The history of Muskego is rich and colorful. It offers insight into past forces and trends, which continue to influence the present and future path Muskego is to take.
The area was originally home to the Potawatomi tribe, who named it Mus-kee-Guaac or “sunfish.” With three lakes, large forests and abundant game, the area supported a large population of Potawatomi.
In 1827, the first European man arrived, establishing a trading post that he maintained for two years. There were no European settlers in the area prior to that time.
In 1833, the Potawatomi ceded their lands in Wisconsin to the U.S. government. But, despite being relocated by the federal government in 1850, the Potawatomi continued to return to hunt and fish in and around Muskego’s lakes until the 1870s.
In 1836, the first permanent European settlers, the Luther Parker family, arrived from New Hampshire. Others followed, and soon there were five separate settlements in the town of Muskego. Staking their claims, the Yankees settled in Muskego center, the English in Durham Hill, Irish in Denoon, Germans in Tess Corners and the Norwegians in Lake Denoon. These settlements still live on today. Soon after, the town’s first school was established in 1839; the first post office was established in 1848.
In the history of Waukesha County, Muskego Settlement, called the Norwegian settlement, began in the southern part of the town (town of Norway) in 1839 and grew rapidly until some of the newly arriving
immigrants brought cholera in 1849. Under the leadership of John Luraas in 1839, 40 pioneers came to Muskego Lake from Norway to found one of the most important settlements in Norwegian-American history. After temporary setbacks, the settlement flourished through the leadership: of Even Heg, Johannes Johanassen, Soren Bache, Elling Eilsen, James Reymert and Claus Clausen, who sent glowing reports to Norway and encouraged large movement to this country.
This settlement gave rise to the first organized Norwegian Lutheran congregation in America (1843) and published the first Norwegian-American newspaper. Old Muskego became well known as a mother colony to other settlements, with schools and churches springing up on the new frontier. Countless wagonloads of newcomers stopped here before continuing west.
Agriculture in Muskego formed the backbone of the early economy, with products being shipped to Milwaukee by wagon over what, following completion of construction in 1849, came to be called the “Janesville Plank Road.” While not only providing easy access to Milwaukee for agricultural goods grown in Muskego, the plank road and other improved roads facilitated easy access from Milwaukee to Muskego for city dwellers seeking recreation and relaxation amongst Muskego’s natural beauty.
In 1904, the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. opened a trolley line. Milwaukee residents then were able to take day trips to Muskego to enjoy the lakes. Many resorts emerged during this time, lining the shores of Little Muskego Lake. Due to the increased influence of automobiles, the trolley line ceased operations in 1939. Muskego continued to be a recreation destination with numerous family cottages, beaches and Muskego Beach Amusement Park, which opened in 1925.
The 1920s began to see the influence of the automobile age, which would cast the mold for the Muskego community today. Easy access to Muskego, provided by improved roads such as Janesville and Loomis roads, allowed Milwaukee residents more frequent exposure to Muskego, which led to dramatic increases in population.
Along with this residential increase in Muskego, commerce also grew. Businesses, such as grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants, located to Muskego to capitalize on the ever-increasing population base. Industry moved to Muskego to escape the congestion and high taxes of Milwaukee and other older cities. As it can be seen, the challenges that face Muskego in the future are rooted in the past. Muskego is now faced with balancing the attractive attributes of open spaces, abundant natural beauty, pleasant housing and opportunities for active and passive recreation, with the strong desire for people and business to move to Muskego and partake in its abundance.
For more information about Muskego’s history visit www.muskegohistory.com