WE’RE CELEBRATING MILWAUKEE’S 175TH ANNIVERSARY BY DELVING INTO THE CITY’S HISTORY WITH A NEW PHOTO EVERY MONTH. FIND MORE HERE.
When Shoot the Chutes opened on July 4, 1896, the ride attracted so many thrill-seekers that police had to be called to control traffic. By the holiday’s end, 8,000 people – a capacity crowd – had experienced what promoters called “the most exhilarating sport of the age.”
Perched on the east bluff of the Milwaukee River just south of North Avenue, Shoot the Chutes was a supersized water toboggan. For one thin dime, intrepid riders plunged down a steep incline in eight-passenger wooden cars and hit the water with a resounding splash, maintaining enough momentum to glide nearly to the opposite shore. The cars were then winched to the top of the bluff for the next ride; passengers ascended on a “moveable sidewalk” that was a sort of proto-escalator.
Although it was promoted as an all-ages attraction, Shoot the Chutes was particularly attractive to young adults, including the romantically inclined. “There is an additional delight,” reported the Milwaukee Sentinel, “in the irresistible impulse with which the young man’s sweetheart clings to his shoulder just before the plunge.”
As thrilling as it was, Shoot the Chutes lasted only a few years. Seasonal revenue was never sufficient to cover permanent construction costs, and neighbors, fed up with trampled grass and “boisterous” patrons, sued to have the ride declared a nuisance. By 1900, Shoot the Chutes had shot its last, and Milwaukee moved on to other diversions.
TAKE A CLOSER LOOK
1. Saints Peater and Paul Church was built in 1892 to serve the East Side’s German Catholics.
2. A pavilion at Shoot the Chutes offered musical concerts and vaudeville performances.
3. Bechstein’s was one of three swimming schools that operated in the deep water above the North Avenue Dam.
4. “Water bicycles” with natty clad pilots joined the summertime flotilla above the dam. Wouldn’t you try one?
IN COLLABORATION WITH MILWAUKEE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY