The Taverns and Stages of Early Waukesha County, Wisconsin with particular emphasis on those in the Town of Lisbon

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Taverns, politics, entertainment & politics


In the mid 1850s, as people were moving west to stake their claims for land on which to homestead, there were many business establishments called “taverns.” More often than not, they were not taverns as we think of them today, but served as stopping places for a night’s rest before resuming the search for land on which to stake a claim.

Until 1846 Waukesha County was a part of Milwaukee County, and politicians used these places to promote their ideas to residents of newly formed localities. There was a lot of traffic on Watertown Plank Road, now known as Bluemound Road. In the 41-mile stretch from Elm Grove to Goerke’s Corners, there were at least 10 of these taverns.

During the first 14 years of Wisconsin statehood, this area produced a governor, a U.S. senator, a secretary of state, and a state superintendant of public instruction, in addition to various local officers.

Matthew Kilmister was born in England, and, according to reports from the Wisconsin Historical Society, he, his wife, and two daughters were brought to America by P.T. Barnum. After several years as musical entertainers, he had accumulated enough money to retire from show business. Around 1851 he purchased the Forest House, an already established tavern on Watertown Plank Road, west of Goerke’s Corners. Sometime in this period he dropped the final “r” from his name and for the rest of his life was known as Mr. Kilmiste. He and his daughters gave musical and dancing parties, which were well-received by travelers and politicians alike. Political activity was a daily part of life at Forest House and he was active as a Democrat. It is thought that due to his influence, Waukesha County politics changed from Republican to Democrat shortly after the Civil war.

The Forest House was advertised for sale in 1864. Included in the advertisement were almost 200 acres of land, groves of maple trees with a sugar house capable of producing 1,000 pounds of maple sugar annually, along with large residence and barn. Also listed were sheds for wagons, stabling for horses, cows, oxen and sheep, along with a capacious hog pen, granary and frostproof root cellar. Livestock consisted of horses, colts, oxen, cows, pigs and 200 sheep, along with all necessary implements of animal husbandry. Apparently, Klimiste was not only a successful innkeeper but a successful farmer as well.

Shortly after his retirement, Kilmiste became aware of a growing problem in the area when two of his prized horses were stolen from his barn in the middle of the night. He immediately wrote letters to the newspaper, advocating that a committee be formed to keep people informed of these activities, as well as to offer rewards to encourage everyone to be more vigilant to discourage the theft of horses and other livestock. They also worked to track down offenders and recover stolen animals. This mutual aid society must have had some success because several months later it was reported that one of his horses had been found in the Janesville area.

Matthew Kilmiste lived until the age of 74 and is buried along with his wife, one daughter and a son at Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery in the City of Pewaukee.

Each week in Living, the four authors of this column provide photos and articles featuring tidbits from the past to help Lake Country readers better understand and appreciate their roots. Penny Williams focuses on Pewaukee, Margaret Zerwekh on Delafield, Jeanne Ann Frederickson on Merton and Lisa Pellegrini on Hartland. This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the ‘x’ in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use. You can also email While we strive for a lively and vigorous debate of the issues, we do not tolerate name calling, foul language or other inappropriate behavior.