Living in the 1950’s — “Franklin Style”

Franklin in the 1950’s still retained its rural landscape and its people were very self-sufficient. There was very little commercial development and its businesses centered around farm equipment stores, local general stores, gas stations and taverns. This is in contrast to the Franklin of today where families have easy access to retail establishments, restaurants, banks, medical facilities, municipal services and recreational outlets.

One of the most important needs of people living in rural Franklin then was for access to stores that would furnish them with what they needed. The stores of early Franklin generally did not offer a wide variety of goods so people would travel to other areas like Hales Corners, Greendale, South Milwaukee or even into the City of Milwaukee. Stores like the National Tea Co. or Barczak’s in Hales Corners or Krambo’s and the A&P in Milwaukee provided them with products they could not produce themselves. There were even some families that would have bakery delivered right to their doors in the morning by the Jaeger or Omar Bakeries.

As a source of income, many Franklin farmers traveled to the city where they delivered their home grown products like fruits and vegetables, eggs, poultry and honey to established customers. Others had market stands at Mitchell Street or in West Allis and it was after all of their products were sold that they would buy what they needed at nearby stores. Because of the far distance these stores were from their homes, shopping trips were limited to a certain number each month.

Since Mitchell Street was one of the major shopping areas close by, Franklin families would frequently shop at Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Schusters, the Grand, Goldmann’s, F. W. Woolworth’s, and the Hills Dept. Store. Mitchell Street also had many bridal shops and furniture stores, making it a convenient place to find the items that people needed.

Because Franklin also had no bus service, all travel to large cities like Milwaukee was by car or truck. If a person shopped at one of the larger stores on Mitchell Street like Sears or Schusters, the stores made sure that everyone had a place to park.

Parking in the stores’ lots was supervised by a parking attendant who was situated in a control tower high above the parking lot. From that vantage point the attendant could see where an empty parking spot was.

As a shopper pulled into the parking lot the parking attendant would announce over the public address system where to park. A shopper may have heard something like this: “Blue 1951 Ford — Aisle 7 —5th spot on your right!” It was the store’s way of offering a personal service to their shoppers and maybe even help business!

In the early 1950’s Wisconsin had its first “shopping center” (named Southgate Shopping Center) and it was built on 27th St. north of Morgan Ave. This gave people in Franklin another place to shop. Stores like Fields, Three Sisters, Gimbels, Mailing Shoes, Kinney Shoes, W.T. Grant Co. and Kresge’s dime store were built attached to each other, but with their own entrances along a front sidewalk.

By the mid 1950’s the one-room schools had disappeared and all public elementary students were attending either Ben Franklin School on 76th St. or Country Dale on North Cape Rd. Parochial schools also offered another option to Franklin families. There was, however, still no high school in Franklin so students grades 9-12 had to go elsewhere — the closest school for many of them to attend high school was Greendale High School. Luckily, school bus service was provided for Franklin students so that they could get to high school in Greendale.

Recreational opportunities for kids usually centered around school or church related activities. The wide open fields made great play yards and the local ponds made great ice skating rinks. As for organized sports, it was in the late 1950’s that the Franklin Lions and the Franklin Fire Department began forming Little League teams — but these teams were only open to boys! Roller skating was done at home or at the Palomar, a popular rink on 27th St. south of Oklahoma Ave. in Milwaukee. If you felt like an ice cream or a malt, a stop at Leon’s Custard was in order!

If people wanted to go to the movies it was the Greendale Movie Theater or a theater in Milwaukee. Franklin did have, however, the Giant 41 Twin Outdoor Theater and in summer months it was a very popular place to be. Located on 27th St. north of Drexel Ave. it had 2 large screens and then years later 2 more screens were added. People would arrive in their cars, hook up the sound system to their car window and sit back and enjoy the show. Kids would often sit on a blanket on top of the car for that total “outdoor feel”. A visit to the concession stand for food and snacks was also a part of the outdoor movie experience.

Another summer event for kids living in rural Franklin was a trip to Muskego Beach and Amusement Park. It was a place for a picnic and a chance to ride the huge wooden roller coaster that stood high over the park. Grownups came often to the Muskego Beach ballroom for dances held on weekend nights.

Stock car races were a weekend event held each summer in Franklin at the Hales Corners Speedway. The raceway was actually located in Franklin (now the Franklin Menard’s) and many local drivers from Franklin would compete there regularly. People living in Franklin could hear the race cars for miles as they made their way around the track–usually every Saturday night!

Just as recreational facilities were lacking in Franklin, so were financial, medical and municipal services. Banks were not yet in Franklin. Most citizens traveled to neighboring communities to do their banking — as well as going to see a doctor or dentist. Compared to what Franklin has today for medical facilities (including a hospital) getting emergency medical help back in the 1950’s often times meant driving a patient to a hospital or doctor on your own.

Not only were medical services different but municipal services were far and few between. There was no city water so people had their own wells. Garbage was burned on your own property and everyone had septic systems instead of sewers. It was rural Franklin with very few fulltime firefighters or police officers. Some old-timers still remember paying property taxes in a farmhouse on Loomis Rd. because that is where the Town Treasurer (later City Treasurer) lived.

With the addition of Franklin’s first subdivisions — Security Acres on 76th St. south of Puetz Rd and Towne Subdivision on 35th St. south of Rawson Ave. the city was forced to deal with changes in the economic, political, and educational issues. With the population increases, the city of Franklin changed from a rural area to a suburb with more city services and more business development.

The earlier days of “living out in the sticks” (as some would say) had changed. Some residents welcomed the changes and liked the convenience of having goods and services readily available and recreational facilities nearby. Then there are others who have been in Franklin for many years who still miss the rural days, where the pace of life was slower and living out in the country was quiet and relaxing.

– Judeen Scherrer