Bay View feared the closing of Mound Street School
It's interesting the way that a myth can grow and trickle down through the generations. Consider the story that aged across a century, along with the former Mound Street School, 2148 S. Mound St., in Bay View.
Opened in 1886 as District 12-2, a companion to District 12-1 (later called Allen School), the school was renamed for its location in 1912, when many other schools were similarly re-christened.
Barely 20 years earlier, the street was planned by Edward Allis (he of Allis-Chalmers) and future mayor Ammi R. R. Butler, and named Mound Street in honor of the Indian mounds located on 6th and Lincoln, nearly a mile away.
By 1974, an MPS history noted that the street crossed an Indian mound, leading to the name. Four years later, when the school was tabbed for closure by the district, a newspaper article claimed, "the school was built in 1886 over an ancient Indian burial mound."
In his book, "Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names," Carl Baehr debunked the enduring falsehood. "The small hill this street runs over is not one of (the mounds), as street lore has claimed."
What is not myth is the deep meaning and value a school can embody in a neighborhood. Sometimes that value is felt more in the heart than in real estate values, however.
"Because the school is closing, residents fear there will be no incentive for young families to move into the area," wrote reporter Douglas Rossi in the Milwaukee Journal in October 1978. "If no young people move in, some fear the neighborhood will turn into a slum. The proliferation of "For Sale" signs on houses in the area is fueling their concern."
Fast forward three decades and Bay View is one of the city's hottest neighborhoods, and still popular with families. And discussions have come full circle as Parents for Bay View Schools lobbies MPS to give Bay View High School a neighborhood focus to prevent families with children fleeing to the 'burbs to find suitable schools.
But, then as now, neighborhood concern about the closure of a school – in this case, Mound Street – was easy to understand.
The school board suggested closing Mound Street because of declining enrollment. According to Rossi's article, the attendance area population was aging and, as Milwaukeeans know, the northern edge of Bay View, where Mound Street is located, is heavily industrial, not residential.
Some Mound Street families had been through this before. Or their grandparents had. When Jones Island School was closed in 1919 as part of the depopulation of the now entirely industrialized peninsula, many of the neighborhood children moved to Mound Street.
The latter school was erected in 1886 at a cost of $98,650 for the land and improvements. It was expanded in 1896 and modernized three years later. At that point it boasted 14 classrooms, a small assembly hall and a basement with a lunch room and bathrooms. By the late '20s, the relatively small school had an enrollment of 626, an astonishing fact for anyone familiar with modern school enrollments.
In 1957, Mound Street served as a model for other MPS buildings of its vintage when a "pilot room" was added. The pilot room was a remodeled classroom that was meant to serve as an illustration of how these solid old buildings could roll with the changes.
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