Most of today’s post is by guest author and historian Larry Sakar, who takes us on a journey following the North Shore Line interurban’s former path through Milwaukee. We hope that you will enjoy it.
Larry is the author of Speedrail: Milwaukee’s Last Rapid Transit? published in 1991 by Interurbans Press. Used copies are available through Amazon and other booksellers.
Larry was inspired, in part, by some of the Milwaukee photos we ran in our recent post Trick or Treat (October 31 2021). We will have more such pictures in future posts.
PS- You might also like our Trolley Dodger Facebook auxiliary, a private group that now has 596 members.
Auction for Rare North Shore Line Ticket Cabinet From Dempster Street Station, Skokie
FYI, much as I would like to think otherwise, you can’t keep everything. And thus I have reluctantly decided to part with the original North Shore Line ticket cabinet from the Dempster Street Station in Skokie, which was willed to me earlier this year by my late friend Jeffrey L. Wien. The proceeds will help to underwrite the cost of the Trolley Dodger blog.
The auction ends the evening of Saturday, November 20th. Full details are here:
Milwaukee Then and Now by Larry Sakar
Let’s begin the rest of our southbound trip on the North Shore Line at Harrison Avenue (the NSL called it Harrison Street). Harrison Avenue marked the end of street running and the start of the private right-of-way. The Harrison Street shops building and yards sat along the east side of the property.
After the North Shore Line was abandoned in 1963, the track and wire was removed but the building remained standing. As the years went by its appearance worsened. All of the windows had the glass removed and were boarded up. But the front of the building continued to display its heritage. Above the door that opened into the shops was the original stone letterboard which said Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railway 1908. According to TWERHS president Chuck Westerman, TWERHS obtained the letterboard and brought it with them when they moved out to East Troy in 1972. (This was the original East Troy Trolley Museum.) While lifting it to be moved one day it was accidentally dropped and shattered into pieces.
I vividly recall coming home from school one day in 1968. I would always read the Milwaukee Journal before dinner. The “Journal” as we called it for short was Milwaukee’s evening newspaper.
On the editorial page was a drawing of a decrepit looking building with the caption (as best I can recall) that read North Shore Line shops. The editorial urged the demolition of the building because it was located directly above Interstate 94. Southbound drivers did not see it because the highway is sort of “tucked-in” beneath a cement retaining wall. However, northbound drivers got a full view. The editorial said that this gave a bad impression to anyone coming into Milwaukee on I94 from the south.
Up to that point, I was not aware that the Harrison shops building was still standing. Armed with that information I went there that weekend. The building looked every bit as bad as the editorial cartoon had depicted it. The former right-of-way was just bare ground. There wasn’t a trace of any of the tracks that had been there.
The building was torn down but I don’t know when. If you looked in a Milwaukee City Directory from 1963 on, the shops complex was not even listed. It was as if it had vanished into thin air. I had expected the address to be listed with “Vacant” shown after.
In 2017 the former Harrison Street shops property was redeveloped into Saint Augustine’s Academy, a Christian college preparatory school complete with stadium and playing field. Chris Barney, who took the present day pictures, thought the shops were on the southbound side of the right-of-way and did not take any pictures of the stadium and playing field which now occupies the site of the Harrison Street shops.
Next Stop: Oklahoma Avenue
For many years, TMER&L’s Route 16 streetcar line South 6th Street operated between North 60th and West Vliet Streets, all the way across town, via various routings. From downtown Milwaukee south, TM streetcars operated out of the downtown area via various streets to North Third Street and West Plankinton Avenue.
Here they turned south on and followed Plankinton Avenue, which becomes south Second Street after crossing the Menomonee River. Second Street was used as far as West Greenfield Avenue, where cars turned left and went one block east to South First Street. Another right turn took Route 16 streetcars to the intersection of S. Kinnickinnic Avenue and West Mitchell Streets.
This was and to this day is the location of MCTS’ (then TM’s) Kinnickinnic Avenue car [now bus] station. Streetcars turned west on West Mitchell Street and traveled west to its intersection with South Sixth Street. Cars turned left (southbound) and ran on South Sixth Street (South First Avenue before 1930) to West Euclid Street, where they turned west to South Ninth Place to reach the end of the line at West Morgan Avenue.
The “convoluted” route out of downtown Milwaukee was due to one factor- The North Shore Line. The 6th Street viaduct across the Menomonee River Valley was the exclusive property of the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railway and was used by both southbound and northbound North Shore Line interurbans, as well as the Birney cars and later St. Louis-built 350 series city cars on North Shore’s beloved “Nickel Dinky Line.”
TM streetcars had South Sixth Street all to themselves from West Mitchell Street south, because the North Shore’s cars operated on South Fifth Street. After getting onto the private right-of-way at Harrison Street the North Shore cars ran on an embankment high above South Sixth Street.
The “Dinky Line” ended at West Oklahoma Avenue, then traveled one block farther south to West Euclid Avenue, where they changed ends and laid over at a tiny platform just north of the Oklahoma Avenue crossing. It’s hard to believe that anyone would hike up the steep stairs from Sixth Street to the platform, but they did, many after walking blocks out of their way just to save five cents. TM streetcar fare was ten cents vs. the “Dinky” line which was a nickel. South side Milwaukeeans were notoriously frugal!
Today South Sixth Street and West Oklahoma Avenue is the one spot on the abandoned North Shore right of way that shows a hint on what used to be here.
A list of the ways in which the North Shore’s “Nickel Dinky Line” beat TM’s Route 16 streetcar line:
1. The “Dinky Line” was faster. TM streetcars on Route 16 had to stop every two blocks. The “Dinky Line” stopped only at major intersections, i.e. Fifth and Mitchell, Fifth and Greenfield and Fifth and National.
2. Between Harrison Avenue and Sixth and Oklahoma, the “Dinky” was on private right-of-way.
3. The North Shore “Dinky Line’s fare was a nickel for its entire life. TMER&L was steadily increasing fares.
4. The North Shore “Dinky Line” only crossed two short bridges on the Sixth Street viaduct. The one nearest the Sixth and Clybourn Streets end of the NSL station was over the Menomonee River, and the other just past W. Canal Street, (which as the name implies was the Menomonee River canal) a branch off the river. TM streetcars had to contend with crossings of the Milwaukee River, the Menomonee River and the Kinnickinnic River.
The End of the North Shore Line Right-of-Way
Continuing south on the private right-of-way above South Sixth Street, North Shore Line trains crossed over West Holt Avenue. In addition, the Milwaukee Road trains coming out of downtown Milwaukee and heading for points south such as Chicago or Bensenville crossed at grade. I do not have any pictures of that area.
After the North Shore Line was abandoned in 1963, the area saw a significant change in 1965. West of South Sixth Street, Holt Avenue was connected to West Morgan Avenue at South Ninth Street. This was done to expedite traffic heading to the entrance ramp to either southbound or northbound Interstate Highway 94.
The Milwaukee Road was grade separated by a long bridge across South Sixth Street. Seeking to take advantage of this, The Milwaukee and Suburban Transport Company (aka “The Transport Company ”) added a “Park ‘n’ Ride lot along the east side of the abandoned North Shore Line right-of-way. This lot is for riders on Bus Route 40- the Holt-College Freeway Flyer line.
Buses do not enter the parking lot, but stop on a bus-only section of the off ramp to pick-up or discharge passengers. As best as I have been able to tell, this ramp occupies at least part, if not all of the North Shore line’s northbound track. This could easily have been transformed into a Rapid Transit line between Mitchell International Airport and downtown Milwaukee.
Just before the abandoned right-of-way gets to its present day end at West Bolivar Avenue, it passes through what was once the Sixth Street cut. The cut began at West Howard Avenue and continued south to TMER & L’s Rapid Transit Line to Hales Corners at Greenwood Junction Lakeside Belt Line, which carried coal from Powereton Junction (approximately South 13th Street and West Waterford Avenue) to the Lakeside Power Plant.
This was strictly a freight line except for a 1939 CERA fan trip, which operated over it all the way west to the connection with TM’s Hales Corners Rapid Transit line at Greenwood Junction (South 100th Street one block south of West Howard Avenue.
North Shore trains emerged from the cut after crossing beneath West Waterford Avenue. CERA Bulletin 107, Route of the Electroliners states that the cut was three miles long. That is incorrect. It was three blocks long. The cut was filled in by the city of Milwaukee in March 1989. This area had once been the Town of Lake.
The tall, round tower seen across South Sixth Street is the former Town of Lake water tower which no longer holds water. The tower has been used for all sorts of things since being replaced by the water treatment plant almost next to its north face on the southwest corner of South Sixth Street and West Howard Avenue.
One additional piece of information that may be of interest to Trolley Dodger readers. You can now purchase a garden plot on the filled-in 6th Street cut and grow what you line. Quite a few people seem to have done just that. I do not know what it costs.
Finally, we come to the end of the North Shore Line’s abandoned right-of-way within the city of Milwaukee at West Bolivar Avenue. The high embankment ends suddenly and goes no further south. This is where present day I-94 coming from downtown and heading west to the Mitchell Interchange crosses over South 6th Street.
From the south side of I-94 south, the right-of-way is completely gone. The land is occupied by restaurants, hotels from the former crossing of West Layton Avenue to the Airport Business Park. If you weren’t previously aware of the wonderful interurban line that passed this way you would never know it now.
No trace of the North Shore exists anywhere south of this point, except for a tiny spot where it crossed beneath the intersection of South Howell and West Rawson Avenues. I end with a Then and Now view at Howell and Rawson. Post-abandonment the bridges above the NSL were removed and the grades of both streets lowered.
In case you might be wondering, the abandoned NSL right-of-way is posted in spots ‘NO TRESPASSING PROPERTY OF MILWAUKEE COUNTY EXPRESSWAY COMMISSION.”
I thought you’d enjoy these two NSL pics. The first one is what we’ve been discussing about TM and NSL competing at 6th and Oklahoma. You have an 800-series car on TM route 16 northbound, and a Birney up on the embankment laying over ready to return to downtown Milwaukee. I don’t know who took it. The fact that the NSL car is a Birney and because you have a streetcar on Route 16 places this picture sometime before July 1947.
The second photo shows one of the “Liners” at full speed one block farther south at 6th and Euclid. It is southbound passing the Heil Company. Heil made things like garbage trucks and other types of municipal vehicles. The building is still there, next to the abandoned right-of-way, but the Heil Company is gone. The building now houses corporate offices for Aurora Health Care. If you look to the left, you get a pretty good idea of just how high up that right-of-way was above South Sixth Street. Don Ross took this picture. He must have had someone holding on to him because a “Liner” coming past you at full speed would have tossed you down to 6th Street. I don’t think I’d have ever tried anything like this!
Thanks, Larry! Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks!
Chicago’s Lost “L”s Online Presentation
We recently gave an online presentation about our book Chicago’s Lost “L”s for the Chicago Public Library, as part of their One Book, One Chicago series. You can watch it online by following this link.
The Trolley Dodger On the Air
We appeared on the Dave Plier Show on WGN radio on July 16, 2021, to discuss Chicago’s Lost “L”s. You can hear that discussion here.
Our Latest Book, Now Available:
Chicago’s Lost “L”s
From the back cover:
Chicago’s system of elevated railways, known locally as the “L,” has run continuously since 1892 and, like the city, has never stood still. It helped neighborhoods grow, brought their increasingly diverse populations together, and gave the famous Loop its name. But today’s system has changed radically over the years. Chicago’s Lost “L”s tells the story of former lines such as Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Kenwood, Stockyards, Normal Park, Westchester, and Niles Center. It was once possible to take high-speed trains on the L directly to Aurora, Elgin, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The L started out as four different companies, two starting out using steam engines instead of electricity. Eventually, all four came together via the Union Loop. The L is more than a way of getting around. Its trains are a place where people meet and interact. Some say the best way to experience the city is via the L, with its second-story view. Chicago’s Lost “L”s is virtually a “secret history” of Chicago, and this is your ticket. David Sadowski grew up riding the L all over the city. He is the author of Chicago Trolleys and Building Chicago’s Subways and runs the online Trolley Dodger blog.
The Images of America series celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the distinctive stories from the past that shape the character of the community today. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.
Title Chicago’s Lost “L”s
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2021
ISBN 1467100007, 9781467100007
Length 128 pages
01. The South Side “L”
02. The Lake Street “L”
03. The Metropolitan “L”
04. The Northwestern “L”
05. The Union Loop
06. Lost Equipment
07. Lost Interurbans
08. Lost Terminals
09. Lost… and Found
Each copy purchased here will be signed by the author, and you will also receive a bonus facsimile of a 1926 Chicago Rapid Transit Company map, with interesting facts about the “L” on the reverse side.
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
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A Tribute to the North Shore Line
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the demise of the fabled North Shore Line interurban in January 2013, Jeffrey L. Wien and Bradley Criss made a very thorough and professional video presentation, covering the entire route between Chicago and Milwaukee and then some. Sadly, both men are gone now, but their work remains, making this video a tribute to them, as much as it is a tribute to the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee.
Jeff drew on his own vast collections of movie films, both his own and others such as the late William C. Hoffman, wrote and gave the narration. Bradley acted as video editor, and added authentic sound effects from archival recordings of the North Shore Line.
It was always Jeff’s intention to make this video available to the public, but unfortunately, this did not happen in his lifetime. Now, as the caretakers of Jeff’s railfan legacy, we are proud to offer this excellent two-hour program to you for the first time. The result is a fitting tribute to what Jeff called his “Perpetual Adoration,” which was the name of a stop on the interurban.
Jeff was a wholehearted supporter of our activities, and the proceeds from the sale of this disc will help defray some of the expenses of keeping the Trolley Dodger web site going.
Total time – 121:22
# of Discs – 1
Price: $19.99 (Includes shipping within the United States)
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