The History of Cudahy, Wisconsin

Back in the early 1800's the land that the city of Cudahy lies on now was Potowatomi tribal grounds. As our country expanded westward the Indians turned the land over to the Federal Government through a treaty. There was a small settlement on the land, called Buckhorn. It consisted of a railroad station called Buckhorn Station and a dirt road called Packard Avenue which had a few farms, homes, tavern and general store. Three other dirt roads led into Buckhorn. Lake Road was an Indian trail along the lake. Old Chicago Road was cut through the wilderness by the United States Army to haul supplies from Chicago to Green Bay. It is now called Whitnall Avenue. The third road ran along the railroad tracks and was called Kinnickinnic Avenue.

The Federal government began selling the land in 1839. Patrick Cudahy bought 700 acres sometime in the late 1800's to build his meat packing plant. The land boundaries of the sale were Lake Michigan on the east, the Chicago and Northwestern railroad tracks on the west, Lunham Avenue on the north and Grange Avenue on the south.

 

Patrick and John Cudahy built the "Cudahy Brothers" meat packing plant in 1892. That same year a new depot was built. The railroad named it "Cudahy" in honor of Patrick. Workers would take the trains to and from work. Workers could also buy lots for their homes at an auction.

 

Cudahy cottages could be bought for $900. They were built out of wood with a high basement. The outhouse was in the back. Patrick named many of the streets after his friends.

 

Cudahy became a village in 1895 and was incorporated as a city in 1906 with a population of 2,556. Dr. Arthur C. Sidler was elected the first mayor. Patrick Cudahy agreed to furnish water to the new city through its pumping station. The new city also had a City Hall, built in 1902, which included a meeting room for the Common Council, city offices, a police station, a volunteer fire department, the city jail, health department and the library.

 

Two hotels that were built in 1893 housed plant workers and livestock dealers when they came to town. The Ponto Hotel was opened on Christmas Eve 1893 on the corner of Layton and Kinnickinnic Avenues. The Columbia Hotel, on the current site of the Cudahy Post Office, also had a pool hall, grocery store, barber shop and meat market. Patrick Cudahy brought the streetcar into Cudahy, donated his land for churches or sold it at a low price for schools and parks to help the people of his city. He had an orphanage built as a summer home in Sheridan Park and persuaded other businesses and industry to locate in Cudahy.

Businesses in Cudahy's History
  • Kleineider Tavern & Hall - 1890

  • Freudenberg Bakery - 1900's

  • Mitten Company

  • People's State Bank - 1917

  • Ladish Company - 1912

  • Cudahy Fuel Company - 1906

  • Pulaski Hall

  • Red Star Yeast

  • Dretzka's Department Store - 1901

  • Cudahy State Bank - 1909

  • Federal Rubber Company - 1917

  • Sheridan Hotel - 1911

  • Scott's Rose Gardens - 1913

  • Tomaro Contractors - 1916

  • Cudahy Lumber & Supply - 1917

  • Modern Machine - 1924

The first Police Department was organized in 1906 with Chief Henry Krueger and one other officer. As the city grew and times changed the police department changed too. In 1916, John Medrow became the city's first motorcycle police officer. In 1940, the first ambulance was purchased. Anthony Wise oversaw a great many changes during his 40 years as Cudahy's Police Chief. Officer training, fingerprinting, traffic timing, telephone call boxes, teletype communication and an organized clerical system were just some of the advancements

 
The First Cudahy Police Department
The First Volunteer Cudahy Fire Department
 

The first volunteer fire department was organized in 1902, before the city was incorporated. By 1908 a city ordinance created the first official Cudahy Volunteer Fire Department. John Dowling was named the chief. A fire signal whistle could be heard all over the city to call volunteers to a fire. A 30 second blast indicated there was a fire in the village. A 5 second blast signaled a fire at the Cudahy Brothers meat packing plant. While the department was considered volunteer, the first person to get to the fire house with a team of horses to pull the fire wagon received the awesome reward of $2.00.

The Cudahy Brothers plant suffered a fire on September 13, 1906. The fire destroyed one third of the buildings. They were rebuilt in 49 days! The Randa Hardware Store burned in February, 1934 and the Ladish Company metallurgical department sustained $1 million in damage on June 13, 1948. The Red Star Yeast company, located on the lake, burned twice, in July 1958 and February, 1959. The Siegel Auto Body Garage was destroyed by fire on July 31, 1971.

Otto Frank opened the Cudahy Library in 1906 in one room in the back of his drug store on Packard Avenue. He served as the librarian for five years without pay! For two years there was no library service. In 1913 the library was moved to City Hall and then to Layton Avenue on the site of the current Nero-Schramka funeral home. Another move was to Squire Avenue. Finally, in 1952, the Cudahy Memorial Library building opened on its current site. The library was built as a memorial to those who served in World War II. A city-wide fund drive was conducted by the Cudahy Service League. The drive did not collect enough money to build the new library. Money collected from Cudahy Brothers, the Ladish Company and the George J. Meyer Company helped the service league reach its goal and the new library was built. The west wing was added in 1980 with money donated by citizens and businesses. Plans for a larger library are under way.

The First Cudahy Library
 

The Public Works Department has played a very important part in the improvements to the city. Patrick Cudahy had been selling water to the City of Cudahy from his Cudahy Brothers Company pumping station since 1906. A new water purification plant was built in 1954, and in 1963 the city bought the pumping station from Cudahy Brothers. The city built a new water pumping station in 1974 to replace the older one. The first sewers were installed in 1902. The Public Works Department paved Packard Avenue in 1913 entirely by man and horsepower. Mercury streetlights were installed in 1955.

The First Public Works Department
 

The Cudahy Health Department was established in 1895 with the appointment of George Long as the city health officer. The "election shanty" on Squire Avenue was used as a "pest house" where persons with contagious diseases were to be quarantined. In 1914 the schools had a doctor available. A city nurse was hired in 1921, and in 1935 the city and school health departments became one.

The First Health Department
 

Washington School was opened in 1895 in downtown Cudahy, the same day the first streetcar came down Packard Avenue. The school had four rooms and a library. Anna and Nellie Eaton, daughters of our first Cudahy village president, were the first eighth graders to graduate from Washington School on June 30, 1896. In 1978, it was closed due to declining enrollment. Washington Square housing for senior citizens was built on the site.

 

Buckhorn School was located on the southwest corner of Whitnall and Grange Avenues in the Town of Lake. It was a one room brick building. If Cudahy children attended Buckhorn, they had to pay tuition. It was burned down by arsonists in 1911.

 

The Cudahy Vocational School was opened on Squire and Swift Avenues in 1913. It was originally called the Cudahy Industrial School and trained students in the trades. A "shop" building was added in 1927 and a home economics building in 1939. In 1970 the Cudahy Vocational School became part of Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and the building was razed.

 

Lincoln School, built in 1915, was the first High School and a High School. It became an elementary school and remained so until it was torn down in 1990. The new Lincoln School, built on the same site, opened in 1992. As the city continued to grow, Kosciuszko School was built in 1922 to accommodate the children who lived on the south side of Cudahy. The children attended school in barracks on Hammond Avenue while the school was being built. The school was closed in the 1990's but reopened in 1997. In 1929 a pool and gymnasium wing was added to the Cudahy High School, located on South Lake Drive. Cudahy was the first Milwaukee suburban school to have a pool! This building became a junior high school in 1964 and was razed in 1992. The Cudahy Sports Complex is now located on the site and the current high school is located across the street.

Schools & Churches
 
The remaining Cudahy Schools were built in the following years:
  • 1896 St. Paul's Lutheran

  • 1905 St Fredrick Catholic

  • 1905 Holy Family Catholic

  • 1912 St. Joseph Catholic

  • 1957 J.E. Jones Elementary

  • 1960 Park View Elementary

  • 1967 General Mitchell Elementary

  • 1971 Junior High West

The earliest churches were established by ethnic groups and the first church meetings were held in Buckhorn School in the 1890's. Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists met there. St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church is the oldest church in Cudahy, built in 1893 on the corner of Swift and Cudahy Avenues. Next came the Cudahy Methodist Church in 1894 on Swift Avenue between Armour and Van Norman. This building was shared with people of other faiths until they were able to build their own church. In 1896, St. Frederick Catholic Church was built across the street from St. Paul's. St. Frederick was established by Irish immigrants.

Other Noted History
 

Thanks to the Cudahy forefathers' early planning, there is park land along Lake Michigan for the entire length of the city. Sheridan Park, with its swimming pool, bike trail, picnic areas and open spaces is available for everyone to enjoy. The city bought the land for the park from Patrick Cudahy at a fair price. In 1931 the land was turned over to the Milwaukee County Park Commission. Jetties were built in 1933 as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps to slow erosion of the land. Pulaski Park was originally named Lindbergh Park in 1926 and was renamed after General Casimir Pulaski in 1929. The statue of General Pulaski was erected in 1932. The land of Warnimont Park used to be used by the army for civil defense purposes. Nowadays, you can see the Warnimont Golf Course and the Kelly Center (named after former Cudahy Mayor Lawrence Kelly) on that land. Cudahy Park is the newest park, located on Ramsey Avenue, on the west side of town, across the street from General Mitchell School. It is a Milwaukee County Park and the pavilion was built in 1971.

 

During the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration established a toy loan service. It operated just like a library only for toys instead of books. Children could check out toys for one week at a time at three Cudahy centers; Sheridan Park, Koscuiszko School grounds and at a site on the 3700 block of Barnard Avenue. Adults could attend dramatic plays and minstrel shows that were performed at the church halls and at Kleineider Hall on Packard and Layton Avenues.

 

The City of Cudahy has continued to grow in population, 18,659, and in land mass now extending south to College Avenue, west to the railroad tracks past Pennsylvania Avenue, north to Lunham Avenue and east to the lake. Cudahy is also known as the "City with no Streets" as most are named "Avenues", a few with Terrace, Lane or Drive. Trinity Hospital on Ramsey Avenue and South Lake Drive is now St. Luke's South Shore. Packard Plaza has seen many changes through the years and has been revitalized within the past few years.

Cudahy School Song - Unknown Artist
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© 2015 by The Cudahy Historical Society.