Names & Numbers – How They’ve Changed

Names & Numbers – How They’ve Changed

By Cynthia Sommer (August 2013)

For anyone who has lived in Milwaukee, it is not unusual to hear or understand directions such as: “I live on the 3000 block of N. Prospect or I am going to the 2800 block of N. 76th St.”. Residents often take for granted the ease of getting  their orientation and directions in Milwaukee. It was not always so.

There have been many changes in street names and addresses through the years, but the biggest change occurred around 1930-31 during the progressive period in the City under Mayor Daniel Hoan. Milwaukee started in the 1860’s with a sectional system of street numbering due to the presence of rivers and the concept that the city was a collection of three independent settlements, each with their unique social and ethnic character (Juneautown, Kilbourntown and Walker’s Point). The South side avenues did not coordinate with the North side streets and the roadways did not always line up – as is still evident as we drive from N. Water to S. First St. Milwaukee was a dynamic commercial city at the turn of the century and the number of voices of Milwaukee reformers for coordinated address numbering grew. Merchants, US Postal Service, City Directory compilers, Police and Fire wanted to create a “modern” city by improving the delivery of services, goods and letters, enhancing their dealings with out-of-town businesses and making the city more convenient for residents and attractive for visitors. Generally, the local citizenry was not as concerned with the need for a change and many were attached to their community and street designations.

Various City mayors appointed several commissions between 1913-1931 and their reports were rejected and/or modified by the Common Councils. The 1913 commission did recommend a unified numbering system based on Cartesian coordinates with north-south and east-west baselines that created a quadrant system. The choice of the N-S and E-W baselines was, however, an issue. The leaders could not agree on whether the avenues (South side) or the streets (North side) should be renamed and also whether to locate the unifying point in the city in the downtown business district or the industrial and planned civic  center near the Menomonee Valley and 6th street. With time and changes in leadership and the Common Council, an agreement was finalized such that the “The north and south baseline division is N. First St., the Milwaukee River, S. First St. and S. Chase Ave., while the harbor entrance of the Menomonee River and W. Canal St. constitute the east-west baseline. …. All houses and buildings are numbered on the basis of one number for each 15 ft. property frontage, starting at the base line with the number 100 and continuing with consecutive hundreds at each street intersection, whenever possible.” This reform resulted in many street name changes due to duplication and directional clarification, but the major impact for citizens was formalization of their residential address. Detailed planning minimized many but not all difficulties; for example, some owners objected when “the number “13” occurred and in some cases where the digits totaled 13″ in their address.

Today, most houses on the Eastside still display the light ivory ceramic house numbers (9 cents/number in 1930). While most of the Eastside streets retained their names, all were identified with North (N.) or East (E.) orientations and standardized as to street, avenue or place designations. Locust (Folsom), Linnwood (Linwood) and Hampshire (Concord) streets were the only street names changed. Several Eastside streets had already changed their names prior to the reform, especially during the decades before and after 1900 (Table of street name and date of change).

As to house number changes, the N-S street numbers that were originally listed in the 400’s – 800’s from North Ave. to Kenwood Blvd. were renumbered 2400’s -3000’s. There was not, however, a nice parallel in the changed address; that is, the former 482 Frederick St. residence became 2424 and not 2482 N. Frederick Ave. Similar changes occurred with East-West streets going from the original 300’s-500’s numbers to the current 1800’s to 2500’s numbers from Oakland to Downer, respectively.

One can imagine the inconvenience and confusion that these changes caused the residents and businesses. We all need to pause and appreciate their adjustments and their progressive decisions.


Murray Hill Street Name

Previous Street Name

Date of Change

N. Oakland Ave.

High St.


N. Cramer St.

Church St.


N. Murray Ave.

Harrison St.


N. Frederick Ave.

Frederick St.


N. Maryland Ave.

Maryland St.


N. Farwell Ave.

Farwell St.


N. Prospect Ave.

Prospect Pl.


N. Stowell Ave.

Stowell Pl.


N. Downer Ave.

Glen Ave.


E. Bradford Ave.

Bradford St.


E. Webster Pl.

Summit Pl.


E. Belleview Pl.

Gilman St.


E. Park Pl.

Park Pl.


E. Newberry Blvd.

Newberry St.


E. Locust St.

Folsom Pl.


E. Linnwood Ave.

Linwood Ave.


E. Kenwood Blvd

E. Burleigh St.


E. Hampshire St.

Concord Ave.


E. Hartford Ave.

Hartford Ave.