Wisconsin’s Oldest German Settlement is Just Minutes from Milwaukee

It’s no secret that the legacy of Wisconsin’s original German settlers is still felt across the state; beer and brats remain an essential part of every tailgate, while a local Oktoberfest event is on nearly everyone’s calendar. Boasting toasts of “Ein Prosit!” and loads of “Gem├╝tlichkeit,” Wisconsin has been the proud home of many northern European immigrants even before it gained its statehood.

The Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band performs in Madison to promote “Gem├╝tlichkeit” with Travel Wisconsin

The first group of Germans to make their way to Wisconsin en masse was a group of Old Lutherans from Pomerania who came to seek religious freedom in 1839. The Pomeranians, whose namesake is a former Prussian province in what is now northern Germany and Poland, aptly named their new home “Freistadt,” or “free city,” to celebrate their independence from religious oppression.

Map of Pomerania’s former extent (pink line shows modern border between Germany and Poland)

What is left of that original settlement? While Pomeranians might be best known in the United States for the small balls of fluff who bear their name, there is much more to Pomerania’s legacy than a cute dog breed. Head just two miles beyond Milwaukee’s northernmost border and you will enter the community of Freistadt, located within the City of Mequon at the intersection of Granville Road and Freistadt Road.

Sign welcoming visitors to Mequon’s historic Freistadt community

Naturally, Freistadt is centered around the church where the Pomeranians were finally able to worship as Lutherans without prosecution. Constructed in 1884, Trinity Lutheran is Wisconsin’s oldest Lutheran church and remains not only an operational worship facility, but has expanded to include a K-8 school as well.

Trinity Lutheran Church and School

You can also find twelve historical buildings just down the road that together make-up the Trinity-Freistadt Historical Site. These old log cabins are periodically opened for public viewing and the 4th of July is the perfect time to check them out! Each year, the festivities begin with a church service at 10:00, followed by a parade at 1:00, a flag raising ceremony, and traditional German music and dancing. The historic buildings are open throughout the day.

One of the original buildings at the Trinity-Freistadt Historical Site

The little “downtown” area also includes two bars and a hardware shop, but head just a bit farther north on Granville Road and you’ll find the historic Lindenwood Community Center. Once a schoolhouse, German art and culture still thrive here; you’ll find the Alte Kameraden band and Pommersche Tanzdeel dancers practicing, Lindenwood 4-H Club members prepping their projects for the fair, and the Pommerscher Verein maintaining books and historical documents in the library.

Oh, hey, look! It’s me performing with the PTF dancers!

More information on the groups involved in this community can be found by clicking on their names above. To enjoy a celebration of Pomeranian culture, be sure to visit Rotary Park in Mequon on Sunday, June 30th for the annual Pommerntag event!

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