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Greendale’s Cream City Farmhouse, Lime and Tequila!

Week#38: The Trimborn Farmhouse is a wonderful example of the Milwaukee Cream City brick construction of the mid 1850’s. The Farmhouse is part of the historically significant Trimborn Farm in Greendale, and the lime production industry in Wisconsin.

History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.

Historic Houses in Greendale!

The fourth house in the series of historic Greendale houses is the Trimborn Farmhouse located on Trimborn Farm. The Trimborn Farm complex (including the Jeremiah Curtin House) is about 7 acres owned by the Milwaukee County Park System. Trimborn Farm was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1980.

Editor’s Note: First three houses in the series were Ross Lodge (see Week#46), Jeremiah Curtin House (see Week#44), and The Silo House (see Week#41).

Trimborn Farmhouse – 8881 W. Grange Ave., Greendale, WI 53129

The Trimborn Farmhouse is part of the overall Trimborn Farm complex. The farm had its beginnings in the 1840s as a lime kiln industry (Note: This is not the lime fruit you slice up and put in your tequila margarita). Lime was needed to make mortar for brick laying, so this was an important ingredient for building nearby Milwaukee. Some of the lime from Trimborn went down to Chicago after Mrs. O'Leary's cow supposedly started the Great Chicago fire in 1871.

The two story house on the property, an example of the Greek revival style, was built of Milwaukee Cream City brick sometime in the 1850s. Cream City brick emerged from Milwaukee's kilns in the 1830s. The relatively high concentration of lime and sulfur in the clay found in the Menomonee Valley region created that creamy hue. Locally-produced and inexpensive, it became the primary building block for churches, homes, factories and businesses for the next 70 years. The red brick addition on the back of the house was added in 1936 to provide a coal furnace and coal bin site. Along with the Jeremiah Curtin House built in 1846, these are the two oldest houses in Greendale. In 2013 Greendale may be celebrating its 75th Anniversary, but these two house are twice that age, over 150 years old. They are both treasures worth a first visit or another visit.

History and Folklore!

In the 1840s lime kilns were built on the land owned by Jeremiah O’Donnell. In 1847 Werner Trimborn and his children Leonard, August, and Helena emigrated from Prussia to Milwaukee. In 1851, Werner Trimborn and Jacob Kier purchased the farm which covered ten acres. Kier left soon after, but Werner and his family continued on to become one of the largest producers of high quality lime in Wisconsin. At its height in the 1870s, the business held over 500 acres of land and produced 200 barrels of lime daily with the assistance of forty laborers and at least forty horses. When the lime industry became less profitable with the introduction of Portland cement, the Trimborn family gradually began selling off the farm.

By 1901 much of the site was a working dairy farm owned by the Theodore Vollmer family. Another part of the original property was purchased by the Froemming family who constructed greenhouses used until the 1980s. In 1928 a large portion of the Froemming land was donated to Whitnall Park. The rest of Trimborn was purchased by Thomas Saxe. He was an entrepreneur in the movie theatre industry throughout Wisconsin, including the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee.

In 1935 the Federal Government acquired Trimborn as part of developing Greendale. They rented out the farm to others as a dairy and sod farm. Between 1945 and 1951 a part of the farm was used as an air strip. Some of these pilots went on to establish the Experimental Aircraft Association which is now in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Also, from about 1945 to 1982, the farm was a horse farm.

The Milwaukee County Park System acquired the property in 1980 and began developing it into a historic site, along with the adjacent Jeremiah Curtin House. In 2004 the Milwaukee County Historical Society took over management of the complex for the Parks Department. The buildings and structures that have been preserved have fascinating stories and historical significance:

  • Lime Kilns – four side by side pot kilns built in the 1840s and 1850s heated limestone from the nearby quarry and turned it into lime powder. Kilns restored in 1983.
  • Farmhouse – Constructed in Greek Revival style during the 1850s using Cream City brick.
  • Granary - Built in the 1850s using a technique on the interior called brick noggin to protect against air infiltration. This building functioned as a bunkhouse and granary.
  • Stone Barn - Beginning in 1858 it was built in three phases, using limestone from the quarry. Two concrete silos were added in 1920. It is one of the last and largest stone barns in Wisconsin.
  • Threshing Barn - Built in 1858, using vertical board and batten siding. The barn was used to store grain and house animals.

But did you know?

The limestone quarry that is now the site of the condominium complex of Overlook Farms (located north of Trimborn Farm across Grange Avenue) was an economic benefit for almost a century. But what exactly is the output and products of a limestone quarry and kiln?

According to the website of the National Lime Association lime products result from the heating of limestone, a commonly occurring calcium carbonate rock. Once mined, the limestone is heated in kilns to temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees. The application of heat changes the chemical composition of limestone by removing carbon dioxide, and the resulting “quicklime” is a dangerous alkaline. Further treatment of the quicklime results in several recognizable products, including mortar, a widely used precursor to modern concrete and even some agricultural fertilizers.

Surprisingly, the use of limestone and lime products for building materials dates back to prehistoric times. Somehow, someway, ancient peoples determined that heating the excavated limestone created “sticky” material that could be used to glue materials together. Modern kilns have predecessors dating back thousands of years in both the new and the old worlds.

People, Past & Present!

Jeff Kollath is the Director of Museum Experience with the Milwaukee County Historical Society and oversees the events at Trimborn Farm. He tells us that so far for 2013 two of the most popular and long running events are already planned:

  • 31st Annual Harvest Festival of Arts and Crafts, September 7 and 8
  • 10th Annual Civil War Encampment, October 5 and 6

The Trimborn Farm Park grounds are open sunrise to sunset from May 15-Oct. 15. Park grounds admission is free. However, the Trimborn Farm buildings are open to guided tours by appointment only. Price for tours is $5 per person with children under age six free. Check the website for specific details and contact information.

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:

Week#40 Answer courtesy of Matt MurdaughIn response to the question of what other use Trimborn had from approximately 1945 until 1979, Matt answered “Trimborn Farm was used as a horse boarding stables along with it hosting horse events”.

Week#38 Question – I bumped into references to two time capsules buried in Greendale, one in 1988 and one in 1998. The one buried in 1998 is somewhere near the entrance to the Greendale Middle School and will be opened in May of 2023. The other buried in 1988 and moved in 2002 near the Village Hall ramp is scheduled to be opened in August of 2028. I’d like to know more about each of these. Can anyone help out with more details?

** Week #38 contributors Sally Chadwick, Greendale Historical Society, Milwaukee County Historical Society, Jean M. Miller, Wikipedia.

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