As Menomonee Falls celebrates the 125th anniversary of its incorporation in 2017, the Village is taking stock of its rich history. In review of the Village’s 125 year journey (and its pre-incorporation history), there are many stories to tell, people to appreciate, and moments to share. This page offers a framework for exploring Menomonee Falls history by breaking down the story into six distinctive eras. The selected details below are meant to provide a few highlights from Menomonee Falls’ past.
If you or someone you know would like to share your memories and add to the historic resources that we have collected for this web page please contact Tyler Zwagerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click to view the following history resources: a timeline summary of
Village history, a collection of historical narratives, a detailed timeline of Village history, and a summary of Fussville history
To learn more about local history follow the links below.
- Menomonee Falls Historical Society
- Falls Cable Access - see "I Remember...Menomonee Falls"
- Early Settlement
- Becoming a Village
- Welcoming Modernity
- Suburban Community
- Economic Engine
- Recent Milestones
The 1840s were a decade of many firsts in the area. The first meeting of the Town of Menomonee was held in 1842 and the Town’s first post office, church, school (1843), lime kilns (1845), tavern and a plank road (1846) were built shortly thereafter. Three distinctive settlements were established in the 1840s: Menomonee Falls, Lannon Springs and Fussville. By 1845, the settlement of Menomonee Falls boasted several homes and businesses and a population of roughly 100 people.
The Barnes House - built 1842 The Eagle Hotel and Tavern - built late 1840s
By 1850, the population of the Town of Menomonee was estimated at 1,340 persons and lands around the intersection of Fond du Lac Road and Waukesha Road (now known as Appleton Avenue and Main Street) had been platted into a few dozen parcels which were eventually developed as the “Four Corners” commercial area. Development highlights during the 1850s included a new dam and flour mill as well as new churches and the first Menomonee Falls public school building. As lands were settled, the population of the Town of Menomonee increased by nearly 70 percent to 2,267 persons.
During the 1860s, the settlement of Menomonee Falls continued to grow as a center of trade serving the surrounding agricultural areas, and new homes along Water Street created the Village’s first residential street. There were dozens of businesses in the settlement by the 1860s and at least half of these were operated by German immigrants. To the southeast in Fussville, St. Anthony the Hermit Catholic Church was completed in 1867 creating an architectural landmark which characterizes that area to this day. To the southwest in Lannon Springs, the congregation of St. James Catholic Church celebrated the 20th anniversary of their church's construction in 1868. At the Four Corners, the Coates and Ostrander store (now Nino’s Italian Bakery & Deli) was completed in 1869.
Looking west on Main Street in 1869
Held and Gumm General Store at the Four Corners A prominent home on north Appleton Avenue, 1890
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the Menomonee Falls settlement experienced a period of rapid growth which set the stage for its incorporation as a Village in 1892. In 1886, several new streets and residential lots were created when Jesse B. Nehs subdivided his farm to the northeast of the Four Corners in 1886. The Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls & Western Railroad began service in 1890 creating an important link to Milwaukee for local industries and residents. The increased access provided by the new rail depot supported the development of a new commercial cluster at the corner of Main Street and Water Street, and a spur line was extended to serve the Garwin A. Mace Lime Kilns which began operations in 1890.
In 1890, the population of the Town of Menomonee was recorded at 2,480 and nearly 500 people called the settlement of Menomonee Falls home. In 1891 a surveyor mapped the area that would become the Village and a petition of support for Village incorporation was circulated and signed by 497 area residents. These materials were forwarded to Judge A. Scott Sloan of the Waukesha County Circuit Court who, on February 3rd, 1892 ordered the incorporation of the Village of Menomonee Falls. The first Village Board was promptly elected and the Village Fire Department was organized in 1894. A number of prominent buildings were constructed in the 1890s including the combined Village Hall/Fire Station (1895), the new Menomonee Falls High School (1896) and the Wisconsin Beet Sugar Factory (1896).
Menomonee Falls Village Hall/Fire Dept. Menomonee Falls rail depot, circa 1909
Appleton Avenue looking north The Fraser Building, home of the first telephone switchboard
The first automobiles were sold in the Village in 1910, and by 1912, a dozen vehicles were registered in Menomonee Falls. In 1916, a new Ford touring car or convertible could be purchased from Wittlin Motors for $360. Automobile use increased rapidly after concrete pavement was installed on Main Street and Fond du Lac Avenue (now Appleton Avenue) in 1919. Highway 15 connected the Village to Milwaukee and Illinois by 1919 and to Green Bay by 1922. A variety of automobile serving businesses were established to serve the motoring public. The Village water tower, which was built in 1917, became a distinctive landmark for travelers at this time.
Celebrating the opening of Highway 15, 1922 Main Street in the 1920s
Tragedy struck the Village in 1919 when a fire destroyed the Menomonee Falls High School building, displacing students and killing one. Classes were held temporarily in other Village buildings until the new Lincoln School was dedicated in 1922. Several other developments and institutions continued the Village’s transition into a modern community in the 1920s including the construction of new commercial buildings along Fond du Lac Avenue, Milwaukee Electric Company’s operation of a bus line to Milwaukee (1927), the installation of a modern fire alarm system (1929) and the establishment of the Women’s Club (1922) and the Rotary Club (1928) which were the first service organizations in the community. Outside of the Village proper, Willow Springs School was built on Town Line Road and the establishment of Wittlin’s Hickory Grove Tourist Camp (1923) and the North Hills Country Club (1929) in Fussville supported popular recreational pursuits of the day.
Menomonee Falls "City Hall", 1930 Hiawatha Heights subdivision, circa 1940
In the early 1940s, Menomonee Falls supported the United States effort in World War II through military service, work in war industries, rationing, victory gardens, air raid drills and by adopting blackout regulations. Residents visited the new Falls Theater (1941) on Appleton Avenue to watch news reels documenting the war effort. After the war ended in 1945, residential growth returned with the creation of five new subdivisions and over 200 residential parcels. The Hiawatha Shopping Center opened along Appleton Avenue in the 1940s becoming one of the first shopping areas with an off-street parking lot in the state. It was occupied by Kahn’s Department store, A&P Grocery and Held’s Recreation and Bowling Alley (today Krueger’s Entertainment). As families grew and outmigration from the City of Milwaukee increased in the Post-War years the population of the Village and Town of Menomonee began to swell. In 1950, the combined population of the Village and Town was estimated at 6,262 (a 70 percent increase from 1940).
During the 1950s, suburbanization accelerated with 101 subdivisions and 4,500 residential lots platted in the community. The completion of US 41 (now interstate 41) in 1953 increased the attractiveness of the Village and Town of Menomonee as a bedroom community by drastically cutting commute times to the Milwaukee job market. Facilities and staff at local school districts were stretched thin to meet the needs of the growing population and the Town’s landscape was forever altered by a checkerboard of new subdivisions which were being built (often) without consideration for long-term infrastructure connections and costs.
Looking north from the Falls Theater, circa 1950 Menomonee Falls Post Office, 1952
In 1956, the same year that 26 new residential subdivisions were platted in the Village and Town of Menomonee, local newspapers published a report that the governments of the Town of Menomonee and the Village of Lannon had approved a merger of the two communities. In response a “minutemen” group formed to circulate petitions to force a referendum on the matter. The Lannon merger referendum failed in the Town of Menomonee. In 1957, the newly elected Town of Menomonee Board commissioned a report exploring the Town’s governmental organization. The report recommended that the quickly growing Town merge either with the Village of Menomonee Falls or the City of Milwaukee. Despite the recommendations, the Town of Menomonee Board voted 2-1 to incorporate as a 4th class city. The dissenting board member worked with the Village of Menomonee Falls to approve and publish an annexation prior to the public posting of the Town Board’s decision. The approved annexation forced a Village of Menomonee Falls referendum and residents voted 579 to 289 in favor of annexing the Town the Town of Menomonee.
Starting in October of 1958, the Village of Menomonee Falls annexed the Town of Menomonee (there were a total of six annexations in 91 days) enlarging the land area from roughly 2 square miles to 32 square miles and increasing the population from 4,500 to 12,000 residents. The rate of home construction continued to surge through the late 1950s bringing the Village’s population to 18,276 by 1960. An estimated 4,000 people moved to Menomonee Falls in 1959 alone prompting the Village to hire a consulting firm to explore changing to city status. Although this report and a subsequent study (1963) recommended Menomonee Falls become a city, Village residents turned down the proposal in a Village-wide referendum in 1964.
A variety of new businesses and institutions were established in the 1950s chasing the new rooftops in the Village. Stolper Steel Products opened a factory along Pilgrim Road, Rivercourt Shopping Center opened along Highway 41, Starlite Theater and the Victory Drive-in provided a new entertainment option, and a number of new schools and churches were established to serve the burgeoning population. Park projects in the 1950s included the restoration of the Lepper Dam at the Mill Pond and the creation of Riverside Park.
The rapid residential development that characterized the area in the 1950s continued into the 1960s with the Village adding nearly 2,000 single family lots and over 13,400 new residents. High birth rates in the baby boom era contributed to large households and an abundance of young people in Menomonee Falls. By the end of the 1960s, 48 percent of the population in the Village was 19 years old or under. The school districts built six new schools (including Menomonee Falls East High School and Hamilton High School), and a modern post office (1962), municipal complex (1967), and an expanded park system were developed in the Village to better accommodate the public. In recognition of the rapid change in the community, Village leaders commissioned a consulting firm to draft A General Plan for Community Development in 1960. This plan, while not adopted, was the Village’s first attempt at creating a long-term vision to guide land use, transportation and service development.
The General Plan, 1960 Village Municipal Complex and Library, circa 1970
Mid-century growth and the Village’s competitive regional location contributed to the establishment of a number of major employers in the 1960s and 1970s. Bradley Corporation and other manufacturing businesses located on sites to the north of Highway 41 and new shopping centers were developed along east Main Street and south Appleton Avenue. A Village-wide fundraising effort in the early 1960s helped to fund the construction of Community Memorial Hospital in 1963 and 1964. By the late 1970s, Community Memorial Hospital had doubled in size and become one of the Village’s largest employers. An estimated 9,200 full-time jobs were in the Village by 1972.
In the late 1960s, as Menomonee Falls celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, Village leadership anticipated that the population would continue to grow and perhaps reach 60,000 by the late 1970s (projections in the 1973 Master Plan Study anticipated that between 125,000 and 150,000 people would live in the community in a full build out scenario). These projections turned out to be inaccurate as Menomonee Falls population lost nearly 5,000 people between 1970 and 1990 due to an aging population, smaller family size, a slumping economy and the outmigration of young adults. Despite the population loss, the Village attracted many new businesses during this era including Harley Davidson, Wacker Neuson, Strong Capital Management, Arandell Corporation and a variety of industrial businesses in the new Falls Business Park along Lilly Road. By 1985, industrial businesses occupied twice as much land in the Village as they did in 1965 and there were an estimated 15,800 jobs in the community.
1967 aerial looking southeast Diamond Jubilee book Harley-Davidson Powertrain
Public services expanded significantly starting in the 1960s when the Village enlarged and modernized its police force with the hiring of several full-time officers. The Village hired a Fire Chief in 1972, constructed fire stations Willowood Park (1975) and Lilly Road (1980), and started hiring full-time fire fighters in 1976. A portion of the Village’s sewer system was linked to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) in 1975, and all Village lands within the Menomonee River Basin became eligible for full MMSD service by 1981. Areas in the Village were later connected to the sewers in Brookfield, Sussex, Germantown, Lannon and Butler. The park system continued to grow in the 1960s and 1970s with the development of Rotary Park, Menomonee River Parkway, Wildwood Park and Old Falls Village. The Village adopted its first Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan in 1980 to guide future park and trail development. Several streets were reconstructed in this era to accommodate higher traffic volumes including Appleton Avenue (1969) which resulted in the demolition of several structures in the historic Fussville area.
Menomonee Falls Municipal Complex Kohl's Corporate Headquarters, 2000
Major business development projects in recent history include the creation of Silver Spring Corporate Park/Kohl’s corporate campus(1996), the establishment of the Westbrook Corporate Center along Old Orchard Road (2000), the build out of County Line and north Appleton Avenue commercial area and the establishment of the Woodland Prime office park. Businesses expansions and relocations have continued to diversify the Village’s economic base with recent total job estimates for the Village exceeding 30,000.
Relatively new Village institutions including the Community Development Authority (1988) and the Village Centre Business improvement District (1993) have partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, local service organizations and the Village to revitalize downtown and promote the community as a regional destination. The streetscape in downtown was redesigned in the 1990s and events like Falls Fest (1992), the Big Pig Gig (2007), Memorial Day Festival (2016) and the Village Centre Farmers Market have continued to attract residents and visitors to the Village.
In 2008, the Village adopted the Menomonee Falls Comprehensive Plan to guide the development of the Village for the next twenty years. The plan emphasized the importance of infill development and redevelopment opportunities to support growth while preserving community assets and resources. Following the 2008-2009 national economic recession, the Village maintained an active role in projects to improve quality of life and fulfill the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan. Major projects have included the redevelopment of the Pilgrim Village shopping area, the Woodlands Marketplace and Apartments, the Manhardt Drive industrial area and the White Stone Station mixed use redevelopment along Falls Parkway. Redevelopment projects have also started to transform the downtown area with a new grocery store opening in 2017 in the former Colonial Plaza shopping center and a new apartment building slated to open in 2018 on the site of the former Associated Bank building.
Industrial development on Manhardt Drive White Stone Station redevelopment area, 2016
As of 2016, the Village had an estimated 36,907 residents and had become an important economic hub of Greater Milwaukee area. The Village’s population has grown by nearly 4 percent since 2010 and the high rate of apartment and single family home construction in recent years make it likely that Village will continue to grow in the near future. The course of Village history continues to be shaped by residents, businesses and leaders who have the important task of shaping a vibrant future while building upon the work of the earlier generations who have made Menomonee Falls the great community it is today.