A walking tour of the Milwaukee River’s bridge houses

Two weeks ago I posted about getting stopped at the Wisconsin Avenue drawbridge in downtown Milwaukee.  I was able to illustrate that blog post with two photographs of bridge houses that I found online, but those were basically the ONLY photos I could find online.

Milwaukee’s bridge houses are so full of character that I thought it was a shame not to include some of them.  I promised to follow up with photos in a later post, so this morning I took a walk along Milwaukee’s Riverwalk and snapped several pictures with my own camera.

Here’s a map of the Milwaukee River for reference.

The Milwaukee River is the vertical blue strip.  I started at the farthest south bridge in downtown proper, the Clybourn Street Bridge.  Clybourn is the first street north of the strip of freeway (I-94/I-794) running horizontally across the map.  See it?  Okay, so I’m going to walk north from Clybourn and document the bridge houses all the way up to my favorite pair of bridge houses on the Cherry Street Bridge.  The Cherry Street Bridge is the diagonal line across the Milwaukee River right where it starts to bend to the east, just under the words “To Bronzeville.”

Here is the Clybourn Street bridge house.  Note the bell up inside the alcove.  Most (and probably all) of the bridge houses have bells.

Clybourn Street bridge house

Below is the Michigan Street bridge houseMichigan Street bridge house

Next, the Wisconsin Avenue bridge house.  This is the bridge where I was stopped for river traffic to pass two weeks ago.

Wisconsin Avenue bridge house

The next bridge north of Wisconsin Avenue is the Wells Street bridge.  This picture is taken from Wisconsin Avenue looking north.  The Wells Street bridge house is in the center of the picture, on the lefthand side of the bridge.

Wells Street bridge house (from Wisconsin Avenue looking north)

The Wells Street bridge house is kind of a nothing, in my opinion.  Here’s a second view, below.  I don’t care for the Chippendale thing that frames the bell on top.

Well Street bridge house (2)

On closer examination, though, I guess the dentilwork on the cornice may be meant to echo the pediment of the old Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co. building, now the Milwaukee Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse Theater.  Click on the first photo above (the one with the red telephone booth) to isolate the photo itself from the blog text, and then click on the photo again to enlarge it.  See the classical brick building across the river from the bridge house, to the right?  Its cornice and triangular pediment seem to be trimmed with a similar row of blocks.

The next bridge north of Wells Street is Kilbourn Avenue.  The Kilbourn Avenue bridge has four bridge houses, one at each corner.  You can see three in the first photo below, and the fourth in the second.  These bridge houses look like fortresses to me, which is a good thing in case the theatre district ever needs defending 🙂

Kilbourn Avenue bridge houses

Kilbourn Avenue bridge houses (2)

Next is the State Street bridge.  Like the Cherry Street bridge (still to come), the State Street bridge has two bridge houses kitty-corner from each other (Milwaukee-speak for catercorner, or catty-corner, i.e., across from each other diagonally).

State Street bridge house

State Street bridge house (2)

The next bridge north is Juneau Avenue, which just recently reopened to traffic after being updated.  Its bridge house is below.

Juneau Avenue bridge house

If the quality of the Juneau Avenue photo seems different from the other photos in this post, that’s because I took that picture today with my iPod Touch.  In yesterday’s post—in other words, the whole rest of this post except these two paragraphs—I wrote: “I skipped McKinley, which is a new bridge built since the old freeway spur was torn down.  I don’t think it has a bridge house (but I’ll double check next time I cross it).”

Guess what?  McKinley Avenue does have a bridge house.  It’s the one I identified in yesterday’s post as the Juneau Avenue bridge house.  I walked right past the Juneau Avenue bridge house yesterday, and even smiled a hello to the city workers who were cleaning/painting it, but didn’t recognize that I was looking STRAIGHT AT the Juneau Avenue bridge house because of the maintenance being done.  I saw the workers and didn’t notice the building!  Anyway, this afternoon when I drove across the McKinley Avenue bridge looking to see if it had a bridge house, I realized immediately what I’d done.

So here is the McKinley Avenue bridge house, now correctly identified 🙂

Juneau Avenue bridge house

Which brings us, at last, to Cherry Street and my favorite pair of bridge houses.  According to the dedication plaque, the Cherry Street bridge houses date from 1940, but don’t they look very Art Deco?

Cherry Street bridge house

Cherry Street bridge dedication

The Cherry Street bridge house has both horns and a bell.

Cherry Street bridge house horns and bell

I love this whimsical “frame” for the discharge pipes across the way.

Whimsical view from the Cherry Street bridge

This part of the old bascule bridges freaks me out a little: the “pavement” is a see-through metal grid.  Can you make out the Milwaukee River down below the street?

Looking down to the river through the Cherry Street bridge

And finally, one last look at the Cherry Street bridge house from the other side of the river, looking back toward downtown, although at a slightly westward angle (see the map above).

Cherry Street bridge house from across the river

I guess both the Cherry Street bridge and its bridge house are showing their age and looking a little tired.  But they are still beautiful to me!

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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9 Responses to A walking tour of the Milwaukee River’s bridge houses

  1. Wow! You should make a coffee table book of bridges and historical buildings. Great photos and commentary!!


  2. Juliet Hills says:

    This is a stunning piece of enthusiastic documentation with excellent photos. Well done, Juliet at Milwaukee County Historical Center


  3. Thanks for the word dentil, which was new to me. I was familiar with the French cognate, dentelle, which took on the specialized sense ‘lacework.’

    As for coffee table books, they cost a lot, so publishers these days seem less willing to do them than they used to be. There’s the self-publishing route, but good quality color reproduction and large size add up to a big expense.


    • “Dentil” was new to me, too. But I figured there had to be a word for that row of little blocks, so I poked around until I found it. Too bad about the cost of coffee table books because I love to page through them. But I’m sure they must be expensive to produce, as you say. And somehow a Kindle version just wouldn’t be the same 🙂


  4. Pingback: A pause for river traffic at the Wisconsin Avenue drawbridge | Katherine Wikoff

  5. Jan Lane says:

    So glad I ran across your site. I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since 1981, but have visited through the years. Have NOT seen the Riverwalk project though and am planning to check it out on July 15. Thanks for the wonderful photos and commentary.


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