William Mahn Farm
Location: 7300 S. Howell Avenue Oak Creek, WI
The Mahn Farm was started in 1889 by William Mahn and family on Howell Road between Rawson and Drexel Road, in Oak Creek, WI. At this time, Howell Avenue was a dirt / gravel road --- a far cry from the State Highway of today! The farm was a combination of dairy farm and fruit and vegetable farm. No doubt providing food for the family with produce and flowers being “peddled” house to house on the south side of Milwaukee. The story was always told that the oxen and wagon forded the Kinnickinnic River on the way to town. Later, produce was sold by the family at the Mitchell Street Market.
When William Mahn died, the farm was run by one of their son-in-laws, Walter Dittmar, until he purchased a farm of his own on Howell bordering the Root River. By that time, Herbert Mahn was grown up enough and married so he and his wife, Ethel, built a new house on the north end of the farm and took over running the farm in the early 1930’s.
At this time, the dairy part of the farm was dropped and strawberries and fruit trees were added. All of the produce was sold Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the North Avenue Market in Milwaukee by Ethel while Herb grew the crops. The family children, Earl and Carol, were always involved in all the farm work. An old snapshot shows them selling produce on the front lawn off of two orange crates and a board in the late 1930’s.
As traffic on Howell Avenue became heavier, a small roadside stand was constructed of a canvas roof and benches. When Earl graduated from High School and U. of Wis. Short Course, he joined the farm fulltime. About that time, all of our own plants were grown in “hot-beds” and when friends and neighbors started coming to us for their garden plants, greenhouses were added. This was a new part of the business that gradually increased to fifteen greenhouses and became a large part of the business.
In the late 1950’s, a permanent sales Roadside Stand was built and at first manned by Ethel and then when she died in 1962 taken over by Earl’s wife Pat. Again, all the family children were involved in daily farm work. Shelly eventually managed the farm market, Mike managed all the vegetable and fruit crops. Merrilee grew summer squash to help pay for college. Carol and her two sons, Dave and Dan, helped out in the field/greenhouses/strawberry patch as well.
June brought teenagers from South Milwaukee and Oak Creek to pick about five acres of strawberries with the best workers kept on for picking peas, beans, corn, hoeing, harvesting or working in ”the stand”. Saturday nights saw a “load” of boys with Earl at the Hales Corners Raceway.
When Herb died in l980, Earl, Pat and family officially took over the farm until Earl suddenly died in the summer of 1994. Then Pat, Mike and Shelly took over until 1998 when the farm was turned into an Industrial Park.
Attribution: Carol Schlei & Shelly Mahn Swodinski