Milwaukee: Have you been there lately?

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The beach at Lake Michigan – it isn’t sand…

Largest lakes in the world:

Caspian Sea – this is considered a small ocean and it is called a Sea so I don’t think it really counts.

Lake Superior – one of the Great Lakes bordering on USA and Canada.

Lake Victoria – this one is in Africa, home to Victoria Falls (or The Smoke that Thunders), one of the wonders of the world, twice the height of Niagara Falls.

Lake Huron – see Lake Superior

Lake Michigan – Ho hum, yes, another Great Lake but this one is wholly inside the USA’s borders. And this is the one we are talking about today.

“Why?,” you may ask.

Because I went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the middle of winter and thought you should know about it.

Lake Michigan

It was cold.  I spent a few minutes walking along the water’s edge until I was sure my fingers would crack off my hand and drop to the ground. Luckily I made it back to the heated car before this happened. Did I mention it was cold?

Crisp, bright, white and beautiful.

We traveled up the bluff at the north end of town and headed for an old lighthouse my son had toured in summer. It wasn’t open but it was surrounded by a park that was very much still in use. People were walking their dogs and jogging along the various paths. We again braved the cold to have a closer look.

North Point Lighthouse

The park consisted of 140 acres and interestingly enough, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who was also the master landscape planner for Central Park in New York City. The original North Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1855 and built with cream city brick, a stone common to the area. At the time it was the highest light on the Great Lakes standing 107 feet above the water. The original lens was French, manufactured by Barbier, Benard & Turenne and ran on mineral oil.

In 1887 the bluff was eroding and the light had to be moved. An octagonal cast-iron tower 39-feet tall replaced the old light house about 100 feet inland. A two story house was attached to it for the caretaker. This new lamp was first lit in 1888. In 1912 they lifted the existing structure and put it on top of a new structure making it 74 feet tall. The light source was then 154 feet above Lake Michigan and visible 20 miles away. In 1913 the mineral oil was replaced with coal gas and in 1929 they switched to electricity.

Historically this lighthouse and others like it guided ocean-going vessels throughout the Great Lakes. By 1848 there were inland waterways connecting New York City to New Orleans via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Barges carrying freight and passenger lines carrying immigrants helped to populate and sustain large cities in the area. Over time, with the advent of the railroad, truck lines and larger ships, the water traffic has been reduced.

In 1994 the United States Coast Guard removed the light and the area was turned into a county park. The lighthouse was restored in 2007 and opened to the public for tours on weekends.

This area of Milwaukee, set up on the bluffs, was lined with old stately homes and gorgeous views. Several people mentioned to me how surprised they were to find Milwaukee to be such a nice city. People seemed to think it was just an industrial city full of breweries and cheese curds. Its native German population did include Pabst, Miller, Schlitz and Blatz whose breweries provided beer to most of the USA at one time. And after all, Wisconsin is known for its cheese, but Milwaukee had more to offer than that.

The downtown area had many of its old buildings preserved, there were restaurants along the Milwaukee River, a Riverwalk, and riverboat tours were available during warmer weather. The old warehouse district had been gentrified and was home to a jumping nightlife. Not to mention the awesome Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee Art Museum

All of that PLUS beer and cheese curds?  Such a deal!