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MKE in Wonderland: How an Amusement Park Created the Village of Shorewood

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Nestled along the banks of the Milwaukee River in the quiet Village of Shorewood, is a tranquil little green space by the name of Hubbard Park. This 5-acre,  peaceful park hides a wild and raucous past. Throughout much of the lot’s history, it served the area as a popular amusement park, in a similar vein (albeit on a smaller scale) as the famous Whitefish Bay attraction. And, through the park’s very existence, was an instrumental component in the foundation of the Village.

The site, much like Shorewood itself, went through a series of name changes during the later half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. The first park was constructed in 1872 and went by the name of Lueddeman’s-On-The-River, but it wasn’t long before it became the Zweitusch’s Mineral Springs. Just a year later, the steam engines and cars of the Northwestern Union Railway laid the first tracks across the Shorewood plateau and, by 1886, the Whitefish Bay Railway Company extended the route to that neighboring north suburb.

Lueddemann’s resort profited from this new mode of transportation, and soon became a popular tourist attractions for visitors from all over the country. The Summer Amusement Company purchased the Mineral Springs enterprise and renamed the acquisition Coney Island Park. For obvious reasons, the company sought to bill this new amusement park as the Coney Island of the Midwest.

By any standard, the park was extremely successful.   Patrons from all over the country would arrive by streetcar, which dropped them off at the Oakland Avenue and Menlo Boulevard gate. Visitors would be greeted by a whole host of rides, including a giant water slide and a tower off which dare-devils could jump and land on a trampoline below.The attraction drew in thousands of visitors every year. In fact, the popularity of the attraction would lead to the area declaring its independence from the Town of Milwaukee.

City dwellers who had begun to settle in the area were dissatisfied with Milwaukee’s lack of attention to road improvement, and they were reluctant to pay taxes to the town on the thriving amusement parks, to say nothing of the loud and messy crowds the rides attracted.

In August, 1900, 68 voters went to the polls, and, with 45 votes needed, broke off from the Town of Milwaukee and established the Village of East Milwaukee.

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The resort was briefly renamed Wonderland Amusement Park from 1905 to 1909, before it took on its final moniker, Ravenna Park.  During this period, the Summer Amusement Company heavily invested in the addition of newer and more diverse attractions, including the Milwaukee Motordrome, a steeply banked motorcycle racetrack that drew noted cyclists of the day.

Unfortunately, the revenues generated by the amusement park were ever-diminishing and never quite lived up to expectations. The site was abandoned in 1916, 34 years after Lueddeman’s-On-The-River had first opened. The owners of Ravenna sold about 2 acres of the land to the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company, who constructed a streetcar barn. The rest of the site would later be used for Hubbard Park and an apartment complex.

Although the amusement park may be long-gone and long-forgotten, the Village of Shorewood owes a debt of gratitude to the now lost park for its very foundation. Without the wild and raucous patrons as well as the tantalizing profits of the Wonderland Amusement Park, Shorewood could very well  be a neighborhood of the Milwaukee today.

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