Photo Essay: The Blue Hole
April 12, 2021 | Topics: Places
Story and photos by Eddee Daniel
Chances are you’ve never heard of Milwaukee’s Blue Hole. It’s not famous–at least not today. It was once…: infamous to be more precise.
The Blue Hole is an old quarry in what is now the Milwaukee River Greenway. But it has a more colorful story than that. The quarry was created by a cement manufacturing company around the end of the 19th Century when they mined it for limestone to make hydraulic cement. But before they opened the quarry they had to redirect the Milwaukee River!
The limestone formation that made Milwaukee Cement Company the largest producer of hydraulic cement it the country at the time lay under the river as well as the land on both sides. So a new river channel was dug and the river redirected. Two huge quarries were mined on the west bank, one of which became a landfill and is now capped with a parking lot and a solar panel array.
The other was the Blue Hole. After the quarry closed, over a hundred years ago, it was used as a swimming hole. However, due to the irregularity of the rocks, it was extremely dangerous and led to so many drownings it acquired the nickname “suicide hole.” When Milwaukee Cement went out of business it sold the land on the east bank to the county, which established Estabrook Park and created a beach on the river as a safe alternative to the Blue Hole.
The beach is gone now. The Blue Hole remains, but of course no one swims there anymore. To this day there are warning signs due to the fact that combined sewer overflows into the pond are possible after a heavy rainfall.
I’ve been to the Blue Hole off and on over the past two years, as I’ve explored the Greenway during my ARTservancy residency there. But I never got a satisfying photo of it. So, when I woke up the other day to dense fog I thought, “This is the day!” Luck was with me and the fog lingered, making the old quarry pond dreamy and the colors of the new spring foliage especially intense. Here is what I managed to capture.
Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks.