History of West Allis
The West Allis story began almost contemporaneously with the arrival (from the East) of pioneers intent on establishing homes in the Middle West. Wisconsin was still a territory, and the settlements were few and far between. Milwaukee was only a hamlet, and its surroundings were great forests in nature's original beauty, inhabited by abundant game, disturbed only by the occasional visit of Indian tribes.
In 1836, Francois Drake Weld settled on a claim west of the present city. Meanwhile, in 1835, three courageous men, Ebenezer Cornwall, Ruben Strong, and Peter Marlett left New York State and ventured as far as Ohio. They were so pleased with the progress they had made and found the virgin country so alluring that they continued westward until they came to Chicago. Here they heard about a new town, "Milwaukie," which was being laid out, so they continued northward. When they arrived, the beauty of the rural district west of "Milwaukie" caused them to feel they had found a paradise! The district was a densely wooded area containing many freshwater springs. Through this wooded area ran a rapidly flowing creek known as Honey Creek from which this settlement later took its name. They stayed long enough to decide their locations, place their landmarks and then returned to New York to get their families.
The first task of the early settlers who arrived from New York was to clear their lands of the many fine stands of walnut, oak, and maple. The fertile soil, just freed from the forests, was lavishly fruitful, so the pioneer of Honey Creek soon learned to lay out his acres in truck farms. The produce raised found a ready market in the growing Milwaukee area.
The pioneer arriving at Honey Creek found certain well-traveled Indian trails. These were soon to become muddy wagon roads. The Mukwonago Plank Road ran directly through the early settlement and crossed several other minor trails at what is now known as South 61st Street and West National Avenue. This section, where the various trails crossed east of Honey Creek, was known as "Old Five Points." Anthony Douvalle came to Honey Creek and established a lumber business; soon after, Spencer Case built the first sawmill.
Thus, Honey Creek became a settlement of a few houses, a blacksmith shop, sawmill, post office and a log chapel used by both Baptists and Episcopalians. There was also a log school, and a stage delivered mail.
In 1860, a square brick school was erected. Only seven pupils attended the first school session. On this spot at South 84th and West National Avenue now stands the Garfield Building, which houses the West Allis Historical Society.
The Chicago-Northwestern Railroad built the Madison division through this section in 1880 and called the station North Greenfield, after the township name of Greenfield. In 1887, sections of the village of Honey Creek were platted, and the vicinity became known as North Greenfield.
As early as 1853, the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society was organized for the purpose of holding an annual State Fair. This fair was held in different cities of the state, such as Janesville, Madison or Milwaukee. In 1891, the Society purchased the large dairy farm of a Mr. Stevens, complete with a mansion, several smaller homes, many outbuildings, and bounded on one side by the railroad. Thus, the State Fair settled permanently in North Greenfield. However, two years later, the entire estate burned to the ground, and new Fair buildings had to be erected.
Now it was necessary to provide transportation for the people of Milwaukee to the State Fairgrounds, so in 1894, the Milwaukee Street Car Company extended its lines all the way to the Fairgrounds. With the establishment of these transportation facilities, the growth of North Greenfield was very rapid and its future assured. Therefore, it can be said that the location of the State Fairgrounds and the securing of the streetcar lines constituted the real foundation for its growth and development. This attracted the attention of the manufacturers who wrought the industrial changes.
The largest of these machinery producing companies, the Edward P. Allis Company, could not enlarge its plant on Clinton Street in Milwaukee, so decided to move to North Greenfield. This location afforded an outlet for both the Northwestern and Milwaukee railroads and streetcar lines which would bring an ample labor supply from Milwaukee. When the Allis Company moved on November 26, 1900, it employed 3000 persons and manufactured $6,000,000 worth of machinery per year. The Rosenthal Corn Huskers, the Kearney and Trecker Company, the Fred Prescott Company, and the Kempsmith Company followed soon after the establishment of the Allis Company.
In 1902, the residents of North Greenfield voted to organize their village and call it West Allis. Fred Henderson was the first village president. In 1906, West Allis was chartered as a city with 2,400 acres of land and a population of 2,306.
In 1905, a permanent water system was established for the city. In 1906, the Woman's Club set up the first Public Library. A city-wide garbage collection was initiated in 1907. Classes for the teaching of English were set up in 1910. In 1912, there were 55 lineal miles of streets and 23 miles of water mains and sanitary sewers. In 1921, municipal street lights were installed; the first building code was adopted in 1923; and branch libraries were opened in 1924. In 1925, the Zoning Ordinance was passed. A full-time Health Department was provided for in an ordinance passed in 1925, and in 1926, the Office of Assessor was made a full-time job. 1927 saw the introduction of fire prevention, 1929 water storage tanks, 1939 adoption of the Civil Service System, 1945 the Health Center, and in 1947, radios for squad cars. 1949 saw the appointment of a full-time dental hygienist, installation of parking meters, and the Housing Project for Veterans which was later converted into Senior Citizen Housing.
In 1954, a large annexation took place (PDF), doubling the total area of the city. This led to the development of much of the western portion of West Allis as we know it today.
Population Growth of West Allis