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Havenwoods State Forest History

Havenwoods is a triangle of land that has almost come full circle. Before 1843, this land was a swampy forest. Wild animals trekked though the tall trees followed occasionally by Native Americans in search of food.

European settlement

In 1836, surveyors walked the land, measuring out a grid that opened this area to settlement. Early settlers included the Zautke, Pipkorn, Douglas, Bourke and Schalock families. As farmers, they probably cut down the trees, drained the land and planted crops.

County house of correction

In the early 1900s, Milwaukee County, needing a new home for its House of Correction, began buying farmland. The new modern House of Correction opened in 1917. The prisoners weren't idle. They tended crops, milked cows and constructed furniture in the Granville Chair Factory. The inspector's report from 1939 indicates the prison kitchen canned 5,534 gallons of tomatoes, 1,100 gallons of catsup, 1,350 gallons of corn, 172 gallons of rhubarb and much more!

Military use

In 1945, the U.S. Army seized the House of Correction for use as an Army Disciplinary Barracks (USDB). The USDB housed soldiers and prisoners of war.

In 1956, the Army constructed a Nike Ajax missile base at Havenwoods. All together, the Army built eight Nike sites encircling Milwaukee, to protect the city from long-range bombers. By 1958, the Ajax missile was obsolete. The site here was abandoned in 1963.

From about 1950 to 1967, the US Army Reserve used Havenwoods as a training facility. The 84th Division is still located south of Havenwoods on Silver Spring Drive. The city also used parts of the land as a landfill (1958-1970) and homeless families took up residence in the abandoned buildings (1969-1971).

Surplus land

The remains of the Nike missile base were obvious in the spring of 1979.In 1974, the Army decided it no longer needed the land or buildings and declared them surplus. For the first time in 130 years, this 237-acre piece of land on the northwest side of Milwaukee lay abandoned. The prison buildings, underground tunnels, Nike missile site and wild grasslands became an inviting, but very dangerous, unsupervised playground for kids of all ages. Meanwhile, city planners, federal agencies, educational institutions and businesses had their eyes on the potential for development of what they viewed as prime real estate.

State forest

During this time, a small group of citizens and politicians began to talk about green space and nature and a place to learn about the environment. They were a persistent group. Through their efforts, Havenwoods became a state forest in 1980. The forest is now a place where all people can come to take a hike, see migrating birds, attend a nature program and volunteer their time and energy to see that Havenwoods remains a haven for people and wild things.

Last revised: Friday October 17 2014