A Look at Our Past
Formerly a part of the Town of Wauwatosa and the Town of Greenfield, West Milwaukee became a village in 1906. The influx of industry (Pauling and Harnischfeger located here in 1904), transportation (new roads, railroads, and streetcars to service the area), the swelling of the population to 909, and strong leaders fueled the village’s urge for independence. What was once an area “west” of the City of Milwaukee has become West Milwaukee, the center (or heart of) Milwaukee County.
Large farms, estates, summer homes, and gravel pits have become homes, shops, and industries that happily coexist. Ethnicity, once almost purely European, now includes a more worldly cross-section of African Americans, Hispanic, and Asian peoples. Many who have moved still have fond memories of growing up in West Milwaukee. The year 1906 was a momentous one; the average worker earned $500. In that same year, a tremendous earthquake hit San Francisco, the supposedly unsinkable Lusitania was launched, the Statue of Liberty was rededicated after being lit by electricity, and the Village of West Milwaukee was born and has been moving forward for over 100 years.
Native American tribes were drawn here, evidenced by mounds in the shape of lizards and other animals that were located south of Greenfield Ave. and west of 43rd street, known as “Indian Fields” The area boasted rolling hills, meadows, thick forests, and fish so enormous they could be seen jumping in the Menomonee River. Rare black swans were said to inhabit the area in the ponds of Soldiers’ Home. Settlers were drawn by the cheap land. It is told in stories that the Settlers’ union threatened to throw anyone bidding over $1.25 per acre into the river. In 1906 West Milwaukee was quite different than today. It was less than one square mile in size and had many taverns, a gravel pit, a 28 room mansion a number of large and small farms, and even a pickle factory.
The Village of West Milwaukee officially became a recognized government on April 4, 1906, at 4:04 p.m., with a population of 909 residents and a total of $546,000 in assessed valuation. A total of 189 voters cast their ballots on that day. The final tally read 119 in favor of incorporation, 69 opposed and one vote was invalid.
The Village Hall has had four different locations. First, at a schoolhouse at 46th and Beloit (1913-1918), next at 4409 West National Avenue (1918) then at 4517 West National where it remained until 1928. The current location of Village Hall is 4755 West Beloit Road.
In over 100 years the Village went from an industrial “Smoke Stack” community to a diversified thriving community; the transformation has been incredible. Many of the industrial plants are gone and in their place retail and small business, establishments are evident. The Village currently is a blend of residential, commercial, retail, and industry.
In the late 1960s to the early 1970s, the Village lost one-third of its housing stock to a proposed freeway that never materialized. The Village began to recover in the 1990s with redevelopment along what is now Miller Park Way (old 43rd Street).
The family-friendly West Milwaukee Park is located in the center of the community. West Milwaukee is in close proximity to many cultural and athletic ventures. The Miller Park Baseball Complex, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, is within walking distance. Downtown Milwaukee, the Bradley Center, the lakefront, and Summerfest Grounds are just minutes away to the east via I-94. Traveling west are Wisconsin State Fair, the Pettit Ice Center, and the Milwaukee County Zoo.
The Village continues to provide standard services such as street maintenance, health department services, police services, and contracts with the City of Milwaukee for fire services.
Today, the Village has a population of approximately 4,052.
With a rich past and a bright future, the Village of West Milwaukee is the best-kept secret in Milwaukee County.