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Washington County

Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians is a minor Roman Catholic basilica located in Washington County. It attracts thousands of religious and nonreligious visitors annually.
Present-day Washington County borders MILWAUKEE and WAUKESHA counties to the south, OZAUKEE COUNTY to the east, Dodge County to the west, and Fond du Lac and SHEBOYGAN counties to the north. The area was under the legal jurisdiction of Milwaukee County until 1839. After separating from Milwaukee County, Washington included land that is now part…
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Photograph of a Union Steamboat Company vessel in Milwaukee Harbor, circa 1885.
The history of Milwaukee is anything but dry. Water, in fact, runs through it like a river, constituting an element so critical that imagining the community without it is virtually impossible. Whether for transportation, industry, recreation, sanitation, or simply as the backdrop for daily life, water is the fluid medium in which Milwaukee evolved from…
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Water Policy

The grand architecture of Milwaukee's 1939 Water Purification Plant reflected the city's investment in clean water.
Water policy in Milwaukee has evolved with both changes in scientific knowledge and federal law; as understanding of the ecological role of water systems and legal acknowledgement of hierarchical structures in the use of those systems has changed, so has the focus of Milwaukee’s water policy. Like other cities in the nineteenth century, whether extant…
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Water System

The North Point Water Works, shown around 1885, including the standpipe at the top of the hill on the right.
Cities supply water for domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses in response to concerns about quality and quantity. Milwaukee first implemented water supply for both domestic and industrial reasons; since then, quality and quantity demands have alternately dominated changes in the water system’s infrastructure. Water in Milwaukee was available from a private vendor as early as…
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Photographs of watermills are rare because they were largely outmoded by the time photography became common. This undated photograph by Roman Kwasniewski shows a mill, bridge, and waterfall in winter.
Watermills, structures that rely upon water power to drive mechanical processes, were common features in 19th century Wisconsin settler communities. The earliest of these mills were often sawmills. In addition to processing wood for export, sawmills produced lumber for local use, allowing more ambitious structures to rise alongside the early log cabins. In 1834, Dr.…
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Waukesha County Technical College

Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) is a vocational training and general education school headquartered in Pewaukee. It is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System. WCTC emerged out of the vocational education movement of the 1910s. In 1911, Wisconsin passed pioneering legislation requiring fourteen and fifteen-year-olds to attend school at least part-time (a stipulation extended…
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Waukesha Freeman

During its more than 155 years in print, the Waukesha Freeman has been the principal newspaper for Waukesha County and has a long career of journalistic innovation. Founded by Martin Cullaton, the first issue of the weekly Waukesha Freeman appeared on March 29, 1859 and was published in an office above the Waukesha County Bank.…
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We Energies

The Lakeside Power Plant's turbine room is shown in this 1983 photograph.
Headquartered in downtown Milwaukee’s PUBLIC SERVICE BUILDING, We Energies is Wisconsin’s largest electric and natural gas utility. The publicly-traded company serves eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A subsidiary of parent company WEC Energy Group, We Energies’ 21st-century portfolio includes coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, and renewable energies. The firm dates back to THE MILWAUKEE…
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A figured bundled up against the cold shovels the sidewalk on a snowy night in December 1978.
Milwaukeeans love to boast about their weather almost as much as they love to complain about it. I’m reminded of an old song by John Martyn, “Bless the Weather.” It’s a love song of lament—the refrain noting that what the weather giveth, the weather taketh away: “Bless the weather that brought you to me//Curse the…
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The Milwaukee area’s Welsh population generally left their homes in Wales in southwestern Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century due to the paucity of available land for farming. There is evidence that many people in Wales were aware of the 1841 American preemption laws, which allowed for the purchase of 160 acres for $1.25 per…
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West Bend

A 2007 view of West Bend's downtown, with the Milwaukee River in the background.
The city of West Bend, the seat of Washington County, is located at the point where the Milwaukee River turns due east and flows into Ozaukee County. The area was settled by Euopean and American migrants in the 1840s and was incorporated as city in 1885. After its incorporation, West Bend transformed from a local…
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West Milwaukee

St. Florian Parish formed in West Milwaukee in 1911 and its current building was dedicated in 1939. Though the church lost a significant number of parishioners whose homes were razed for a freeway that was never built, the parish continues to serve the community today.
The Village of West Milwaukee occupies about one square mile, roughly between 38th and 56th Street and from National to Lincoln Avenue. It is surrounded by the CLEMENT J. ZABLOCKI VA MEDICAL CENTER grounds on the north, Milwaukee on the south and east, and West Allis to the west. Potawatomi lived in the area until…
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Whig Party

Front page of a leaflet announcing a Whig meeting at the Milwaukee County Courthouse on June 26, 1841.
This political party’s influence in Milwaukee, first apparent in the late 1830s, was circumscribed because of the city’s substantial foreign-born population. German and Irish voters tended to align themselves with the Democratic Party against the Yankee-dominated Whigs, who were seen as nativists and temperance advocates. Over the course of the 1840s and 1850s, Milwaukee Whigs…
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Wiccans, some of whom self-identify as witches, and other Pagans are a small but growing presence within the United States. Many Wiccans practice their faith individually or in small groups. Although estimates of the number of Wiccans are unreliable, a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that roughly 0.3% of Americans identified as Wiccans or…
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Wild Rice

This illustration depicts three Native American women knocking wild rice grains into their canoe with paddles.
Wild rice was and is a staple food crop for the Native American tribes of Wisconsin. Indeed, the Menominee, one of the major tribes in the Milwaukee area, were called “the Wild Rice People” by Europeans. Traditionally grown in shallows at the edges of lakes and ponds, wild rice is harvested in the fall by…
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William Beck

William Beck was appointed Milwaukee’s first police chief in 1855 after a series of arsons, thefts, and murders. German-born, Beck migrated to New York, serving as a police officer before becoming a farmer in the Town of Granville outside of Milwaukee. He served as a deputy sheriff for two years before beginning an on-again/off-again span…
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William George Bruce

Portrait of William George Bruce sitting at his desk during his tenure as president of the Milwaukee Harbor Board of Commissioners between 1920 and 1949.
William George Bruce (1856-1949), a publisher and civic activist from a largely German North Side ward, was born to Augustus F. and Apollonia (Becker) Bruce on March 17, 1856. Bruce’s paternal grandfather had moved to Milwaukee from New York in 1842, four years before cityhood. A hip ailment left young William an invalid at the…
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Wisconsin Black Historical Museum

The Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, located at 2620 West Center Street, is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Milwaukee’s African-American community. Founded in 1987, both the museum and its associated organization—the Wisconsin Black Historical Society—were formed by Clayborn Benson, III. Benson, an experienced video and photo-journalist, created the museum to gather together a…
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Wisconsin Center

A 2012 image of the downtown convention facility that began its life as the Midwest Express Center and is now the Wisconsin Center.
Hoping to revitalize downtown Milwaukee, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce spearheaded the drive in the 1990s to replace the outdated convention hall of the MILWAUKEE EXPOSITION CONVENTION CENTER AND ARENA with a larger meeting space. A team of six firms eventually developed the 189,000 square foot Flemish and German-inspired Midwest Express Center, which opened…
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Wisconsin Conservatory of Music

Photograph of the McInstosh-Goodrich Mansion, home to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Designed in 1904, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Wisconsin Conservatory is among the nation’s oldest community-based arts schools. Founded by William Boeppler, Hugo Kaun, and Dr. Louis Frank in 1899, the institution provides music education to community members, both amateur and professional. While flourishing in the first half of the twentieth century, the conservatory suffered financial problems at mid-century, and again in…
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