Take a Self-Guided History Tour of the Park – Pick up a Guide at the Park’s Entrances
10,000 Year Ago: Glaciers Carve out the Great Lakes
The glaciers that moved through this area over the last 300,000 years shaped the Great Lakes’ basins and filled them with their meltwater. The last glacier retreated about 10,000 years ago, leaving the lakes as we know them today as some of the largest freshwater resources in the world.
Gathering Waters: Native Americans 1600’s to early 1800’s
Many Native American tribes gathered and lived along Milwaukee’s three rivers, wetlands and Lake Michigan shores, which together were some of the most productive estuaries on the lake. Waterfowl, fish, game and wild rice were abundant, and Milwaukee’s waters provided for convenient canoe transportation.
French Territory: 1671-1760
In 1674, French explorer Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette came through this area on an expedition that outlined the route traveled by fur traders for the next hundred years. The area became British territory in 1760.
First Milwaukee Resident
Jacque Vieau from Green Bay had a fur trading post in Milwaukee and traded with the Native Americans between 1795 and the 1830s. In 1818 he sent for Solomon Juneau in Montreal to transform the trading post into a town. Solomon Juneau became the first Mayor of Milwaukee.
The Making of Milwaukee: Early 1800’s to 1900’s
Immigrants also found this area rich with resources and fresh water. German, Irish, Polish and many other nationalities gathered along the waters of Milwaukee to make beer, ship wheat, process meat, tan hides for leather, and drive the industries which made Milwaukee famous. In the late 1800’s steel and iron became the dominant industries in Milwaukee. The population in 1846 was nearly 10,000 and by 1900, less than 55 years later, was well over 200,000.
Great Lakes Commerce: Schooners to Tankers
“Milwaukee Feeds the World”, was the saying for Milwaukee in the 1850’s. The city was the hub for grain and other goods transported via schooners to other Great Lakes cities and the world via the Erie Canal which opened the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean in 1825. Schooners plied the waters of the Lakes from the late 1600’s to the late 1800’s. Imagine hundreds of schooners in Milwaukee’s harbor bringing goods in and taking goods out, many times crashing and sinking due to weather disturbances and lack of navigational equipment. The first Steamers appeared in the early 1800’s and were eventually replaced by the current day Lakers which can be up to 1,000 feet long and weigh over 80,000 tons.
Development: Wetlands to Downtown
Wetlands dominated the landscape in what is now the Third Ward, downtown and the Menomonee Valley. Starting in the mid 1800’s, these wetlands were filled at great effort and expense to provide greater access to the rivers and to produce dry land for the rapidly expanding city and its industries. Even the rivers were modified. The Milwaukee river’s mouth was moved about a half a mile to the north to its present location, and the Menomonee and Kinnickinnick rivers were heavily channelized. The Lake Michigan shoreline was also filled and in some places the present-day shoreline is 1,000 feet east of the historic beach. Over the years, the filled-in land was used as an airstrip and then a Nike missile site until the land was purchased in 1970 for the Summerfest grounds.
Development: Lakeshore State Park
The peninsula portion of the park, known as Harbor Island, was built in the late 1980’s by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) in collaboration with the City of Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners. The park was created to provide shore protection for the festival grounds, a protected harbor of refuge for small craft, and a low-cost disposal site for the dolomite limestone rock and fill generated by the MMSD deep tunnel construction project. Topsoil, turf grass, and a crushed stone perimeter path were eventually added to the island. It then became a great lakeside destination for fishing, biking, hiking and dog walking over a period of about 20 years.
IN OCTOBER, 1998, Wisconsin Governor, Tommy Thompson, developed a vision to create a state park in the urban setting of Milwaukee. In January of 2001, the proposal was passed by the Department of Natural Resources Board and work began to create a design for the state park. Lakeshore State Park, Wisconsin’s only urban State Park and the newest state park since the last one opened in 1978, officially became a reality and opened in June of 2007.