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People of the Road: honoring the railroad workers who carried Milwaukee’s name across the country on rails

Railroads are regularly immortalized by depictions of trains and rails. It is time that we paid tribute to the individuals who gave the Milwaukee Railroad life.

Local artist Richard Taylor has been commissioned to construct an ambitious five-sculpture monument to honor and celebrate the thousands of workers who built the locomotives and rail cars made in Milwaukee. The long history of the Milwaukee Road railroad shops spans from 1848 to 1985. People of the Road will be a powerful reminder of the role the Milwaukee Road and their employees played in the history of Milwaukee and beyond.

Five permanent sculptures will create a new landmark and link the landscape to history. These towering steel structures will pay tribute to the people of the Road using silhouettes from archived photographs.

Two of the sculptures have already been built. The community is nearly halfway to the fundraising goal!

Two of the sculptures have already been built. The community is nearly halfway to the fundraising goal!

 

GOAL - we’re almost halfway there!

The Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail are raising $250,000 to have the artwork installed in 2019.

GOAL: $250,000

Financial support raised to date: $101,000

In kind donations: $29,000 for a total of $120,000

Financial support needed to complete the project: $130,000

Your support will help realize this tribute to the People of the Road and create a historical monument at the location where the Milwaukee Road operated for more than 100 years.

Supporters who contribute $1,000 or more will be recognized on a donor plaque near the sculptures. Supporters may choose to have their donation honor a loved one who worked at the Milwaukee Road.

Or mail checks to:
Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail
2300 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
Milwaukee, WI 53212

This project is more than half funded - your support will help make this tribute a reality.

This project is more than half funded - your support will help make this tribute a reality.

The sculpture will be located near the corner of West Canal Street and West Milwaukee Road where the Milwaukee Road Rail Shops' chimneys once stood. Now along the Hank Aaron State Trail, it is a highly visible area with hikers, joggers, cyclists, and between 6,000 to 7,700 cars passing by daily.

The sculpture will be located near the corner of West Canal Street and West Milwaukee Road where the Milwaukee Road Rail Shops' chimneys once stood. Now along the Hank Aaron State Trail, it is a highly visible area with hikers, joggers, cyclists, and between 6,000 to 7,700 cars passing by daily.

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INSPIRATION

Samples of Milwaukee Road photos served as a source of material for silhouettes in the model. All figures were drawn from Milwaukee Road photos.

Rendering of the "People of the Road" monument

Rendering of the "People of the Road" monument

Richard Taylor’s design celebrates the thousands of workers who assembled locomotives, boxcars, and passenger cars in the Milwaukee Road’s Menomonee Valley shops. Thousands more worked on the trains in many capacities, from engineers and conductors to chefs, hostesses, and station agents.

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Five sculptures, the tallest of which is fourteen feet in height, will create a historical monument in the Menomonee River Valley where the Milwaukee Road operated for more than 100 years from 1878 to 1985.

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The People of the Road are unified not only in their work and respective attire, but by an overlaying pattern of tracks that speak to their common purpose. The figures are meant to be seen from all sides. They invite viewers to walk around them, to see the industrial backbones of steel that not only give them sculptural strength but serve as metaphors for the backbone they gave the local economy and their own lives.

The tallest of the sculptures, the brushed aluminum crossing sign on the right, will be illuminated at night with dozens of LED lights. These will fade on and off for hours after dark, each evening’s duration reflecting that day’s solar energy collection. The fire-fly like display will call attention to the piece at night, animating it in a poetic manner.

The solid supporting elements of the sculptures recall other pieces of history from the railroad. A track side water tower, grain elevator, roundhouse, crate, locomotive, and steam cylinders refer to the many pieces of infrastructure necessary to make the railroad function. The architecture of these elements lends backdrop and footing to the cast of workers, as they did in real life.

Raised relief details illustrating the Milwaukee Road’s logos, the Hiawatha icon, and the years of the railway help to remind the viewer of the rich history of the local rails.

Railroads are already immortalized by depictions of trains and rails, but the true honor due to the Milwaukee Road lies in paying tribute to the individuals who gave it life.

 

A promotional film produced for the Milwaukee Road (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) detailing railroad operations from day to day. Start at 11:25 to see the people of the Milwaukee Road shops in action.

 
 

History

The Rail Shops are an important part of Milwaukee's history. In the early 1900s, the railroad was the largest employer in Milwaukee employing 5,500 of its famously skilled and dedicated workers in the Menomonee Valley. Many of them lived and raised their families in the surrounding neighborhoods.

In 2010, the last vestiges of the Milwaukee Road Rail Shops, the chimneys, were demolished due to structural issues and concern for public safety. The chimneys had stood as a visual historical reminder of this history. A small amount of interpretive signage along the trail continues to tell the story, but a strong, engaging visual statement is missing.

Overhead view of the Milwaukee Road Shops property with the 35th Street viaduct running across the middle of the image. The former chimneys are on the west side of the viaduct. All structures relating to the Milwaukee Road are now gone. (Milwaukee Road was the commonly used name for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad.)

Overhead view of the Milwaukee Road Shops property with the 35th Street viaduct running across the middle of the image. The former chimneys are on the west side of the viaduct. All structures relating to the Milwaukee Road are now gone. (Milwaukee Road was the commonly used name for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad.)

 

about the artist

Richard Taylor is a native of Milwaukee, with commissioned work located around the country. He has worked with many organizations over the years to integrate his sculptural work into specific settings.

Read the artist’s full proposal here.

Learn more about Richard Taylor.

 

Support this project

Supporters who contribute $1,000 or more will be recognized on a donor plaque near the sculptures. Supporters may choose to have their donation honor a loved one who worked at the Milwaukee Road.

Or mail checks to:
Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail
2300 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
Milwaukee, WI 53212

Contact us for more information about People of the Road:

Melissa Dorn Richards
dornrichards@gmail.com

Melissa Cook
Trail Manager
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
melissa.cook@wisconsin.gov
414-263-8559

 

generous funders include:

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George Affeldt
Cheri & Tom Briscoe
David & Diane Buck
Melissa Dorn Richards
Heil Family Foundation
John Heywood
Erin Terbeek
Mike Maschek
John & Linda Mellowes
Richard Piehl
Jan Seer & John Shannon
Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee

 

share your stories

Over the years, we have heard many stories of people reminiscing about the Milwaukee Road and watching the trains from the 35th Street Viaduct. We want to capture your stories! Please share below and include your email or send us a note at fohast@gmail.com. Sharing your story will help raise the funds to make this project possible!

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Art on the Trail

Public art invigorates public spaces and helps to engage the community. It draws people onto the Trail, creates a recognizable identity, and links the landscape to the history, architecture, and social fabric of Milwaukee.

Art can be used to tell our story, honor our history, or explain an environmental concept in a creative and engaging way. It can create a more inviting space, for what may seem to some, an unfamiliar space.

Over time, several pieces of artwork have been developed specifically for the Hank Aaron State Trail. Please enjoy photos of the existing artwork on this website, but better yet, see them in person. Read on to learn more about the Milwaukee Road Monument, a sculptural work in progress.