A Little Time and a Keyboard: Exploring the Roots of Milwaukee in the Third Ward

Exploring the Roots of Milwaukee in the Third Ward

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Third Ward is full of character!
**Disclosure: Thank you to Visit Milwaukee for hosting our visit. Our tour of the Third Ward was complimentary in order to facilitate our review. No compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.

The real way to explore a city is on foot and we received a true treat wandering through Milwaukee's Third Ward on a Milwaukee Food and City Tour. The Third Ward area is certainly an area not to be missed by families and is a wonderful location to begin your foundation of Milwaukee history.

Third Ward Milwaukee
A peaceful walk along the RiverWalk.

We met our tour guide, Robert, at the Milwaukee Public Market just footsteps away from the Milwaukee RiverWalk. Since we visited on a quiet October afternoon, we were able to soak in stunning views while leisurely walking along. A few boats ambled by during our walk and we learned that you can actually rent pontoon boats and kayaks to sail along the river. The bridge system is very artfully done and the buildings present some really magnificent architectural finds, so a trip down the river probably presents some unique and breathtaking views! What a fun opportunity for families!

During our pleasant walk along the Milwaukee River, Robert informed us how the RiverWalk came together and pointed out the use of Wisconsin-made and eco-friendly materials in construction.We were surprised to note that even given the historical character of some of the buildings, the revitalization of the Third Ward is relatively recent in the history of Milwaukee. In fact, the gorgeous river itself was not cleaned up until the '90's. What an impressive transformation!

A curious spiral sculpture can be found along the RiverWalk. The Third Ward suffered a devastating fire in 1892--so devastating that fire crews from as far away as Chicago were called in. The fire started on Water Street at Union Oil and Paint Company where the pathway now stands. I love the pathway--the way it spirals up is almost like spiraling up from the destruction of the fire which is what the Third Ward has done. Beautiful!

The Third Ward was once home to Irish immigrants. These immigrants left after losing homes and businesses to the fire. Italian immigrants moved in as the area rebuilt. However, the area eventually deteriorated and the families moved away. Industry and commercial businesses left. The Third Ward area became a place that tourists would not think of visiting. However, a resurgence has brought back the area. Along with the revitalization, the influence of these former residents can still be seen.

One of the corner brew houses that used to populate the area.
A closer image of the insignia that would identify the brewery for the brew house. This one was Pabst.
After the RiverWalk, we explored further into the Third Ward area seeing traces of former inhabitants. We learned about rival brew houses that sat on each corner bearing the marks of their brewery. We learned about the Italian grocers that would walk up and down the streets selling their produce. We learned about the former theater owner whose ghost still watches over performances. We learned of the church demolished for the sake of a highway. Many stories to be told in such a rich neighborhood.

Public Market

The Milwaukee Public Market from above.
The Milwaukee Public Market itself is a nod to the maker past of the area and the reinvigorated community. Inside, we found a delightful maze of eateries, purveyors of epicurean products, Wisconsin-made products and more. The market is quite lively and there is plenty to look at so fun for families. Plus, who can resist a uniquely-Milwaukee sampling! If you visit, don't miss out on Kehr's Candies which has been making sweet temptations since 1930. A kid's (and parent's) delight! Parents also will savor Anodyne Coffee who roasts their coffee in Milwaukee. So much to try, why not make a meal of it?

A truly vibrant community, you will find art alive in the Third Ward. Home to the Art Institute of Wisconsin, sculptures line the area and art galleries provide an outlet for artists and art appreciation. Our favorite art find was a sculpture paying homage to the past of the Third Ward. Masterfully crafted from materials scavenged from the buildings in the ward, you can actually walk through the sculpture to view it inside and out. We had fun trying identify different pieces incorporated in the structure. Entirely intriguing!

A sculpture that you are actually invited to walk through! Cool!
A close up of the sculpture reveals the nuts and bolts that have built the Third Ward.
When traveling with kids, you have to have time to get the sillies out. Evolution in the Third Ward serves up some unique fun for families. You see, Evolution is a melange of ping pong fun and gastro pub cool. With a genuinely relaxing atmosphere where you can play ping pong with the fam, enjoy a bite and not worry about chasing ping pong balls (they have people to do that for you), how can you resist? We found it quite a nice place to unwind and parents do need to have places that are sheer fun to visit while on vacay! You can reserve tables which I would recommend doing to avoid disappointment.

The Third Ward is worth exploring even on your own. Catalano Square is an area particularly fun for families in the warmer months with live music. Milwaukee's epic Summerfest also finds its home in the Third Ward. However, I do also recommend taking a tour of the Third Ward with Milwaukee Food and City Tours to get more of the back story on this amazing neighborhood. We had a phenomenal time and appreciate all of the extra history Robert gave us.

In our future posts, we will be discussing more about the makers in Milwaukee and the distinct history of the city. We have some real finds to share!

**Thank you to Robert for a fantastic tour!**

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