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Friday, Sept. 7, 2012

Milwaukee's 'Central Park'

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Take a stroll, view a lighthouse, play golf and visit an Indian mound—these are all activities that can be enjoyed in one famous Milwaukee County park. Along the shores of Lake Michigan on Milwaukee's East Side lies Lake Park, an expansive and beautiful place open to the public.

This land once was home to American-Indian tribes. One Indian burial mound, thought to date from the Middle Woodland period, remains in the park today. A historical marker was placed at the mound in 1910 to preserve its space.

This scenic land would be "bought" by Americans living in the Milwaukee area and used to build a lighthouse and, later, a park. The United States Lighthouse Service acquired the land in 1854, and a lighthouse was erected a year later. North Point Lighthouse functioned for more than a century before being decommissioned in 1994. The idea of transforming this land into a park sprouted shortly after its purchase in 1854. Following the formation of the Milwaukee County Parks Commission in 1889, acreage was bought to officially build a park.

The Commission contracted Frederick Law Olmsted, a highly regarded landscape architect, to design the park. Olmsted designed many parks in the United States, the most famous of which is Central Park in New York City. Olmsted, who was known for designing in the "Romantic" style, created areas of natural beauty alongside areas of recreation. With the help of Christian Wahl, Olmsted constructed pathways, bridges, carriage walks, brooks and waterfalls in 1894. Olmstead was also commissioned to design what is now Riverside Park and Washington Park, along with the boulevard along part of Newberry Avenue, but Lake Park was his largest project in the area.

The park became a popular spot for locals. In the coming years, many attractions were added. The next few decades saw the addition of a horse barn, the "lion bridges," a grand staircase and a footbridge. In 1903, a six-hole golf course was built.

Lake Park continued to flourish throughout the 20th century, with more recreational facilities and increased interest in preserving the park's natural resources. Today, Lake Park is bustling with joggers, bike riders, golfers and nature lovers. While significantly smaller than Central Park, Lake Park is an emerald treasure of our own—and will continue to be for years to come.

Photo: Lake Park in 1890—North Point Lighthouse at horizon