Nestled in the woods on the Milwaukee River, Hubbard Park offers a myriad of possibilities for cultivation. And throughout history, humans have put it through the ringer on just about every one: a fishing paradise, an industrial power source, an amusement park "Wonderland," and finally the quiet park it is today.
Buried in two mounds atop the bluff in Hubbard, three skeletons and their most valued possessions provided the earliest evidence of human activity at the park. Excavated in 1919, the mounds contained arrowheads and pottery intended to follow the three Native Americans into the beyond.
The Menominee people who likely created these mounds prior to AD 700 (when effigy mounds overtook the dome-shaped mounds at Hubbard), depended on the Milwaukee River for sustenance, especially the sturgeon which carried spiritual significance as part of their creation story. One story is that the first Menominee people brought a kettle to the Menominee River, where the tribe leader shared a bounty of sturgeon with everyone.
In 1832, the Menominee sold the land in Milwaukee County east of the river to the federal government for 12 annual payments of $6,000.
Shortly after the purchase, the river became a power site, with a dam and two sawmills on the Shorewood banks. The lumber from one mill just south of Capitol Drive built the house that saw the first birth of a European settler in the county.
After the dam collapsed and one mill exploded, the next use for the park was as a resort called Lueddemann’s-on-the-River in 1872. Ella Wheeler Wilcos wrote a stanza about the park: “Like crimson arrows from a quiver/ The red rays pierce the water flowing/ While we go swimming, dreaming, rowing/ To Lueddemann’s-on-the-River.”
The peace was short-lived.
In 1900, the park became the center of exploding interest in ritzy recreation outside of the city. It was an amusement park complete with rollercoasters, circus acts, “human laundry,” a “house of nonsense” and a shooting gallery. It went through three different owners and names: Coney Island, Wonderland, and Ravenna Park before closing in 1916.
The incredible wealth the park brought to the village catalyzed a movement to incorporate East Milwaukee as a village separate from the city. They succeeded in 1900, and changed the name to Shorewood in 1917.
Hubbard Park saw a lull in activity until the 1930s when Shorewood secured about $2,650,000 for public works projects in the village, primarily through the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) intended to work the country out of depression.
This is when Hubbard Park Lodge was built, as a cabin for boy and girl scouts. There was also a community lodge, pavilion and warming house for ice-skating.
WPA funding was certainly key to the park’s development, but so was residents’ commitment to having state-of-the-art recreation at their doorstep. They funded and frequented private parties, school dances, club meetings and community celebrations at the park.
And they had the money to glitz them up.
The population of Shorewood was largely formed in the roaring 1920s, as elite professionals from Milwaukee filled the picturesque homes of the village to escape the stress of the city.
“The ‘Model Twentieth Century Village’ that Shorewood is today really dates from the 1920s…well-to-do business and professional people make up the bulk of Shorewood’s present population: doctors and lawyers, wholesale druggists and food merchants, manufacturers of milling machinery or oil burners, and their salesman and minor executives," an unnamed employee of the Federal Writers' Project wrote in Shorewood in 1937.
As was , residents turned to the waterway at Hubbard for respite and amusement.
“For the business day they commute to Milwaukee by streetcar, bus or automobile, and their concern in the village is for their leisure time. Hence, they have devoted their civic energies to developing at Shorewood a purely residential community, with modern facilities for education and recreation, and with a government devoted to furthering comfortable and cultivated living for its citizens," the Federal Writers' Project author continued.
Activity at the park faded in subsequent decades; with the primary draw being Hubbard Park Lodge, serving Friday fish fries and Sunday brunches, and hosting weddings and parties.
The Shorewood Marketing Program has tried to bring people back to the park the past three summers with the Summer Sounds live music series, expanding each year. Watch the video above to learn more about its efforts.