Greenfield History

Greenfield building

The Potawatomi Indians relinquished their claim to lands in southeastern Wisconsin at the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, and were deported in 1838. Surveyors from the U.S. General Land Office measured the region according to the northwest Ordinance of 1787, establishing the boundaries of future 6x6-square-mile towns. One of the future towns surveyed in 1836 was Town 6 North Range 21 East, which later became Greenfield. A few pioneers arrived there a year earlier, including William Strothmann, the first permanent German resident in Milwaukee County, who settled on land southwest of present 43rd and Oklahoma Avenue.

Land sales by the federal government took place in 1839, and, as a result, more than the minimum number of residents required (300) lived in Town 6N Range 21E and in the town south of it, allowing the area to be created as the Town of Kinnickinnic on March 8, 1839. Soon, both towns contained the required population, so the southern half separated as the Town of Franklin on December 20, 1839.

A young lawyer from New York, Olney Harrington, and his family had moved to the northwest area of the future Town of Kinnickinnic in 1837. In 1839, Harrington selected Greenfield as the name of the post office, which he applied to become postmaster of. Why he chose that name remains unknown. It was a popular place name. Four other towns created in other counties of Wisconsin between 1847 and 1856 were given that name.

According to the 1840 census, about 400 residents who were members of about 80 families lived in Kinnickinnic. About three-fourths of them were from Ireland, New York or Germany, with the remainder from Vermont, Connecticut, Canada and England. They seemed to prefer “Greenfield” instead of “Kinnickinnic” as the name of their town, because it was changed to “Greenfield” on February 19, 1841. The town extended north to south from present Greenfield Avenue to present College Avenue, and east to west from present 27th Street to present 124th Street. During the later 19th century, many additional residents, mostly from Germany, arrived in Greenfield.

In 1880, a railroad was built across northern Greenfield, attracting industries and businesses. West Allis and West Milwaukee incorporated there in the early years of the 20th century. The City of Milwaukee also annexed land in eastern Greenfield in 1912. In 1938, an experimental community, the Village of Greendale, was created in southern Greenfield by the federal government, and in 1952 the Village of Hales Corners incorporated in southwestern Greenfield. In the 1950s, the Town of Greenfield lost half of its remaining territory as the five municipalities just mentioned acquired more of its acreage

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