding Fathers). This ultimately caused the bridges across the river to be built on an angle to connect the streets that did not line up. This is still true in Milwaukee today- take a look at the map above.
Things became more and more heated between the three sides as settlers felt a strong connection to their neighborhood. When people from Juneautown built a bridge connecting the east part of the city, inhabitants of Kilbourntown chopped the bridge down, sending it into the Milwaukee River. So of course when residents of the west side built the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge, those from the east tore it down too. Though the name is perhaps a bit of hyperbole, this was The Bridge War of 1845.
Thankfully, no one was killed in this war of bridges, but the skirmishes that occurred prevented the city from progressing. Eventually, as time went on, the people of Milwaukee came together and built three bridges: one at the foot of Water Street, one at Wisconsin Avenue, and finally one at the end of Cherry Street.
This collaboration opened the doors to the three neighborhoods uniting. In 1846 the city of Milwaukee was established combining the neighborhoods of Kilbourntown, Juneautown, and Walker’s Point. Two years later, the state of Wisconsin was established, bringing forth a diverse group of settlers who created the city and state that we love.