It was Byron Kilbourn.

Kilbourn had been a canal engineer in Ohio before coming to Milwaukee to become one of our most prolific property developers. In the late 1830s, Kilbourn wanted to connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River via a canal which would connect from where you are standing to the Rock River near Fort Atkinson, Wis. via a route along the Bark River out of Lake Nagawicka near Hartland, Wis. The dream of this "Rock River Canal" was never completed, however. The plan coincided with the rise of railroads, another commercial endeavor in which Kilbourn got entangled (another story). The mile or so of canal dug in 1839 has since been filled to become Commerce Street.

If you enjoyed this bonus answer, be sure to download the Water Story MKE app to your smartphone and explore our city's hidden water stories. Water Story MKE is available for free through both the App Store and the Google Play Store.