Kilbourn Reservoir Park

Following our zoo trip, I knew I wanted to get out to see another park. So I got into research mode and found a few different places I was hoping to check out (it’s always good to have a backup plan). We ended up visiting three different parks on February 25th: Kilbourn Reservoir Park, Kadish Park, and Swing Park. Let’s start at the beginning.

WW Sign
This is what greeted us when we got out of the car, so…

Sitting on land donated by Milwaukee’s third Mayor, Byron Kilbourn, Kilbourn Reservoir Park was once the site of a reservoir (shocking, I know), but it was even more than that. Here’s a brief timeline:

  • Built in 1872/1873, the 25-foot deep reservoir held approximately 20-21 million gallons of potable water and was an essential part of Milwaukee’s water system for more than a century.
  • From 1905-1968, the land around the reservoir (referred to as Kilbourn Park) became a popular greenspace for locals; during this time, live concerts were a common summer occurrence (until music-lovers and musicians alike were egged during a 1968 concert).
  • Sometime in the 1930s (or thereabouts, anyway), the American Legion planted flowers (in the shape of a star) on the reservoir’s hill. The flowers were replanted along the way, but it eventually detereroriated due to neglect. The emblem was later recreated and rededicated in 2010.
  • The reservoir was covered by a concrete roof in 1979. Prior to that, the water had been open to the air (and whatever else might have been in the area).
  • A proposal to include the reservoir and surrounding land as a Historic Site was submitted – and approved – in 1999.
  • In 2004, the reservoir was officially decommissioned, but the tank itself wouldn’t be removed until 2006/2007. Due to its historic designation, the shape and height of the hill had to remain unchanged… sort of. The hill was rebuilt with almost 90,000 cubic yards of dirt, creating the foundation of the ~28-acre park as we now know it.
WW Kilbourn Playground
Ta da!

Today, the park is probably best known for its views of the Milwaukee skyline, and now I totally understand why. After we climbed an impressive number of stairs to get to the top of the hill (and once I managed to catch my breath), I was floored. We chose the perfect day to visit; with barely a cloud in the sky, I could see everything. Honestly, I had no idea that such a view even existed! Color me impressed for sure.

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If you find yourself in the Riverwest area of Milwaukee, I suggest making time for a trip to Kilbourn Reservoir Park:

  • The park seems to be associated with Milwaukee Water Works (because, you know, reservoir), so I guess that makes this my first City of Milwaukee park on the blog! (That said, I’m not sure what exactly that means, so perhaps it’s a moot point?)
  • Though we took the stairs to get to the top, it’s important to note that there is an alternative option: a nearby paved path gently winds its way up the hillside as well.
  • In addition to the playground (pictured above), there is also an area for basketball (half-court) and plenty of grass for other activities. If that’s not enough, you can cross North Ave and head to Kadish Park for additional space. On that note…
  • Be careful when crossing any streets around the park! We crossed at a crosswalk, but it was still pretty sketchy. There were semi-blind curves in either direction, and traffic wasn’t exactly moving through at a leisurely pace. There was also a section of fence nearby that was clearly taken out by a moving vehicle, so stay alert!

Links! All the links!

Kilbourn Reservoir Park Project (City of Milwaukee/Milwaukee Water Works)
Kilbourn Reservoir Park brochure (City of Milwaukee/Milwaukee Water Works)
Kilbourn Reservoir History (City of Milwaukee/Milwaukee Water Works)
Leaky reservoir speeds up plans for Kilbourn Park (OnMilwaukee)
Master Plan Memo for Kilbourn Reservoir Park (City of Milwaukee/Milwaukee Water Works)
Kilbourn/Reservoir Park: A Brief History (Riverwest Currents)
Kilbourn Park (Urban Milwaukee)
Urban Spelunking: A new life for the Kilbourn Reservoir Pumping Station? (OnMilwaukee)




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