Milwaukee Movable Bridges

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The story of the bridges in downtown Milwaukee is a story of resolving conflict and finding ways to solve problems.

Milwaukee actually had three founders who developed their own communities that all rivaled one another. Rivers made natural boundaries in those heady days, so Byron Kilbourn built Kilbourntown on the west side of the Milwaukee River and north of the Menomonee. Solomon Juneau built Juneautown east of the Milwaukee River and the community of Walker's Point was south of the Menomonee River, it was the original location of George Walker's fur trading post.

The rivalry between Juneau and Kilbourn was so intense that they made a point of making sure their street grids did not line up, perhaps trying to discourage the inevitable linking of the two communities by bridge. Today's downtown bridges all cross the river askew to line up with Juneau's and Kilbourn's legacy of mis-aligned streets.

In 1845, the Chestnut Street Bridge went up, a wooden structure that stood where the Juneau Avenue bridge stands today. It blocked Kilbourn's critical river access to Lake Michigan, a requirement for shipping goods in and out. Kilbourn discouraged bridges as a way to keep residents of Juneautown dependent on Kilbourn, he saw the bridge as a threat and wanted to destroy it. Armed residents lined up on both sides of the river.

The resulting Bridge War did not cause any fatalities but there were some serious injuries. Kilbourn did manage to destroy part of the bridge, but it was quickly rebuilt.

Eventually, Kilbourn, Juneau and Walker agreed that they were not encouraging settlement and reached an agreement. In 1846, the three communities merged and incorporated as the City of Milwaukee, 2 years prior to Wisconsin Statehood.

In order to keep the river open for navigation, a bascule bridge was built for State Street in 1924. It was the first bascule bridge in Milwaukee, and some claim it was the first bascule bridge built anywhere.

While several of Milwaukee's charming bascule bridges have been destroyed and replaced by lift bridges, some effort is being made to restore rather than destroy. The Buffalo Street bridge was torn out and not replaced, but it lives on in scenes of a movie called "Gaily, Gaily" a 1969 Norman Jewison film that used the bridge for location shots.

The State Street Bridge was recently beautifully restored and one could speculate that it looks better than it ever did. The most unusual Art Deco design of the Cherry Street Bridge has also been preserved. The new McKinley Avenue lift bridge pays homage to what went before, in Milwaukee's colorful bridge-spanning past.


16th Street Viaduct (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1929; rehabilitated 1986
Girder bridge over Land, Bruce St., Canal St., Mt. Vernon Ave., Menomonee River, CNRR and Hank Aaron State Trail on 16th Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

6th Street North Bascule Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 2002; Replaced, in part, the 1908 6th Street Viaduct
Bascule bridge over Menomonee River on 6th Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

6th Street South Bascule Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 2002; Replaced, in part, the 1908 6th Street Viaduct
Bridge over South Menomonee River Canal on 6th Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Cherry Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1940; Restored 1990
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on W. Cherry Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Clybourn Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1968; Closed for restoration in July 2010 & remains closed
Vertical lift bridge over Milwaukee River on Clybourn Street in Milwaukee
Closed to all traffic during restoration

CNW - Milwaukee River Swing Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1915 to replace a circa 1890 double-track swing bridge
Through truss bridge over Milwaukee River on Chicago & Northwestern
Closed to all traffic

CP - Kinnickinnic River Swing Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Through truss bridge over Burnham Canal, Kinnickinnic River on Canadian Pacific Railroad in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

CP - Menomonee River Swing Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad in 1906
Through truss bridge over Menomonee River on Canadian Pacific Railway in Minwaukee
Open to traffic

Highland Avenue Milwaukee River Lift Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 2000
Bridge over Milwaukee River on Pedestrian Walkway in Milwaukee
Open to pedestrians

Holton Street Viaduct (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1926; modernized 1987; Marsupial Bridge added 2005
Viaduct over N. Water Street, Commerce Street and Milwaukee River in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Juneau Avenue Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1953
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Kilbourn Avenue Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1929; rehabilitated 1972; restored 2008
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on Kilbourn Avenue in Milwaukee
Open after restoration

Kinnickinnic River Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1999 to replace a bascule bridge built in 1908
Bascule bridge over Kinnickinic River on WI 32 in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

McKinley Avenue Lift Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 2004
Bridge over Milwaukee River on W Mckinley Avenue in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Michigan Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1978
Vertical lift bridge over Milwaukee River on Michigan Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Milwaukee River Broadway St. Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1982
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on Broadway Street (WI 32) in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

N. Emmber Lane Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 2000
Bascule bridge over Menomonee River on N. Emmber Lane in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Plankinton Avenue Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1984
Bascule bridge over Menomonee River on Plankinton Avenue in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Pleasant Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1972; improvements made in 1990
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on E. Pleasant Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

S. First Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1957
Bascule bridge over Kinnickinnic River on S. 1st Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

St. Paul Avenue Lift Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1966
Bridge over Milwaukee River on St. Paul Avenue in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

State Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1924; Restored 2007
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on State Street (Westbound US 18) in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Water Street Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1987
Bascule bridge over Milwaukee River on Water Street in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Wells Street Lift Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1985
Vertical lift bridge over Milwaukee River on Wells Street (Eastbound US 18) in Milwaukee
Open to traffic

Wisconsin Avenue Bridge (Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)
Built 1975
Vertical lift bridge over Milwaukee River on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee
Open to traffic