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Milwaukee’s 177th anniversary: The story of the city's feuding founding fathers

Cassandra's Hidden Gems
 John Gurda
Posted at 3:02 PM, Jan 26, 2023

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee’s 177th anniversary is on Jan. 31. I met with Milwaukee Historian John Gurda to learn about our unsettling settlement.

See what happened was, Solomon Juneau was the first caucasian to arrive on the scene in 1825. He was a fur trader and set up his trading post on the corner of Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

“He has the title of being the earliest European background person in the area as it was becoming a city,” said Gurda.

It was known as Juneautown.

Byron Kilbourn settled west of the river, calling his settlement Kilbourntown.

“He was not a guy who played well with others” mused Gurda. “He tried to deny them bridges. So, you have Solomon on this side, Kilbourn on that side, and Kilbourn lay out his system with no intention of ever linking with Juneautown," Gurda said.

The first bridge across the river was built in 1840 on what is now Juneau Ave., but Kilbourn's determination to keep the Eastsiders out led to what is known as the Great Bridge Wars.

"One warm night in the summer of 1845, the Westsiders took axes and hatchets to their side of the bridge. The next morning, the Eastsiders come out and realize that they can’t get to the Westside and retaliate by cutting down the west side bridges to the south," Gurda shared.

It dawned on them that these actions would prevent others from wanting to come to the area. Reconciliation came in January of 1846, joining Juneautown, Kilbourntown, and Walker’s Point. George Walker, being a smaller settlement downriver, stayed out of the major mayhem but benefited from the reconciliation.

Today, Walker’s Point is the oldest neighborhood in Milwaukee.

My time learning from Gurda was amazing! He is a historian, writer, and speaker, giving many talks throughout the city. I recommend you check him out on his website!

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