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Riverwest is a neighborhood in the city of Milwaukee, WI, bounded by the Milwaukee River on the east and south, N. Holton Street on the west, and E. Capitol Drive on the north. The neighborhood’s first development was at dams on the river in the mid-1830s—one located just south of present-day Capitol Drive, the other south of North Avenue. The southern dam was to be the head of Byron Kilbourn’s proposed 50-mile canal connecting Milwaukee, WI to the Rock River. That project failed after the 1837 depression, but a mile-long stretch provided waterpower for the city’s first manufacturing district along Commerce Street. The short-lived factory town of Humboldt was platted in 1850 west of the northern dam site; its name continued from the 1870s into the twentieth century in settlement of summer estates owned by numerous German-American business leaders and along today’s Humboldt Boulevard.

In those same years, other, less affluent German-Americans settled the western parts of the area. By the 1880s, a substantial settlement of Polish immigrants was forming in the south and east. Their Polonia began around St. Hedwig Parish (1871) on East Brady and North Humboldt streets and expanded north across the river to an area the Poles called Zagora, meaning beyond the hill. (That referenced the grassy slopes of the 1873 city reservoir on North Avenue, or Zielona Gora, green hill.) St. Casimir’s Catholic Church was established to serve this community in 1894, and St. Mary of Czestochowa parish in 1907. The area still is home to Nest 725 of the Polish Falcons fraternal organization. Bed Bug Exterminator Milwaukee

African-American and Latino residents moved in starting in the 1960s. It was the site of some of Milwaukee’s 1960s open housing marches, with North Booth Street resident Ald. Vel Phillips among the movement’s leaders, and Ald. Eugene Woehrer’s home on E. Burleigh Street was among the marchers’ targets. Many new Latino residents were migrants from Puerto Rico.

Other new residents were students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who found affordable housing close at hand. A counterculture community grew in the neighborhood in the 1970s. Outpost Natural Foods co-op opened on E. Clarke Street in 1971 and had two other locations in Riverwest before moving to its current Capitol Drive location. Many artists moved in, too, some attracted by vacant storefront studio space. A group of activists called the East Side Housing Action Committee, later ESHAC, organized the neighborhood by successfully opposing the widening of E. Locust Street in 1976. ESHAC became one of the city’s premier community organizations before folding in 1998. It was consultants hired by ESHAC who coined the Riverwest name in 1978.

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