It’s no secret that the legacy of Wisconsin’s 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 “Gemütlichkeit,” Wisconsin has been the proud home of many northern European immigrants since long before it gained its statehood. Naturally, Wisconsin’s oldest German settlement is located just a few miles north of the city known as “German Athens” – Milwaukee. As an active member of its cultural community (that’s me dancing in the photo above), I want to share some of this lesser-known history with you.
Disclaimer: Some of the pictures shown in this post are not my own. Click on each image to view its source.
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 country in what is now northern Germany and Poland, named their new home Freistadt or “free city” to celebrate their independence from religious oppression. Their new home, which is considered Wisconsin’s oldest German settlement, can be found in western Mequon in neighboring Ozaukee County.
What is left of that original settlement? Many buildings are actually still standing! While Pomeranians might be best known in the United States for the small fluffy canines who bear their name, there is much more to Pomerania’s legacy in Wisconsin than a cute dog breed. Head just two miles beyond Milwaukee’s northernmost border along Granville Road through Mequon and you will enter the community of Freistadt.
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. Just across the road lie the historic houses of Wisconsin’s first German settlers. The Trinity-Freistadt Historical Site includes more than ten buildings that open to the public each year during the community’s July 4th celebration.
Its little “downtown” 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 projects for the fair, and the Pommerscher Verein maintaining historical records in the library.