What a beautiful afternoon in Milwaukee today! Perfect weather for coffee at Collectivo’s Lakefront Café with two of my favorite MSOE colleagues, Jim and Jan. These colorful chairs and rain barrel were right next to our outdoor table.
After hearing Jim talk about all the cool photographs he took at a creativity conference last month, I was inspired to snap a cool photo of my own :)
I’d never been to the Collectivo at Milwaukee’s lakefront before today. But for years I’ve admired the building, which houses the “works” of a 126-year-old engineering marvel. Built in 1888, the Milwaukee River Flushing Station pumped water from Lake Michigan down a mile-long tunnel to the North Avenue Dam, where it poured into the Milwaukee River. The fresh lake water literally “flushed” human waste downstream through the river’s downtown Milwaukee channel and then discharged itself back out into the lake.
(A much better solution in my opinion than Chicago’s Sanitary and Ship Canal, known historically as the “Drainage Canal,” which famously reversed the flow of the Chicago River and diverted Lake Michigan water to the Mississippi River. Drainage, indeed!)
The Milwaukee River Flushing Station was designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1992. According to an article in the Milwaukee Sentinel that reported on this recognition, the Milwaukee River had become “a cesspool” by 1888, and “the station was the only equipment that cleaned the river until the sewage system was built in the 1920s.”
Once the Jones Island wastewater treatment plant was built in 1925, the Milwaukee River Flushing Station became unnecessary in terms of its original purpose. However, the pump is still activated occasionally to retain its functionality and to provide additional water flow during periods of hot, dry weather.
Despite the fact that the building was never truly abandoned, it always looked that way to me. Enter Alterra Coffee, now renamed Collectivo, which converted the Flushing Station to a restaurant a few years ago.
Kudos to the popular Milwaukee coffee chain for restoring and maintaining this historic building! Not only has Collectivo rescued a decrepit public utility, but the Café has added greatly to the life of Milwaukee’s lakefront. It’s a fun place to grab a cup of coffee while running, skating, biking, or walking, but it’s also an attractive destination in itself.