History of Wauwatosa
|Wauwatosa's historic village center is now home to restaurants and shopping.|
The Potawatomi and Menomonee Native American tribes first lived in the wilderness that would become Wauwatosa, hunting in the lush forests and fishing in the Menomonee River. In the early 1830s, the United States government bought the land, relocated the Indian tribes and sold parcels.
Charles Hart, the founder of Wauwatosa, arrived in Milwaukee in 1835 and learned of a prime spot for settlement, 5 miles west. He established the first permanent settlement in Wauwatosa Township followed by seventeen settlers and built a sawmill to turn hardwood trees into new homes. This early settlement became known as Hart’s Mills. The Yankee and New York pioneers built a village reminiscent of a New England commons beside the Menomonee River. The original Village remains the cherished heart of the community today.
On April 5, 1842, the community separated from Milwaukee to create the Town of Wauwatosa. The town was named for the Potawatomi Chief Wauwataesie and the Potawatomi word for firefly (which still light up our summer nights.) Wauwatosa was incorporated as a village in 1892. In July, 1895 a great fire started in the bakery near the center of town and by nightfall the entire business district was in ruin. To help rebuild, Emerson Hoyt secured a special charter making Wauwatosa the first city of fourth class in the state of Wisconsin in 1897 and Hoyt was elected the first mayor.
By 1921, Wauwatosa saw a great influx of Milwaukee residents. The social and cultural life of the city centered around its churches, schools, civic organizations, women’s clubs and men’s clubs, molding the community. Wauwatosa was the second city in the state to adopt a zoning ordinance and quickly became known as the “city of homes” with stores and manufacturing limited to certain streets. By the end of 1930, Wauwatosa became a city of third class with a population of 10,000.
Wauwatosa was transformed in the post-World War II era when the city acquired the Town of Wauwatosa and tripled its size. After the 1970 census showing more than 58,000 residents, Wauwatosa became a second class city in 13 square miles.
Today, ideally situated in the center of Milwaukee County, Wauwatosa is a thriving major center for commercial, medical, bio-tech and retail development. Now home to 47, 068 residents, Wauwatosa boasts some of the best neighborhoods and housing stock, excellent schools and beautiful parks and recreation.