As Menomonee Falls celebrated the 125th anniversary of its incorporation in 2017, the Village took stock of its rich history. In review of the Village's 125 year journey (and its pre-incorporation history), there were 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.
Share Your Memories
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 Village Planner Tyler Zwagerman.
Click to view the following history resources: a timeline summary of Village history (PDF), a collection of historical narratives (PDF), a detailed timeline of Village history (PDF), and a summary of Fussville history (PDF)
To learn more about local history follow these links.
- 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
In the early 19th century the area that is now recognized as the Village of Menomonee Falls was inhabited by native groups including people of Menomonee, Chippewa and Algonquin origin. For generations, these groups kept seasonal camps near the Menomonee River, maintaining their way of life despite intermittent encounters with European trappers and traders. The European American settlement of the area began in 1836 when Garrett Vliet surveyed and mapped the area around the Menomonee River in anticipation of land sales within the newly created Wisconsin Territory. An Irishman named Patrick Raferty came to the area in 1837 and is said to be the first white settler in the future Town of Menomonee, and Hollingsworth S. Smith (who operated Garrett Vliet’s sawmill) is said to be the first permanent resident of the settlement that would become the Village of Menomonee Falls.
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.
William Barnes Log Home, originally built in the 1840s
A view of the Eagle Hotel, established in the 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 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’s Catholic Church was constructed in 1867 creating an institution and landmark which characterizes that area to this day. At the FourCorners, the Coates and Ostrander store (now Nino’s Italian Bakery) was completed in 1869.
Main Street looking west in 1869
Despite a national economic depression in the early 1870s and outmigration to the new western states and territories, the Menomonee Falls area continued to grow in regional importance with a number of new businesses and institutions opening their doors in the 1870s and 1880s. Sunnyside School (1875), St. Paul’s Evangelical Church (1880) and the new Eagle Hotel (1886) had opened in Menomonee Falls and Fussville boasted several stores, a brewery, blacksmith shop and multiple taverns. The Lannon Springs Hotel was established in 1875 providing accommodations and a tavern on the western edge of the Town.
A prominent home on north Appleton Avenue
Held and Gumm General Store at the Four Corners
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 Department
Menomonee Falls Rail Depot, circa 1909
The early 20th century was marked by continued growth in the new Village and the establishment of modern infrastructure and transportation routes. In 1902, the Menomonee Falls-Hubertus-Holy Hill Telephone Company offered the first public telephone service in the Village, and in 1907 a local electric plant began offering a lighting alternative to kerosene lamps for the first time. Water mains were first installed in the 1910s, and the first sewer lines were laid in 1924. New residential neighborhoods were platted to the east of the Menomonee River and new businesses and institutions were established near the Four Corners including the Village’s first banks and the Menomonee Falls Public Library (1906). The combined population of the Village and the Town reached 3,303 in 1910.
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.
The decades in the middle of the 20th century were a period of profound growth and transformation for the Village of Menomonee Falls and the Town of Menomonee. In 1930, a new municipal building was completed on Appleton Avenue to better serve the needs of the growing community. The building housed Village offices, the Fire Department, Police Department and the Menomonee Falls Public Library and was adorned with mason work reading “City Hall” suggesting that Village leaders anticipated the growth to come. In 1935, signs were installed on all Village streets and numbers were assigned to all buildings for the first time. The development of the Hiawatha Heights subdivision (the first FHA approved subdivision in Wisconsin) began in 1937. Hiawatha Heights dramatically increased the footprint of the Village by adding dozens of new $4,000 to $5,000 single family homes in just a few years. The 1930s were also marked by the creation of Village Park and the appointment of Otto Schneider as the Village’s first Police Officer. By 1940, the combined population of the Village and Town of Menomonee had reached 3,674.
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 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 the1960s 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 1970and 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 southwest
Diamond Jubilee booklet cover
Harley-Davidson powertrain facility sign
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 at 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.
As the 20th century came to a close, the Village celebrated its centennial (1992) and looked ahead to a new era of growth and redevelopment. The 1990s and early 2000s were a period of revived residential growth in Menomonee Falls with the creation of 70 subdivisions and around 3,000 single family home lots. As a result, the Village’s population grew by nearly 9,000 between 1990 and 2010 and the community responded by improving services and amenities to meet increased demand for public goods. In 1996, the Menomonee Falls Community Center opened to the public and Oakwood Park and the Menomonee Falls Little League Complex were developed between Mill Road and Good Hope Road. The Menomonee Falls Municipal Complex (Village Hall) and Library reconstructions were completed in 2003 and portions of County Line Road (2005) and Pilgrim Road (2009) were rebuilt to accommodate increased traffic counts.
Menomonee Falls Municipal Complex
Kohl's Corporate Campus
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 hovering between 31,000 and 38,000.
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 the1990s 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.
Industrial Development on Manhardt Drive
White Stone Station Redevelopment Area
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.
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 formed 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.