History of Downtown Pewaukee

Second depot built in Pewaukee east of Oakton Avenue


A few years after the end of the War Between the States the charm of Pewaukee and its surroundings began to attract summer visitors in increasing numbers. Remarkable changes had come with the extending of the railroad from Milwaukee to Watertown during 1854-56. For passengers at Pewaukee, located about midway between the two stations, the first depot, a small wooden structure, was built at the foot of High St and Capitol Drive.  Later, when the railroad was purchased by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Co., that building was moved to Oconomowoc Street, now Wisconsin Avenue, and converted into a residence, later torn down.  In 1881 a sturdier brick structure was built near the present site of the Ken Weber Towing Service building, on Capitol Dr at Sussex Street.  Its extended overhanging roof offered shelter to passengers boarding or alighting from trains.  A wooden platform extended around three sides.  Inside, long benches furnished the waiting room, supplied with a pot-bellied stove to provide warmth on chilly days.
In 1901, when Pewaukee continued its reputation as a popular summer resort area, a larger brick depot was built near the site of the first wooden one.  The old one, which had served well for twenty years, became known as the freight depot for it was there that all manner of merchandise was unloaded,  and cattle, sheep and pigs shipped from the local farms.  The "new" depot, as it was known, until its predecessor was  razed in the 1920's, was commodious  and well-proportioned.  While it stood it was cited as one of the most attractive on the line for a village the size of Pewaukee.  Artists, professional and amateur, have captured its image for posterity, and now, since its destruction in 1972, that is all that remains.
The railroad promoters vied in enticing passengers to use the trains to visit the unspoiled beauty of the areas made possible by that mode of travel.  Here the lure of the lake and the convenience of reaching it drew families from Milwaukee, Chicago and from more distant parts of the country.
Pewaukee was endowed not only with a future for ice, but also with a natural mill pond where ice could be cut. With the growth of Milwaukee and Chicago, a demand for natural ice was created.
The natural mill pond was the lower lake.  When Deacon Clark received an enactment permitting him to maintain a dam which raised the lake six feet above the natural level, almost immediately ice was cut on the lake for local use.  Seldom was ice cut on the upper or big lake, as it froze over later and broke up earlier in the spring,, thus increasing the dangers of ice harvesting.
In the beginning, little or no ice was shipped out of the village due to poor roads and transportation methods.  When the Milwaukee and Watertown Railroad opened as far as Oconomowoc in 1854, the curtain was going up on one of the greatest single industries ever experienced by Pewaukee.  Pewaukee not only had natural ice, but a quick and practical way of shipping it.
In 1876 Matthias Schock chose Pewaukee as the site for his brewery.  A huge ice house was built at his direction to keep cool the beer which he supplied to the surrounding area.  The Best Brewery Company also pioneered the commercial use of ice.  In 1878 an ice house 50 x 450 feet was erected. From it eight carloads of ice were shipped daily to Milwaukee breweries.

Ice houses were referred to locally by color rather than by company names.  Kopmeier's red ice house was located north of the small island.  It later became property of the Wisconsin Lakes Company.  Armour's yellow ice house occupied the area now known as Parkside.  One Sunday in the fall of 1901, Armour's ice house was struck by lightning.  In spite of fire fighting equipment shipped from Milwaukee, all attempts to save the building failed, and by morning charred remains of equipment and misshappen ice cakes were all that remained.  The fire ended the operation of one of the five big companies which flourished between 1890 and 1920 in Pewaukee.

Pawling's yellow ice house was built in 1911 with investments of local residents, in the hope of reviving the industry and creating jobs.  Pawling's was located east of Armour's.  Lack of paint caused the Cudahy Company's ice house to be later  nicknamed the black ice house.

The Savoy ice house was located on the south shore of the lake west of the Savoy hotel, the site now occupied by the Shores condominiums.  A railroad siding was built from the main line to the ice house.  Remains of the siding may be seen today from the NW corner of the Koepp Park Parking Lot that has the covered bridge sitting on its foundation off of Oakton Avenue.downtown.

The Milwaukee Road siding which served the various ice companies as at that time known as the Alaskan Station.  A switch engine was kept at Pewaukee to serve the ice companies during the peak shipping season.

Pewaukee as rated second in southern Wisconsin as an ice producer.  It is estimated that over 1/2 million tons of ice was cut and shipped yearly from Pewaukee Lake directly to Chicago and Milwaukee.  Pewaukee's ice houses served as warehouses for the larger companies.  Loaded cars were taken to a weight station located 1/2 mile east of Pewaukee to determine their shipping rates and contents.  Some ice was hauled through the village on wagons and loaded at the old freight depot near the present Ken Weber Towing building.

Mail carrier, Joseph White, took the mail to and from the train twice daily in all seasons.  The outgoing mail was hung on the mail hook since the trains didn't stop.  The picture shows that he needed a "boost" to complete the arrangement.  

Information taken from "A History of the Settlement and Progress of Pewaukee, Wisconsin  1836-1976" by Lorraine Redfield. (without permission I might add, but updated a little)