On Foot: Elm Grove – a Delightful Step Back in Time

September 21, 2023
All photos by Patricia Puccinelli Elm Grove Village Park Monarch Waystation

I’ll begin with a confession. Although I’ve lived in Waukesha County for over 30 years, I’ve visited Elm Grove only twice – both times for either lunch or dinner. So, today’s walk was filled with the anticipation of discovery and the hope for a bit of adventure. I was unprepared for the most delightful step back in time in a vibrant community respecting history, celebrating service of many kinds and protecting its people and natural resources. For those who also aren’t familiar, the Village of Elm Grove is nestled into 3.29 square miles centered around Watertown Plank Road.   

My walking buddy, Mary, and I met late in the morning at the Mill Place Shops parking lot. We didn’t make it 25 feet before being lured by the delicious smell of just-baked, warm bread wafting from the Great Harvest Bread Company. We made a bee-line to the shop and ordered freshly made sandwiches. Great Harvest’s website says it all, “Sandwiches where the outside is as good as the inside! Bread. The way it ought to be.”

Ottoman Society in Elm Grove
Unique furniture and decorative items on consignment at The Ottoman Society.

Our next stop was The Ottoman Society, a fine furniture consignment store, also located in the Mill Place Shops. Items were artfully displayed blending unique styles, colors and textures tempting those browsing throughout the shop. We both were drawn to several striking pieces of wall art, but refrained. At least this time. 

We continued our walk along Watertown Plank Road discovering more charming shops and businesses including massage therapy, hair care, a chocolatier and a pet spa. Our most exciting discoveries were Deux Soles Shoe Repairand New Look Tailoring. In today’s throw-away economy, it is refreshing to see these services still being offered. This was our first inkling that Elm Grove is truly special. 

Village Park

It was time for us to pick up our pace, so we headed north on Legion Drive toward Elm Grove Village Park stopping briefly to watch a pair of sandhill cranes with their colt scouring for seeds and grubs in the grass. We read each sign posted on the edge of Veterans Park identifying the native plants found in the park’s beautiful garden. Neither Mary nor I were familiar with the Obedient Plant of the mint family, the Rattlesnake Master and Side-Oats Grama of the grass family or the Compass Plant of the sunflower family which, we assumed, keeps all family members growing in the same direction. 

Blue Star Memorial at Veterans Park
Blue Star Memorial at Veterans Park

At the corner of the park, a circular, red brick walkway engraved with veteran’s names, the Blue Star Memorial, serves as a tribute to those who have defended our country. The memorial is sponsored by the Elm Grove Garden Club in cooperation with American Legion Post 449, the Elm Grove Beautification Committee and the Wisconsin Garden Club Federation. 

Pink Butterfly Milkweed
Pink Butterfly Milkweed

We reached Village Park entering near the Monarch Waystation and opted to take the 1.3-mile pathway around the perimeter of the park. Signage indicated the waystation “provides milkweeds, nectar sources and shelter needed to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America.” The waystation plants appeared to be in motion due to the fluttering of so many of the familiar orange-red wings highlighted by black veining and white dots at their edges.

We continued along the path passing a fishing pond where adults and children were practicing catch and release. A charming exception is posted: children 12 and under are allowed three fish per day.  

A Walk in Time

The path we chose proved to be not only beautiful, but also educational due the many information-packed signs embedded in large stones along the route. The School Sisters of Notre Dame were some of the original settlers of Elm Grove, eventually building a convent, school and church. The sisters donated over 28 acres to the village for the parkland in the 1950s. The path, dedicated in 2007, is named “A Walk in Time” and is sponsored by the Elm Grove Community Foundation.  

A few items I found particularly interesting while reading the signs along the path:

  • Other early settlers included Byron Kilbourn, also a founding father of Milwaukee, as well as farmers from Germany and Ireland including members of the Pfister family.
  • Watertown Plank Road served as a major highway linking Milwaukee to Watertown across 58 miles; Bluemound Road was built as a military highway to move troops to the west. 
  • The Reitter family opened a general store in 1866. Margaret Reitter married John Reinders in 1886. In 1896, Reinders added a mill to the business. Based in Sussex, Reinders still operates today with stores, including those in Waukesha and Elm Grove, focused on turf and landscaping, commercial equipment, and irrigation supplies.
  • Community pride and civic responsibility are paramount as evidenced by the significant civic organizations featured, including the Elm Grove Garden Club founded in 1934; the Elm Grove Women’s Club founded in 1939, the Elm Grove Business Association formed in 1948, the Sunset Playhouse formed in the 1950s and the Elm Grove Community Foundation formed in 1999. 
  • The village enjoys long-standing traditions of service including the largely volunteer fire department and the Emergency Medical Service composed of volunteer paramedics and volunteer emergency medical technicians working in collaboration with village police officers. 
A hotel to protect native bees
A hotel to protect native bees

Completing “A Walk in Time,” we continued along the path and quickly discovered another gem – a bee hotel. The bee hotel was created in 2022 as an Eagle Scout project by a member of Troop 156. The hotel provides a safe place for native bees to lay eggs during warm weather and serves as their home during pollination and season changes. 

Baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis and volleyball courts, a swimming pool and splash pad and a beer garden – Village Park offers all these amenities to the community. Given the 85⁰ temperature on the day of our walk, the pool and splash pad were overflowing with children and adults happy and relieved (in that order) to cool off for at least a bit.    

We left the park and headed south back to Watertown Plank Road where we turned east. We walked past the Patched Works quilt shop but didn’t stop in. That was a mistake because I later learned from their website that Patched Works is “on a mission to motivate, educate and have fun with its customers. As we spend more and more time using technology, it’s important to spend time creating with our hands too.” Their motto is “It’s always a party at Patched Works.”

Continuing east we found Bigsby’s Sewing Center which has been in operation since 1956. Mary and I stopped abruptly in our tracks as we entered the store and saw the shopkeeper embroidering using a computer – a sewing computer. Seeing our startled faces, she demonstrated how the machine works and explained the Bernina B790 Pro retails for $15,500. She then took us to the rear of the store to show us a lovely quilt being made on a long-arm quilting machine and computer which retails for $41,000. My last sewing experience was in Home Economics class more than a few years ago. I am still stunned at the technological advancements and more stunned by the price tags. Beautiful pieces of work! 

Lovely home décor at G Home
Lovely home décor at G Home

We then ventured into several clothing and home décor shops, including Moxie and G Home, which we learned share common ownership. At G Home, I fell in love with a stunning painting featuring a flea-bitten (white or grey coat with brown or black flecks) horse with its head bowed, stirring another memory, this time of my long-passed sweet, white flea-bitten mare. 

Across the street, I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of neighboring O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub and Silver Spur Texas Smokehouse BBQ and plan to go back to both to sample their menus. I’ve since learned these restaurants are long-standing favorites in the community and will head back soon to check them out first-hand.  

We decided to reverse course as we wanted to check out Kettle Range Meat Company, a traditional butcher shop, as what we expected would be our last stop of the day. The gregarious shop keeper was keen to tell us they humanely raise their own grass-fed beef and pigs and offer both fresh meat and cuts dry-aged for 45 days to enhance flavor and tenderness. They also offer weekly heat-and-eat meals serving one to two people. The menu available when we stopped in looked amazing: Korean spiced meatballs with sesame bok choy and kimchi fried rice; Hungarian beef goulash on egg noodles; chicken teriyaki with sesame broccoli and Japanese seasoned vegetables; pork and shrimp stir fry with curry soy sauce; and ranch fried pork cutlet with potato wedges and broccoli. Mary chose a picanha steak to take home to share with her boyfriend and reported back that it was delicious! 

I’ll end with another confession. We gave in and finished our 6.3 mile walk in the heat at RJ’s Ice Cream shop conveniently tucked between Great Harvest and The Ottoman Society. More wonderful childhood memories swirled in my head, not only because of the bright, colorful retro décor, but also because of the gray boomerang design table tops just like the one in my mom and dad’s kitchen. Only theirs was yellow. Mary, as usual, chose the healthier option, a dish of Raspberry Sorbet. I, of course, indulged in the wickedly delicious Elephant Tracks. After all, kids will always be kids.

On Foot is a regular column exploring the scenery, sites, food and drink in cities, villages and towns throughout Waukesha County. If you have ideas to share about where Focus Waukesha should explore next On Foot, please contact [email protected].