Did you know that “once upon a time”, the Town of Oak Creek was the underdog when it took on the City of Milwaukee in an incorporation battle?
When the Town of Oak Creek was established in 1840, only 40 families lived here, but access to the lake and railroad, and the growth of industry to the area caused the population to grow. When the Wisconsin Electric Power Company built a power plant in Oak Creek in 1951, the City of Milwaukee wanted to annex the town into its boundaries. The Oak Creek Town Board and many residents of Oak Creek did not want to become part of the City of Milwaukee, so they began to fight to become a city of their own. However, under state statutes at the time, town government didn’t have the authority incorporate.
But that didn’t stop town leaders. They decided to try to get that law changed. Town Attorney Anthony X. Basile drafted a law, which has become known as the Oak Creek Law, to allow the town to hold a referendum on the incorporation. The Wisconsin State Senate passed the law, and Oak Creek scheduled its referendum for October 27, 1955. Voters would get to decide if Oak Creek would become a city.
Milwaukee officials were unhappy when they found out that Oak Creek was trying to incorporate, and wanted to block the referendum. To do this, they had to deliver legal papers to Oak Creek officials, but they never got the chance. The Town’s officials went into hiding to avoid being summoned. Some moved in with relatives and friends so they could not be found. One hid in an attic. Only town employees, acting as messengers, knew of their whereabouts.
The referendum was held as scheduled. The results: 2,107 voted for incorporation and 126 voted against it. A town employee, who had to take the ballots to where Town Clerk John W. Trost was hiding in Milwaukee, changed cars twice and drove through a field because he feared he was being followed. The City Charter was finally signed by State officials on December 15, 1955, designating Oak Creek as a fourth class city. This made it impossible for Milwaukee or anyone else to try to annex them.
The City’s first officials were Mayor Arthur Abendschein, City Clerk John Trost and Treasurer Fred Brinkman.
Source: The Milwaukee Journal and the Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce
To learn more about Oak Creek's rich history, please visit the Oak Creek Historical Society's website, and visit their museum on the southeast corner of Forest Hill and 15th Avenue.
The Oak Creek Historical Society was formed in 1964, initially to save the original Town Hall from demolition. Over the years, the museum has grown to include five other historic buildings, and maintain a collection of artifacts from Oak Creek and an archive of information.