Monday, November 29, 2010

Honoring our ancestors while adding beauty and health to our parks

Through the help of grants from Sweet Water and the Wisconsin Arts Board, Urban Anthropology Inc.  added 30 trees to Kosciuszko Park over the last three years.  Grants from Sweet Water (Southeast Wisconsin Watershead Trust) allowed UrbAn to replace trees that have been taken down due to disease.  A grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board enabled UrbAn to add a hand-carved bench honoring the Native heritage in the Park Neighborhoods.  If you are interested in contributing a tree to any of our Park Neighborhoods’ parks, contact Rick Petrie at (414) 271-9417 or email at:
Over the years the trees will also be contributed to the other parks in Lincoln Village and Baran Park.  

A brief introduction to Lincoln Village

 Lincoln Village is a diverse neighborhood on Milwaukee's near south side. The neighborhood - officially bound by Becher Street to the north, Cleveland Avenue to the south, 5th Place to the east, and 16th street to the west - was first settled by Polish immigrants in the late 19th century.

There are many remnants of those early "Polonia" days. St. Josaphat's Basilica, funded and built by faithful Polish residents, was the second church in the entire country to become a basilica. A monument to General Thadeus Kosciuszko, a Polish hero who fought against the British in the American Revolutionary War, proudly faces Lincoln Avenue from his pedestal in Kosciuszko Park. Residents can thank the Poles for the area's solid and attractive housing stock, too. The neighborhood has always been one of the most densely populated in the city, and the old Polish flats - two story frame houses raised half a story to create a ground-level dwelling space for more tenants - speak to the immigrant history of the area. Lincoln Villagers have always been hard workers, and long-time residents pride their community on its blue collar roots.

Lincoln Village today is a much more diverse community. In 1910, the neighborhood was virtually 100% Polish Catholic. In 2010, the neighborhood - as surveyed thus far - includes representatives from over 108 nations, including the many Indian nations of Wisconsin and other states. While many Polish families have remained here through the generations, Mexican Americans make up over half of the population. The six largest ethnic groups in the neighborhood today are Mexican, Polish, Puerto Rican, African American, German, and native, with Lincoln Village having perhaps the largest concentration of urban Indians in the city of Milwaukee. Other residents hail from South and Southeastern Asia, North and East Africa, Eastern Europe (particularly the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia), and of course, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The experience of several Lincoln Village cultural groups are documented in the rooms of the Old South Side Settlement Museum at 707 W Lincoln Avenue. Mexican, Peruvian, Salvadoran, and Serbian restaurants, Mexican bakeries and supermarkets, a Mexican butcher and old-time A & J Polish Deli serve residents and visitors to Lincoln Village today.

A brief introduction to Baran Park

Baran Park is a small neighborhood nestled between Lincoln Village to the west and Bay View to the east. The neighborhood may not be as well known as these two, but it has an enviable location and much, much more.

The neighborhood is named for - surprise! - Baran Park, a Milwaukee County Park that runs north to south, parallel to 1st Street and the Kinnickinnic River corridor. The park is named after an early St. Josaphat's pastor, Felix Baran, and today it is a hot spot for local baseball league play during summer. And there is another baseball connection in Baran Park. Klement's Sausage, the Milwaukee staple and creator/sponsor of the Milwaukee Brewers Racing Sausages, is located along 1st Street on the southern end of the neighborhood.

Milwaukee Pallet, another homegrown Milwaukee company, is located among a grouping of industrial buildings and some available office lofts. And across the Kinnickinnic from these is Inland Seas High School, a Milwaukee maritime-themed charter school with after-school boat building programs. The school has a very appropriate placement; the KK River was one of Milwaukee's busiest waterways during the heyday of early industry, and today, several marinas and docking facilities are located just downstream.

In some ways, Baran Park seems like an island, but this island - located as it is between Lincoln Village and Baran Park, where Lincoln Avenue crosses over Interstate I-43 and with the Kinnickinnic River running through it - is not an isolated one by any means.

El Salvador Restaurant

There are many great ethnic restaurants along Lincoln Avenue, but the El Salvador Restaurant is located just off Lincoln, at 2316 S 6th Street. While they offer a variety of traditional home-style Mexican entrees (tacos, burritos, the obligatory tortilla-chips-and-salsa meal starter), Salvadoran fare is their specialty. So, what should your first Salvadoran meal look like? One word: PUPUSAS.

Pupusas are small corn pockets folded around a filling: beef, queso, refried beans, or a traditional vegetable mix that includes squash. El Salvador pupusas are flavorful, not spicy, and come with a side of fresh pickled cabbage and red and green ketchup-y sauces that you squeeze from big plastic bottles.

I ate my first pupusas while visiting Nicaragua in 2005, and I'm glad so I can get my pupusa fix right here in Lincoln Village. But when the pupusa craving strikes, be advised: El Salvador is only open Wednesdays-Sundays.

The Kinnickinnic

The Kinnickinnic River is one of the three major rivers that flow into Milwaukee harbor (the others are the Menominee and the Milwaukee) and the only one with a south to north watershed. Near here, it runs east along the southern edge of Lincoln Village, then turns north near Baran Park, and continues its course, flanked by warehouses, marinas, and the Barnacle Buds fish restaurant towards Lake Michigan.

There's a lot history associated with the Kinnickinnic River and there are some big projects in the works for its preservation today, but let's start with the basics. Kinnickinnic is a hard word to spell, so that is probably why so many Milwaukeeans refer to Kinnickinnic Avenue (which anchors the Bayview neighborhood) as "KK Avenue." But what is Kinnickinnic and what does it mean?

Kinnickinnic, also known as bearberry, is a plant that grows in northern climates like Wisconsin's.

It is edible, but the fruit is tasteless. The leaves of the Kinnickinnic were prized by Natives for their healing properties. These leaves were made into teas and contain a powerful, antiseptic astringent used to treat kidney and bladder ailments. Many Natives also mixed the leaves with other ingredients and smoked them. "Kinnickinnic" is the Algonquian term for "mixture."