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Historic Milwaukee, Inc., Walking Tours

207 E. Michigan St.
Suite 500
Milwaukee  Wisconsin  53202
United States
(414) 277-7795
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    - Amy Eckert

Midwest Living Review

These excellent architectural tours are a low-cost way to see Milwaukee and pick up some local ethnic history in a colorful Midwest melting pot.

The Historic Milwaukee preservation society offers an impressive lineup of architectural tours in downtown Milwaukee and outlying neighborhoods, all led by passionate volunteer guides. Most are walking tours ($7), but the organization also recently started a boat tour ($16). One of the most popular walking tours is "Daily Downtown Thru the Eras," which highlights the stories behind some of Milwaukee's iconic "cream city" brick buildings. The Mackie and the Mitchell, for example, both built in the 1870s by Milwaukee's original rich granddaddy Alexander Mitchell, housed the chamber of commerce, the Grain Exchange and Milwaukee's first weather station in a cupola far above the street. On the "Brady Street Twilight" tour, you'll discover European architecture and charming crooked streets in the old Polish section of town. The Poles worked in the nearby tanneries and factories along the river. Later, Germans moved to Brady Street, followed by Italians. You'll see everything from Polish flats to High Victorian Gothic homes; even the fire station once had a seven-story Italianate watchtower (since destroyed, unfortunately). The street has lots of pubs and shops, and you can still get a terrific Italian beef sandwich at Glorioso's deli. The Charles Lapham Sholes house, a lovely redbrick Victorian, was home to the inventor of the Sholes and Glidden typewriter used by Mark Twain to produce the first typed manuscript ever, "Tom Sawyer." Tour guides will tell you about the first white baby girl, named, believe it or not, Milwaukee Smith; she was brought into the world by midwife Josette Juneau, who had 16 children of her own. Stories cover blown-up bridges, disputed territories and graves that were reportedly moved but the bones somehow keep turning up! And, of course, there's Gertie, the duck who laid her eggs in a rotten piling on a downtown bridge in the mid-1940s. After her ducklings were born, the whole family was transported to the window of Gimbel's Department Store to be taken care of by a registered nurse. Honest.

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