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About Wauwatosa

A Brief History

Charles Hart established the first permanent settlement in Wauwatosa Township in 1835 when he built the first house on land situated opposite Root Common on Harwood Avenue.  He built a grist mill and a saw mill on the west side of the Menomonee River at what is now Harwood Avenue.  The area came to be known as Hart’s Mills.

In 1837 the US government constructed the first bridge across the Menomonee River at Hart’s Mills.  A wagon road following an old trail passed through Wauwatosa from Milwaukee to Watertown.  Forty-five miles long, it had toll gates every three miles and was known as the “Watertown Plank Road.”  It was paved with 3/8” planks that were eight feet long.

The first public school building was erected in 1841 north of Root Common (now the intersection of Harwood and Wauwatosa Avenues).

Until 1842, Wauwatosa was attached to the township of Milwaukee.   Possible names for the new township created much discussion; the name “Wauwautosa” was suggested, for two reasons:  In the language of Potawatomi tribe, the word “wau-wau-tae-sie” means ‘firefly.’  This part of the Menomonee River Valley housed swarms of fireflies in the summer.  Secondly, the name would also honor the Potawatomi chief, Chief Wauwautaesie.  When the name was eventually adopted, the spelling became Wauwatosa due to an error.  

The first town meeting was held on April 5, 1842.  Charles Hart was elected chairman of the board.  

The Little Red Store, still standing in the Village, was built in 1854.  It was first used as a dwelling, later a grocery store, post office, railroad depot, and library.  It has been restored and is now owned by the Wauwatosa Historical Society.  

The first high school was built in 1871 on the same site as the present Wauwatosa East High School.

On October 8, 1892, the Village of Wauwatosa was incorporated from a central area of the town.  Edward Coulthard was president of the village board and the population as 2,248. 

The business district was leveled by a fire in 1895.  It started in a bakery near the center of town and rapidly spread to the buildings on State Street.  From there, despite the efforts of the volunteer firemen and bucket brigades, the fire sped up Harwood Avenue toward Root Common.  By night, the entire business district was in ruins.  This event led to the creation of the first paid, part-time fire department. 

On May 27, 1897 (view excerpt of minutes), the Village became a city of the fourth class and Emerson Hoyt, its first banker, was elected as its first mayor.  

Known as the “city of homes,” Wauwatosa was the second city in the state to adopt a zoning ordinance in 1921.   The ordinance established a designated use for each lot plotted, and designated residential districts; stores and manufacturing operations were limited to certain streets.  By end of 1930, Wauwatosa became a city of third class, with a population of more than 10,000. 

The last significant annexation occurred on November 25, 1952 when the Common Council passed a charter ordinance annexing an area 8 ½ square miles from the Town of Wauwatosa, creating a municipality of 13 square miles.  

Close to the site of Charles Hart’s first mill near the present 72nd and Chestnut Street, was the site of a park, formerly known as Wauwatosa City Park.  It was renamed Charles Hart Park in 1960 in recognition of the first settler. 

Wauwatosa became a city of the second class after the 1970 census, when it was shown to have more than 58,000 residents.   Wauwatosa’s population today is approximately 47,068.

Census Year Population
2013 polulation estimate  46,705
2012 population estimate 46,320
2010 Census 46,396
2000 Census 47,271
1990 Census 49,484
1980 Census 51,310
1970 Census 58,676
1960 Census 56,923
1950 Census 33,324
1940 Census 27,769
1930 Census 21,194
1920 Census 5,818
1910 Census 3,346
1900 Census 2,842
1892 Census (Village of Wauwatosa incorporated) 2,248

Wauwatosa Historical Timeline
Year Event
1835 First permanent settlement established by Charles Hart (17 other families arrived later in the year)
1836 United States road from Milwaukee through Wauwatosa and on to Madison (part of present-day Harwood Avenue)
1837 First sawmill built by Charles Hart
1840 Town of Wauwatosa created by Act of Legislature of Wisconsin Territory
1841 Grist mill built by Charles Hart and the first public school was erected
1842 Township is organized and the town holds first town board meeting
1854 Little Red Store is built
1871 First high school built on current site of Wauwatosa East High School
1882 First public library established
1892 Village of Wauwatosa is incorporated and has a population of 2,248
1895 Fire destroyed a large part of the village
1897 Wauwatosa chartered as a city
1898 Fire house and City Hall built on Underwood Avenue
1915 First full-time police force established
1952-1954 City of Wauwatosa annexed eight and a half square miles from the Town of Wauwatosa

Current & Past Alderpersons

Mayors: 1897-Present
Mayor Years in Office
Emerson D. Hoyt 1897-1904
ER Godfrey 1904-1906
Charles B. Perry 1906-1916
Hans Koenig 1916-1920
AC.Hanson 1920-1934
Alfred C. Loose 1934-1943
William B. Knuese 1943-1964
Ervin A. Meier 1964-1972
Francis D. Kuckuck 1972-1976
James A. Benz 1976-1984
James A. Brundahl 1984-1992
Maricolette Walsh 1992-2000
Theresa M. Estness 2000-2008
Jill Didier 2008-2011
Eric Meaux 2011-2012 
Kathleen Ehley

View information on current elected officials.








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