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South Milwaukee: comprehensive plan report

Historical background,   p. 7


Page 7

Historical Background
In 1832 the Federal Government laid out a military road from
Chicago to Green Bay roughly paralleling the Lake Shore far enough
back from the shoreline to avoid many of the ravines that cut through
the bluff along almost the entire western shore of Lake Michigan. This
road crossed Oak Creek approximately 1 mile west of the shoreline.
However, it was not until about 1835 that any "white settlers" stopped
in the vicinity of what is now South Milwaukee. In 1841, Oak Creek
Township was separated from the Township of Lake which lies to the
north. Due to early hardships, including the Panic of 1 837, and the
distance to the principal base of supplies, Milwaukee, there were per-
haps no more than 40 families settled in Oak Creek Township by 1842.
In April of that year the first town gathering was held and the first local
government was established. At the annual meeting in 1 843 there were
only a total of 47 votes cast.
Though there were no platted villages in the township at this time,
a steam sawmill, a post office, a store or two and a number of resi-
dences in close proximity would well pass for a village. However, it
was not until August, 1892 that the Village of South Milwaukee was
officially formed. At this time, the population within the incorporated
boundaries numbered 517 of whom 99 were heads of families. In July,
1897, South Milwaukee became a city of the fourth class with a popu-
lation of approximately 3,000.
Early Industry consisted of boat building, as a necessity for trans-
portation, and several sawmills were established on Oak Creek as well
as a grist mill. Most new industry settled along Oak Creek, each new
venture moving westward further up stream. Broom shops, basket shops,
cheese factories, creameries, brickyards, etc. were prevalent. Other
industries included a melodeon factory, a wheel hub factory, a brewery,
a cooper shop and a nursery. The historic business section was located
at what is now North Chicago Avenue and Hawthorne Avenue, the
latter road having been laid out in 1840 from the Lake to Chicago Road.
Thus, this earliest intersection in South Milwaukee still imparts a strong
feeling of community character and feeling as one views South Mil-
waukee. Here, above all other locations, one feels the history of the
community.
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