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Park marks its place in Muskego history

New sign notes site's pre-pioneer days and role in early Muskego

Jan. 13, 2014

Muskego — A tiny park on Pioneer Drive next to a peaceful creek stands on a site that has seen a lot of history, and now it will have a plaque making note of its place in that history.

Muskego Centre Park, named (and spelled) for a trolley stop where visitors got off to check in at one of the budding lake community's hotels, is where Muskego's original downtown grew. A couple of early businesses sat on the site of the little park.

Muskego Historical Society has researched all that history and is now putting it on a sign, mounted at the little park, declaring to visitors: "You are standing at the site of Muskego's original 'main street.'"

The plaque describes what used to be an Indian trail leading to Little Muskego Lake and the site's heyday from the 1900s through the 1950s. It also describes the early businesses, giving a whole new depth of understanding of the now more sedate street.

Until a few months ago, the tiny park beside Marx Pioneer Inn, S7808 Pioneer Drive, didn't even have a name. But after inviting suggestions for a name from the community, the Muskego Parks and Recreation Board settled on Muskego Centre Park.

— Jane Ford-Stewart

HISTORIC MUSKEGO CENTRE PARK

Here is what the plaque at Muskego Centre Park tells visitors:

You are standing at the site of Muskego's original "main street." Its junction with the Janesville Plank Road resulted in this area being identified as Muskego Centre on 1873 maps.

Beginning as an Indian trail, leading up to the shores of Little Muskego Lake, it developed into a commercial and political center for the early European settlers. In its earliest days, it was called the Waterford Plank Road. In later days, it became Racine Avenue, connecting the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

The heyday of this road began in the early 1900s and lasted through the 1950s. Its growth was spurred by the coming of the interurban electric railway (TMER&L) in 1904.

Thousands of summer tourists from Milwaukee visited the numerous resorts and summer cottages that occupied the shores of Little Muskego Lake. The visitors arrived at the Smith Hotel-Railway Station just south of here and walked up Racine Avenue to their various destinations.

Farmers from the surrounding countryside came here to ship their produce, receive their freight, get their mail and patronize the establishments that lined both sides of this street.

The Vesbach Hardware Store and a machinery dealership were located on this site. The Horn Bros. General Store and post office opened north of here in 1927. The original Jerome Drugs store, "Larry" the shoemaker, a laundromat, several taverns, a barber shop/insurance agency and a Chrysler automobile dealership were also located just north of here.

The Muskego Town Hall, across from Horn Bros., functioned as a community center, hosting meetings, elections, weddings, funerals, sports events and Saturday night movies. The Old Town Hall has since been relocated to the Old Settlement Centre on the "new" Racine Avenue.

The rerouting of Racine Avenue in 1968 brought about a general decline to the commercial importance of this area. At that time the road name was changed from Racine Avenue to Pioneer Drive, reflecting its early history.

Today, only a few businesses remain here as a reminder of the past glory days of the historic Muskego Centre.

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