Origins of the "Custer HS" name

How Custer High School

Got Its Name


There has been much confusion and debate about how our school, Custer, got its name.  Was it after infamous General George Armstrong Custer or an early northern town of Granville constable Harvey Custer?  To unwind its origins we need to look back to the history of the area north of Milwaukee.

(The outline below comes from an amalgamation of 5 different sources and hopefully makes sense.  If not, tell it to Harvey Custer.)

The Area north of the city of Milwaukee in early 1800's

Town of Granville    Named after settlers who originally arrived from Granville, New York

  • 124th Street to 27th Street; County Line Road to Hampton Ave
  • First elected town constable - Harvey Custer (depending on source)
  • Settlers were primarily Pennsylvania Dutch

The Village of  North Milwaukee

  • An area north the city of Milwaukee - Congress to Silver Spring;  27th Street to Sherman
  • Originally called Schwartzburg (after its founder) on land bought from Byron Kilbourn
  • Settlers were mostly German Americans (many "Volga Deutsche" who settled in an area called “Red Town”)
  • Major North Milwaukee developer - Henry Clay Payne in a development known as “Payne’s Addition” – 1897          

Payne's streetchar line ended here at 35th and Silver Spring.

  • Payne conveniently ran one of his streetcar lines on 2 miles of vacant fields in North Milwaukee
  • The main street was Villard Ave, named after another streetcar and railroad magnate
  • In "Payne’s Addition” many of the new streets were named after famous Civil War Generals and political figures
    • General William Sherman
    • General Philip Sheridan
    • General Wade Hampton (Southern army)
    • Johns Hopkins (strong Lincoln ally)
    • General Lew Wallace (street later renamed)
    • General William Hammond (street later renamed)
    • General George Armstrong Custer

The Building of “North Milwaukee High School” (between 36th and 37th on Custer Ave)

  • 1923 - Approval of $120,000 13 classroom, fireproof building
  • 1928 – Addition to structure for $225,000 even though they knew North Milwaukee would soon be annexed into the city of Milwaukee
  • 1929 – North Milwaukee High School addition completed

Conflict of Names

The city of Milwaukee annexes the town of North Milwaukee.  The city of Milwaukee already has a “North Division High School” in 1929

Selection of New Name – Custer High School

As was often the custom in Milwaukee a new high school would be named after the street on which it was located … Custer Ave.  The new school with its new addition in the newly annexed area of Milwaukee would be called:

"Custer High School"

Could the street and/or our school be named after Harvey Custer

It may have been possible to name a street after Harvey Custer, the first elected constable of Granville … if there had been a Harvey Custer in the Town of Granville!  It turns out that the first constable of Granville was one Harvey CARTER in 1840.  On an 1842 state document somebody misspelled Carter’s name as Harvey Custer!  The name Harvey Custer doesn’t appear ever again in any state document.  There never was nor is there now a prominent political figure named Harvey Custer.  Harvey Carter went on to hold several other elected offices.  That would explain why all the research I tried to do on Harvey Custer (as I was told, an early Milwaukee Post Master) was fruitless.

The previous North Milwaukee High Scholl that beame the original Custer


There can be no doubt that Custer Avenue was named after General George Armstrong Custer.  And that the new name for the high school on Custer Avenue in the fomer town of North Milwaukee was named for the street it was on, Custer High School.  But, in my mind, there can be no doubt our school was named after a street. not a person.  When I think of our school’s name I think of the currently vacant building on Custer Avenue which transferred its name to a new school complex on Sherman Boulevard in 1956.  It might have made more sense to rename the new school “Sherman High School” but then again it would have been named after a street not a general.  And I would be one iota less confused at this stage of life!

*** Update on Barrack Obama School of Career and Technical Education; nee Milwaukee Campus for Trades; nee Custer High School

According to a Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel article in 2011, Custer High School was identified as one of the state’s most chronic underperforming school in 2010.  The principal, Kathy Bonds, was removed and reassigned as principal of Metcalfe Elementary School by the Superintendent of Schools, Michael Bonds, who is also her husband.  (A year before our 50th reunion.  So the principal who gave us a tour in 2012 was new to the school.)

Mrs. Bonds was then recommended by Mr. Bonds for a regional supervisory job at a starting salary of $120,000 before benefits.  In the same year Mr. Bonds filed for personal bankruptcy citing a contributing factor of his wife’s reduction in pay when moving to the elementary school.

When a reporter called the Bonds' home for comment, Mrs. Bonds directed inquiries to the school administration, according to Mr. Bonds.

In May of last year, 2019, Michael Bonds, former Milwaukee Public School board president, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in accepting payments from a charter school company.  He faced a sentence of 10 years in prison and a large fine.

It may be a blessing that there is no longer a Custer High School.  Where’s Harvey Custer when you need him???