My Block: The Boat House, Oak Leaf Trail, and proud neighbors of Cambridge Woods
By James Groh,2023-06-08
Tucked away in between UW-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee River rests a little neighborhood. Milwaukee's Cambridge Woods is a mixture of long-time homeowners and college students renting for the school year. Coupled with the large wooded area that borders the west side and the commercial district on the east, the neighborhood has a unique culture.
"This is a fantastic neighborhood to live in Milwaukee for many reasons," Rebecca North who lives in Cambridge Woods said.
North is a longtime homeowner in the neighborhood. She said Cambridge Woods is a hidden gem that gets overlooked by the rest of the city. The neighbors even have a different name for it than what's on the official city registry of neighborhoods. The neighbors call it Cambridge Woods. The city calls it Cambridge Heights ; however, she's okay with that.
"It does not bother me in the least. In some ways, you know, you don’t want everybody in the whole world to know about this wonderful little neighborhood. You don’t want it to be developed," she said.
The neighborhood is bordered by the Milwaukee River on the west, Edgewood Avenue to the North, Oakland Avenue to the East, and Locust Street to the South.
The neighborhood is filled with aromas of freshly roasted coffee, the woman people affectionately call the Chicken Lady, and the iconic Boat House.
"I see people that really care for where they live. Just look at the sidewalks, they are clear and people come out right away clearing them off," North said about the snow after a big storm in January.
The My Block series explores neighborhoods in and around Milwaukee through the eyes and experiences of the people that live there. Where we go and who we talk to is all up to them. There is no script to follow. In this edition, I met with Rebecca North on a single-digit day in January so she could take me on a tour of the Cambridge Woods neighborhood and show me she sees it.
"Hello, I am Rebecca North. This is the Cambridge Woods neighborhood. Welcome to My Block."
You can't begin a tour of Cambridge Woods without discussing the most iconic part of the neighborhood.
If you ask many people in Milwaukee what's the most unique looking home in the city, they will probably say the Boat House. It's a home that looks exactly like a boat at 3138 N. Cambridge Ave. It's directly across the street from Rebecca's home.
"We say things like, yea, you know, the Milwaukee River did flood one time and (the river) washed (the Boat House) up here and just sat," Rebecca said.
However, it wasn't a boat that was ashore. The truth is that it was built in 1926 as a tourist attraction . It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The property also includes a fully finished basement, oak trim, porthole lights, colorful sea chart wallpaper, and smoking lamps.
It was listed for sale in 2018 for $199,000.
"It is much more enjoyable, I would think, to be in our house living and looking out the windows at the boat than to be in the boat living 'cause it is tiny inside," Rebecca said.
The first person Rebecca introduced me to was Tim Hunter. He has been living in the neighborhood for 32 years.
Tim knew about the neighborhood long before he moved here.
"So I was a student at Marquette, and I would take my bike for a bike ride, and I would come up the bike trail, and I would ride up the bike trail, and I would look into this neighborhood, and it's like oh that looks like an interesting place to live. I had no idea 10 years later I'd be coming back here," Tim said.
Since moving here, he hasn't looked back. He loves the accessibility of the area.
"You know, we could have moved anywhere, and this is just such a nice place. Everything I need is within walking distance or bicycling distance,"
He doesn't even need a car to go to the restaurants on Oakland Avenue. All he needs is a bike to get to the post office.
Biking is what brought him to Cambridge Woods, and it's what keeps him here too.
Cambridge Woods and The Milwaukee River
If you are on the western border of the neighborhood and you look out your window, you could easily feel like you are in a rural community. The woods offer an escape and a feeling of freedom from city madness.
Alongside the river is the popular Oak Leaf Trail . It boasts 125 miles of pathways for walking, running, and biking.
The woods is what give the neighborhood its name. While the city calls it Cambridge Heights, the residents feel it's the woods that give the neighborhood its unique identity.
"We definitely call it Cambridge Woods, and that's because that's our woods over there. It just defines us," Rebecca said.
The woods is one of the reasons Kathy Arney moved to the neighborhood.
"I meditate and look out at my woods. We go down to the woods pretty often," she said.
Her home sits directly across from the Woods. That makes it easy for her to take in the view.
"It's so peaceful and serene here, and it's wonderful looking across at the woods," Kathy said.
The woods are one of the prettiest sites in the neighborhood, and the best smell is that of freshly roasted coffee.
On the other side of the Milwaukee River opposite Cambridge Woods is the Colectivo Coffee roastery on Humboldt Boulevard. It's the chain's main roasting area, training facility, and hosts a cafe.
"So the aroma of coffee just permeates," Rebecca said.
Depending on the direction of the wind, you can easily smell the coffee.
The smell of the coffee and the view of the woods are just some of the reasons Deb Heim believes Cambridge Woods is the best community she has ever lived in.
"I've lived in Atlanta. I've lived in Orlando. We’ve lived in Texas. I've lived outside of Boston. This is my favorite town I've ever lived in, ever. And this is my favorite part of my favorite town," she said.
Deb is the president of the neighborhood association. She loves how the neighborhood continues to grow as new families move in with young children. Dozens of people attend the annual block party, and Deb is always meeting someone new to the area.
"We’ve had young families come in. When we’ve done our potlucks suddenly we had this influx of all these little kids," she said. "It's a very neighborhood-y neighborhood."
'The Chicken Lady'
Tina Hardy Maz is known in Cambridge Woods as the Chicken Lady. She owns half a dozen chickens.
“It's what brings people together," she said.
A young neighbor of hers would come and read the chickens a story during the height of the pandemic. An older neighbor would like to point out the chickens each time she strolled by.
People also donate all their unused or leftover food to Tina, so her chickens can eat it.
"We have a really active neighborhood, and so people if they're in a meal program, and they know that something hits the ground, they can't serve it anymore. Summer meals through (Milwaukee Public Schools) or that will sometimes appear on my porch."
She said that the chickens have no problem living outside during cold Milwaukee winters despite what many passing by may presume.
"I would say many people can’t believe we here in Milwaukee live or come outside in these conditions," she said.
She got her chickens on April 22, 2015. Before that, she had to deliver an explanation packet to all of her adjacent neighbors, according to city ordinance rules about having chickens.
Everyone was on board, and the chickens have been a huge hit.
One Last Question
As is tradition, the last word is always given to the tour guide of the My Block story.
Before that happens, though, here is how you can be part of the series. Reach out to James Groh to nominate your neighborhood or a neighbor to be featured in the next story. You can fill out this submission form or contact him at email@example.com or call/text at (414) 254-8145. The series has gone to 20 neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Glendale, Waukesha, and Eagle.
Now, back to Rebecca.
"Is there anything else you’d like to add about your neighborhood," TMJ4 reporter James Groh asked.
"That it's an absolute pleasure to live in. That it's exciting. It's interesting. All those qualities I would describe for Cambridge Woods."
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