Footbridge Circa 1908
Photo from the collection of the Milwaukee Public Museum and used with permission.
Photo taken by Summer W. Matteson, circa 1908
The west shore of Lake Michigan features a tall bluff, varying in height but as high as 70 meters, that overlooks the lake. In the mid 1800's, the civic leaders of Milwaukee recognized the importance of preserving public space in the form of parks and began to buy up land throughout the area. One of the spots was the area that is now known as Lake Park. The significance of this site is nothing new, burial mounds of Native Americans were found here.
In 1854, the U.S. Lighthouse service built the North Point Lighthouse on a two acre plat that divided the planned park area. The lighthouse was moved back 100 feet because of bluff erosion, a problem that continues to this day. The city and the federal government came to an agreement in 1893 that allowed the park to be developed as planned, and the lighthouse continued in operation until is was decommissioned in 1994. The lighthouse is now a part of the park and is being restored.
The Milwaukee Park Commission contracted with Frederick Law Olmsted, the noted landscape architect, to design Lake Park. (Ohlmstead is remembered for designing New York's Central Park, the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the grounds of the Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate.)
The Lion Bridges, that span the ravines that frame the lighthouse, were completed in 1897. The footbridge was built in 1906 and the Grand Staircase in 1908.
You can learn more about this wonderful park and the structures of it at the website of the Lake Park Friends.
The bridge was designed by Ferry & Clas (not Class).
The following report by the City of Milwaukee's Historic Preservation Office says it's believed to be the only bridge jointly designed by George Bowman Ferry and Alfred C. Clas, renowned Milwaukee architects who designed many major civic commissions. They also designed a nearby pavilion and the Grand Staircase as part of a neoclassical cluster in Lake Park.
As of September 2016, there are rehabilitation options for this iconic bridge in a Frederick Law Olmsted park but it could face demolition and reconstruction. Supporters of a new bridge (estimated at $2.6 million) say it would be more practical over 100 years than a rehab with a 50-year life span for $2.3 million.
Articles about the planning process and community debate: