Whitefish Bay Historical Society

Website for the historical society of the Village of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.

Stories of Whitefish Bay

In order to help tell the history of the Village of Whitefish Bay, we will add periodic articles about the Community.  You can read these articles by clicking on the links to the left, or the highlighted text below.

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Transportation Access and the Development of Whitefish Bay

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 9:00 PM

The development of the Village of Whitefish Bay was intrinsically  tied to the development of a north shore transportation system. In the late 1800s, the northern limit of the city of Milwaukee extended to about North Avenue. Transportation beyond that point was difficult at best.  As a result, the area now known as Whitefish Bay was very sparsely populated. 


Several entrepreneurs, recognizing the potential attraction of lake shore properties north of Milwaukee, started enterprises to provide transportation:


Charles Andrews, proprietor of the Newhall House, formed the Lake Avenue Turnpike Co. and obtained a state charter to operate a toll road. Built at a cost of $50,000 the new road was opened in the fall of 1872. It started at what is now Lafayette Place and followed the lake front to the present Silver Spring Drive. A single toll gate was located at the southern end, which moved north as Milwaukee expanded. Guido Pfister and associates formed the Milwaukee & Whitefish Bay railroad, better known as the “dummy line,” in 1886. The tracks were installed by 1888 and began at Farwell and North avenues, ran north on what is now Downer Avenue, crossed Capital Drive at Maryland, and jogged to Frederick, before traveling up Wilshire to Cumberland and following it around to what is now Courtland Place before heading north on Woodburn and hitting Henry Clay at the front door of the Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort. The rail line eventually jogged around and followed what is now Marlborough, crossing Silver Spring and ending at Day Avenue. The "Dummy Line" continued to serve the area until 1898, when the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company extended its service to Whitefish Bay and took over the route.


The Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay Railway, also known as the Dummy Line


The Pabst Brewing Co. operated a steamer from 1905 until 1908 to take travelers from Milwaukee to the pier adjacent to the Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort.



In 1874, the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western (MLS&W) Railway, built a rail line southward along the lake shore from Manitowoc, connecting to the Chicago & Northwestern Railway at Lakeshore Junction (just south of Capital Drive), and from there ran south on joint tracks to a depot on Milwaukee’s lake front.



MLS&W purchased a considerable tract of land near what is now Fairmount Avenue in Whitefish Bay in 1887. Rumors spread that car shops and freight yards would be built. An enterprising real estate firm obtained land rights and platted a subdivision in the vicinity. It has been reported that this set off a real estate boom which resulted in platting subdivisions that covered much of what is now the village of Whitefish Bay. The railroad ran special suburban service to the area to encourage prospective home owners to purchase property. The real estate bubble burst in the panic of 1895, bringing an end to this railway service.


Similarly, the Dummy Line also attracted real estate activity into the lake shore areas of Whitefish Bay. Day Avenue became the first residential neighborhood in the community, with many homes built before year 1900.

Riding on the dummy, glad to get a seat.With a jolly company, all looking gay and sweet;Riding on the dummy the dummy with the darling I adore,Viewing hills and dales with joy I never felt before. [3]


The story of the Dummy Line is particularly interesting. It has been reported that the railway got its name because of an incident that occurred during the first trip of the railway's 12 ton locomotive. The incident has been described as follows: “While pulling three passenger coaches, the noisy engine terrified livestock and draft horses along its route, incurring protests from the owners of overturned wagons. In an effort to solve the problem, the company mounted a life size wooden horse onto a flatcar and coupled the car to the front of the engine to act as a calming vanguard.” [4]

While the story is entertaining, I believe it is doubtful that it is true. A good number of railways in the United States were dubbed, ‘Dummy Lines’ and a popular song of the time was entitled, “Riding on the Dummy.” Two different explanations were found from various sources for the name ‘Dummy.’


A term used in railroad logging to describe railroad tracks that did not connect communities nor seem have any direction to them; also called spur or tram lines. [Longleaf Pine Glossary, www.longleafalliance.org/teachers/teacherkit/glossary.htm.] ‘Steam dummies’ was a term applied to a locomotive that consisted of a simple tank style steam locomotive built with a faux street car shell over the chassis. It is reported that this was a common practice back in the era when horses were the primary power of transportation and supposedly were accustomed to street cars, yet were easily frightened by the moving parts and escaping steam of a conventional steam locomotive. The street car shell hid all the reciprocating machinery and apparently horses were more at ease in their presence with this arrangement. [from: http://members.trainweb.com/bedt/indloco/ht.html]This second explanation might provide the origin of the name, as well as the story. The existing photographs of the Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay train show that, indeed, the locomotive had a street car shell built around it. Furthermore, in appearance it looks quite similar to other locomotives described as ‘steam dummies.’


The Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay railway, with the conductor standing next to the locomotive. From: Shorewood, Wisconsin (Part of the Images of America Series), published by the Shorewood Historical Society


The Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western Railway was already operating before the ‘Dummy Line’ was built and traveled in much the same area. It used conventional steam engines. So the story that the first trip of the Dummy train, “terrified livestock and draft horses along its route, incurring protests from the owners of overturned wagons,” sounds incredulous. It is more likely that the local story morphed from the frequent retelling of the reason that steam dummies were designed to look like street cars. The owners of the Dummy Line (The Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay Railroad) probably selected a dummy train because it was suitable for the short passenger trips it was designed for. It only required a small engine to haul three small passenger cars, and the owners preferred an appearance similar to that of the new street cars that were already being used in Milwaukee. A good treatise of the development of the dummy locomotive, more formally called the ‘steam motor’ was provided in an article in Invention and Technology magazine.[5]  The article reported that, “the street-railway industry … understood their merits for suburban lines (rather than urban train systems). Stops were less frequent, so wear and tear on the machine was reduced and fuel economy improved. The speed potential of the dummy was also better realized. Although 15 or 20 miles per hour may not seem fast, compared with a horse car’s five miles per hour it did make a scheduling difference. One community after another from Connecticut to California established its dummy line. … By 1892 Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials and Manual of American Street Railways listed about 80.”“Most were minor operations with one or two dummies, a handful of cars, and a few miles of lightly built track. …The largest clusters of dummy lines were, as might be expected, around major cities. … The great majority were gone by 1900 as efficient, smokeless electric streetcars took over America’s transit needs.”It appears that the ‘Dummy Line’ was well accepted by its clientele. “Paths to the North Shore Suburbs,” an article on the history of early transportation to Whitefish Bay by Lewis W. Herzog, describes trips on the ‘Dummy’, stating:


“The socialites bound for the exclusive Milwaukee Country Club rubbed elbows with the holiday crowds headed for such places as Mineral Spring park, Welcome Park, Jefferson Park, and the one and only Whitefish Bay Resort. Here at the end of the line the chugging locomotives came to rest and the merry-makers entered the spacious pavilion overlooking the sparkling bay named for those succulent planked whitefish served in the spacious dining room. Here one could drink Milwaukee's Pabst Brewing Co. beer at the little round white tables along the walk, enjoy band music by the Joseph Clauder Brass Band outside, and Clauder's quintette inside under the direction of violinist Herman Kelbe. Kelbe also conducted the orchestra in the Davidson Theater in winter.”

The Dummy Line passed out of existence when the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company extended its Oakland Avenue street car line to Silver Spring Drive in 1898, following a pattern adopted at most other American cities.


Additional References to the Two Articles Above:

1  Paths to the North Shore Suburbs by Lewis W. Herzog This history is contained in aloose leaf volume of local history reference material maintained by the Whitefish Bay Public Library entitled, "A detailed history of Whitefish Bay with many memories" by Arthur A. Rabe. This volume also contains a map of the M&WFB right-of-way.

2 The RobertC. Pringle, a 101-foot wooden excursion boat, was built in 1903 in Manitowoc.  The Pringle began service as a passenger-carrying steamer that worked Lake Superior near Ashland for the Chequamegon Bay Transportation Co.  A year later, it was acquired by Benson Transit to travel between Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich.  The Pabst Brewing Co. then operated it from 1905 to 1908 for excursions between Milwaukee and the Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort.  Subsequent owners ran it for several years on passenger runs on the Michigan side of the lake before the Pringle line bought it in 1918 and converted it into a tugboat.  It sank in 1922.  In 2008, after searching for 30 years, Steve Radovan and associates finally found the wreck of the boat six miles off the shore of Sheboygan. 

3 Published in 1885 by George W. Hagans of San Francisco under the title "Riding on the Dummy," with words andmusic credited to Sam Both and Frederick G. Carnes, respectively (copyrighted in 1885, no. 26351).

4 Reported at http://www.villageofshorewood.org/train.htm

5  Available at: http://www.americanheritage.com/email/articles/magazine/it/1998/4/1998_4_34.shtml


People of Whitefish Bay: Kaestners, Leus and Mohrs

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 8:50 PM

Kaestners, Leus and Mohrs - Early Settlers and Farmers of WFBThe Mohr Family

The Kaestners, Leus and Mohrs were early farmers in the area that is now the Village of Whitefish Bay. They farmed land that is located in the southwestern portion of the Village. Their homes represent some of the earliest surviving homes built in Whitefish Bay, and good examples of 1880 farm houses.  In addition to farming in the same area of the Village, all three families became intertwined through various marriages. 


John Mohr is shown in the 1850 census as a farmer, age 48, originally from Germany, living with his wife Ava and children Philip and Andreas. Records indicate that John Mohr died in 1852. At the time of his death, he had 20 acres of land.


John and Ava's son, Philip Mohr, married Dorthea (Doris) Rose, daughter of Johann and Anna Marie Rose, who farmed land located just north of the Mohr family, in 1861. Philip was 21 at the time. The 1880 census shows them with 9 children. Their first son, John, married Alvina Leu, daughter of Ludwig and Rosa Leu. They moved into Alvina’s parents home, still standing at 400 East Hampton Road. Their daughter, Adelaide, continued to live in the residence as late as 1992.


Philip and Dorthea Mohr’s son William eventually became Whitefih Bay’s first lamplighter.


At least 17 Mohrs are recorded as buried in the Town of Milwaukee cemetery.


On September 25, 1925, the Shorewood Radio (forerunner of the Whitefish Bay Herald) reported that, “Philip H. Mohr, 88 years old, has lived on his farm on Washington Avenue (now Henry Clay Street) for 61 years. The farm is about three blocks east of the Port Washington Road. His father came to this country 61 years ago from Germany, bought this farm land and lived there until his death, when it went to his son and grandson, in turn.” The interview goes on to report how the Mohrs hunted bears and wolves on their property, hauled loads of cordwood to the City and sold them at the marketplace – now the site of Milwaukee’s City Hall.


Philip Mohr’s obituary (March 8, 1929) reported that he used to help his father bring farm produce and wood to the market in Milwaukee via oxen drawn cart. It was necessary to ford the Milwaukee River at a spot in what is now Lincoln Park.


The Kaestner Family

George Kaestner came from Germany and in 1849 married Mary Mohr, daughter of John and Eva Mohr. They farmed land south of Henry Clay. Their son, Henry and his wife, Alvina, built the house at 106 W. Henry Clay St. It originally stood on the south side of the street. Henry and Alvina’s daughter, Clara, married Fred Mohr, a greatgrandchild of John and Eva Mohr, and moved the house across the road to its present location.




The Leu Family

Julius Leu came to Milwaukee with his parents in 1865, married Pauline, and farmed near Lancaster St. and Santa Monica for 20 years.



Picture of Julius and Pauline Leu


Julius and Pauline's son, Ludwig, built the house at 400 E. Hampton Rd. on the south side of Hampton in 1886. It was moved to the north side in 1889 and was later occupied by Adelaide Mohr, a granddaughter of Ludwig’s, and her nephew and his wife, the Gordon Mohrs. Adelaide lived in the home until 1992. Ludwig also built the house at 519 E. Hampton Rd. in about 1890.


Vegetable Farmers

On census reports all three families were listed as vegetable farmers. It is believed that their produce was sold at various farmers’ markets in the City of Milwaukee. The photograph below shows workers (unidentified, but presumably members of the Mohr family) in the field on Fred Mohr’s farm land.



Harvesting from Fred Mohr's vegetable farm.  Workers are not identified but are likely members of the Mohr family.


In addition to building classic, sturdy homes, all lovingly maintained by their current owners, the three families contributed to the village’s civic history. Julius Leu was a village trustee from 1896-99 and from 1908-17. He also served as the village’s Street Commissioner and headed its Department of Public Works. John and Eva Mohr’s son, Andrew, became the Treasurer of the Town of Milwaukee, and his son, William, was the village’s first lamplighter.


Their four homes are among 15 properties in the southwest part of the village that had bronze medallions placed in their sidewalks in 2010 in recognition of their placement on the Whitefish Bay Architecture and Historic Inventory (AHI). A walking tour of this portion of the Village has been prepared and is available at the WFB Library and Village Hall. 


The full list of the more than 125 properties on the AHI is on the village website, www.wfbvillage.org.