Pleasant Prairie History

Town Beginnings

The first settlers of Pleasant Prairie arrived in 1835. Among the first settlers was Emily T. Derbyshire, who is credited with giving Pleasant Prairie its name. On January 2, 1838, the Town of Pleasant Prairie was created by Territorial Legislature. In April of 1842, the first town meeting and election took place. Early Town board meetings took place in the basement of the Williams Congregational Church, located at 93rd Street and Green Bay Road. In 1889, the church became the official Town Hall. 

The first Town Hall building.

Agricultural Roots

If you took a ride through Pleasant Prairie in the 1860s, you would have seen fields of wheat blowing in the wind. At the time, Pleasant Prairie was largely a grain farming community. In fact, the most common crop in Wisconsin was wheat. But by the late 1860s, soil exhaustion, insect infestation, and cheaper wheat from western states began to threaten Wisconsin's grain farming industry. 

Many of the settlers in southern Wisconsin came from New York—the leading dairy producer in the nation. As an alternative to wheat, these New Yorkers took up dairy farming. Other farmers were hesitant to turn to dairying—milking cows and making cheese and butter was considered women’s work. Additionally, dairying required a more rigorous year-round routine. Unlike grain farming which allowed time off in the winter, cows had to be milked twice a day, every day.

In the 1870s, several professional organizations in Wisconsin were formed to promote dairy farming and the cheese industry. Eventually, dairy farming took hold and by 1899, over 90% of Wisconsin farms raised dairy cows.

Train arriving at Bain Station, the milk train hub, in 1948. 

Courtesy of Chicago & Northwestern Railway Historical Society.

Dairy in the Prairie

In Pleasant Prairie, the arrival of railroads also affected the transition from wheat to dairy. Trains meant milk could be transported farther without spoiling. In 1870, Bain Station in Pleasant Prairie became a milk train hub. The "Milk Express Train" would leave every morning with milk for Chicago. Later in the afternoon it would return with the empty cans.

From Town to Village

Today, Pleasant Prairie is an incorporated Village, but from 1842 to 1989, Pleasant Prairie was a Town. In Wisconsin, a Town belongs to the State, and can only do what the State authorizes. But Villages and Cities are municipalities. A municipality is incorporated, which gives them more powers and responsibilities to govern themselves. This includes an authority to create tax incremental finance districts (TIFs) to fund infrastructure and other improvements.

Road to Incorporation

As a Town, Pleasant Prairie struggled to maintain its identity. The road to incorporation began in 1984, when the Town met with the City of Kenosha. They agreed on an ultimate plan for orderly development and fixed boundaries for Pleasant Prairie. In 1988, Pleasant Prairie and Kenosha implemented these plans by establishing annexation areas. Most significantly, Kenosha annexed the land north of Highway 50, from Green Bay Road to I-94. In exchange, the Town received support for incorporation and was protected from further annexations and gained the ability to buy sewer and water from Kenosha.

Kenosha annexed several locations along the Town/City border, most significantly, the land north of Highway 50, from Green Bay Road to I-94. In exchange, the Town was protected from further annexations and gained ability to buy sewer and water from Kenosha.

In 1989, a referendum (3,000 in favor, 300 against) voted to incorporate Pleasant Prairie as a Village. With the help of WisPark, the Village then developed the LakeView Corporate Park. The Corporate Park was a successful public-private partnership which created jobs and stimulated economic development.