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Streets of Old Milwaukee: A Museum Favorite

Aug. 23, 2012
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Strolling down Milwaukee's paved streets, grabbing a cold Schlitz beer, stopping by the candy store for a snack or catching a flick at the theater: Similar to the present day, these are many of the activities Milwaukeeans participated in during the early 1900s. A local tradition, "The Streets of Old Milwaukee" exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum allows visitors to experience the city as it was at the turn of the century.

"The Streets of Old Milwaukee," which opened in January 1965, is an immersive exhibit. As the title suggests, visitors literally walk through streets of a reproduction of Milwaukee. The exhibit captures the essence of the city from the late 1800s to the pre-World War I era. The exhibit reflects many changes at that time in American history, including cultural changes through immigration, economic changes through growing businesses and rapid advances in technology in the post-Industrial Revolution era.

"The Streets of Old Milwaukee" mimics the look and feel of the era with its three paving surfaces—cedar blocks, stone cobble and bricks—as well as gas lamps that illuminate the streets. The exhibit holds about 25 different shops or businesses, many of which still exist today. 
For example, the Pfister Hotel, Usinger's and George Watts are a few of the businesses still open since those early days. Moviegoers can stop by the Nickelodeon theater to catch a silent film (free with museum admission). For those with a sweet tooth, pop into Haymarket Square—the candy store—and buy a treat.

Accompanying the barber, bakery and pharmacy are a few homes. There is the Watson house, which was home to Sully and Susanna Watson—one of the most prominent African-American families at the time. Another small home exists on Grand Avenue, featuring a Schloemer motor wagon—one of the early gasoline-powered Wisconsin automobiles.

Next time you visit the Milwaukee Public Museum, take a walk through "The Streets of Old Milwaukee" and experience life at the turn of the century. Peek in the windows and look at the objects from the museum's collection and the community. Listen to the sounds of music and feel the changes in texture under your feet. Spend some time exploring with all of your senses at one of Milwaukee's finest institutions.

The Milwaukee Public Museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Independence Day.


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