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Fourth of July celebration in Mequon has deep history

Independence Day event goes back 143 years

Log  buildings that were constructed in the mid-1800s at Trinity Lutheran Church and School of Freistadt in Mequon are still standing on Church Street, off of Freistadt Road. The historical grounds will be open on the Fourth of July for the annual picnic that has been taking place since 1870.

Log buildings that were constructed in the mid-1800s at Trinity Lutheran Church and School of Freistadt in Mequon are still standing on Church Street, off of Freistadt Road. The historical grounds will be open on the Fourth of July for the annual picnic that has been taking place since 1870. Photo By Danielle Switalski

July 2, 2013

Mequon — Where Granville Road meets Freistadt Road in the western portion of the city, there is a plot of land that is home to a wealth of history.

On that corner of the city sits Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Freistadt, a place where countless people have come to worship for the last 174 years. Part of the standing structure where worship services are still held was built in 1884; however, the land's history goes back further, to a time before roads existed, the land was densely covered in woods and there was no such thing as Mequon.

On July 4, Trinity-Freistadt will host the annual Fourth of July Picnic and Parade first started in 1870, which church historian LeRoy Boehlke said is recorded in the church's minutes.

Trinity Lutheran-Freistadt was founded in 1839, when Wisconsin was still a territory. The plot of land that was originally Indian territory was purchased by a group of 20 Pomeranian families. They came to America from Prussia to escape religious persecution and practice their Lutheran faith without fear, said Boehlke, who belongs to the Trinity-Freistadt Historical Society.

The settlers established the town of Freistadt, now known as the Freistadt neighborhood in Mequon, and created the first Lutheran church in Wisconsin.

"They came for the purpose of starting a church here," Boehlke said.

Building a community

These families first came to Milwaukee in the fall of 1839 and stayed until the heavily wooded land became livable.

"It was just woods, no buildings, not one acre of farmable land," Boehlke said. "When they got to Milwaukee in October 1839 they rented a warehouse and women and children stayed there and men and boys got axes and saws and went to the land they had bought."

By December, there were enough one-room cabins that those healthy enough could move out to that plot of land, surviving a long and cold Midwest winter. In spring, the settlers built their first church and school house, which stood as log cabins. Though they were somewhat isolated, word spread and the membership grew, necessitating the construction of a new church in the mid-1880s.

"People kept coming and coming," Boehlke said.

The structure built in 1884 still stands today, though it is now connected to a school and a portion of the building is newly remodeled.

Fourth of July tradition

The Fourth of July event starts with an outdoor worship service at 10 a.m., followed by the picnic at 11 a.m. Food will be served at both the current school and church site on the corner, as well as Historical Society grounds on Church Street, off of Freistadt Road. Some of the original log buildings are still standing, including the school house.

Shuttles pulled by tractors and horses are offered to transport people between the two locations. The historical grounds are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are children's games all afternoon, event coordinator Beverly Bergmann said.

A flag-raising ceremony is slated for 2 p.m. at the band stand. The Pommersche Tanzdeel dancers will perform, as well as the Alte Kameraden Band, which plays German music.

Bergmann said there will also be a George Washington impersonator giving presentations at the historical grounds.

The event draws people from all over, Bergmann said. They have had more than 2,000 people in attendance.

"We don't advertise; it's only by reputation," she said. "Lots of people come and lots of people are aware of it."

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Trinity's annual picnic and parade

WHEN: picnic at 11 a.m., parade at 1 p.m. July 4

WHERE: Trinity Lutheran-Freistadt, 10729 W. Freistadt Road, Mequon

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