Little Red Store History

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As the oldest commercial structure in the city, the small two-story landmark makes the history of Wauwatosa easy to see and touch.

 

1850: Four years before the Little Red Store existed, the first train in Wisconsin made its maiden run over the first five miles of track from "downtown" Milwaukee to Spurr's Tavern in Wauwatosa.  After being built near the railroad, the building became Wauwatosa's railroad depot, ticket office, and express office.

1854: Dr. Levi Halstead built the frame structure, intending to use it as a blacksmith shop. It was first used as a dwelling.

 

The railroad tracks are near the bottom of this photo from 1870.

Despite its small size, the Little Red Store had a very busy early life:

- Thomas Riddle purchased the building for a grocery store, which also carried farm tools and medicine.
- The post office moved in during 1855. A circulating library joined soon afterward, and local Republicans also held caucuses in the building.
- Dr. Halstead returned to live in the building and run his medical practice from the second floor.

 

All of this took place in the twenty years prior to 1874! Citizens complained that there was too much activity in the building and a new train depot was erected further east along the tracks.

1895: A devastating fire broke out in the village and nearly destroyed the entire business district.  However, the Little Red Store was spared because it was on the south bank of the river. 

   

1955: The Wauwatosa Fuel and Supply Co. purchased the LRS and debated whether to raze the building or move it so that their trucks could have access to Harwood Avenue. Realizing its historic value, President D.C. Jacobus opted to move the structure a bit to the west and joined it to the old electric power plant.
He authorized $14,000 for its restoration.

 

An aerial view of the LRS in the 1960s.

1978: The LRS was designated a City Landmark.

1987: Charles Jacobus (son of Wauwatosa Fuel and Supply Co. President D.C. Jacobus) donated the building to the city so that it could remain a historical monument. The city assumed ownership of the building as part of a purchase of the surrounding 2.5 acre site at the cost of $450,000. The city intended to use the property for public parking.

1987 to approx. 1998: The city leased the store to various businesses - the last being Harwood Engineering. Shortly thereafter, the power plant rear addition was removed and the back of the store was covered with sheets of plywood.  When the power plant was removed all electric and sewer connections were also severed, and the store was vacant. 

2002: The store had been neglected for the past 4 years, so the Wauwatosa Historical Society started appealing the city to stabilize the building and protect it from the elements.

2004: The city requested and received two bids for a modest addition and repair to the rest of the building. Both proposals were about $250,000; much of the cost was to reconnect the electric service and sewers (which had to go under the railroad tracks). The city believed this was too costly for such a small building and chose to only resurface the parking lot. 

2005: After another campaign, the WHS succeeded in placing the LRS on the list of Wisconsin's Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties. The City was unable to sell the property because it sits on a brown field-- land that was contaminated by oil when fuel tanks occupied part of the 2.5 acres.

September 2005: WHS representatives offered a proposal to the mayor: The WHS would be willing to raise a portion of the money to restore the LRS. In return, we would be permitted to lease the building from the City for a nominal fee ($1 per year) and would operate a visitor/community center that would once again bring life back to the building. 

 


   

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