Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Orchard in 1894

The Digital Archives of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee comes through again with a second set of Sanborn Maps. Previously, those maps showed us how Milwaukee looked in 1910, this time they catalog the Cream City as it appeared sixteen years earlier, in 1894.

This is a particularly fascinating map to peruse; so much of what today defines Milwaukee is absent. Take a look at this section of downtown:

City Hall, then a year from opening, is just a foundation. Virtually all the street names have been changed; what we call State Street is "Martin", Kilbourn Avenue is "Biddle", Wells Street is "Oneida". Interesting - Byron Kilbourn was founder of Kilbourntown, one of the three towns that would eventually combine to become Milwaukee in 1846. Daniel Wells was one of his primary investors. In 1894, the streets had different names on the other side of the river, Kilbourn's side. Sometime after this map was published, Wells Street was extended to include the former Oneida, and Biddle Street was combined with Cedar Street on the west side of the river into one unified Kilbourn Avenue.

"River Street" is now entirely gone between State and Wells. It was first buried under the Performing Arts Center in the 1960s, and then the Milwaukee Center two decades later. What remains north of State Street is now Edison Street, named for the Edison Electric Illuminating Co. power plant that once stood on River street just north of what is now Wells. That same power plant gives name to the Milwaukee Rep's Powerhouse Theater.

Of course, as fascinating as this is, we're really interested in Athletic Park. And here Sanborn comes through again.

Not a lot of development around the park - 7th and 8th Streets had been carved up into residential lots, but only a few houses had been built. The plots across both Burleigh and Chambers (their names unchanged since then) are still large and expansive, not yet subdivided for individual yards.

The ballpark itself was barely worthy of the name; one small grandstand section behind the plate, with "open seats" along the first- and third-base lines. Five small structures—one labeled "Dressing Room, another "Office", the rest undefined—complete the site.

This was only six years after Athletic Park hosted its first baseball games (or should that be "base ball"?) in May of 1988.

Just how much did Athletic Park evolve between this view in 1894 and our earlier look at 1910? Let's overlay and compare the two studies.

As you can see, the basic orientation is the same. But in the sixteen years between 1894 and 1910, several changes were made:
  • the grandstand was expanded and moved to the edge of the lot, maximizing the limited playing space in our single city block;
  • the grandstand was extended to include the third base bleachers (but not the first base side; I wonder if the setting sun might have had something to do with it, that they wanted to block late-afternoon light from the setting sun in the west?);
  • bleachers were built in the outfield; and
  • the dressing room was relocated from the southeast corner of the lot (on Chambers) to the northeast (Burleigh). Similarly, the office was moved from the southwest corner to the northwest
So what sort of action did this young Athletic Park see?

In 1894, the ballpark was the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Not the Brewers who play at Miller Park, obviously, or even our Brews who would prowl the Orchard during the 20th Century. These Brewers were the ones who inspired our Brewers' name.

These Brewers were charter members of a recently-reorganized minor league named the Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs. It was a strictly regional outfit, with clubs in Cleveland‚ Indianapolis‚ Kansas City‚ Omaha, and Toledo in addition to the Cream City. These Brewers played their first season at Athletic Park before moving to the then-new Lloyd Street Grounds. Why the move? Perhaps the Sanborn map of Milwaukee can give us a clue. The park hadn't been built when the 1894 survey was completed, but we can see the large tract of land it would occupy, between Lloyd and North Avenue, bordered by 16th Street on the east:

It's a full city block long, same as Athletic Park, but since 17th Street stopped at North Avenue this parcel of land was almost a half-block wider. That gave the Brewers a little more room to stretch; room they would need, as the Western League declared itself a competing major league and re-named itself the American League.

Again, we are indebted to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee for making these historic maps available to all online.

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