As it tumbles lakeward from Wauwatosa, the Menomonee River creates neighborhoods. The river valley separates the South Side from Downtown, provides a home for the Valley, and sets limits for communities ranging from Merrill Park to Walker's Point.
Story Hill is one of the newer neighborhoods defined by the river. Perched on a bluff overlooking Miller Park, Story Hill lies at the geographic center of Milwaukee County; access in any direction is effortless. But the neighborhood is anything but a crossroads. Shaped by the valley throughout its history, Story Hill is a neighborhood that stands apart.
Hiram Story was almost a pioneer. He left Vermont at the age of 25 and headed west to Milwaukee, arriving in 1843. Several years had passed since the first wave of settlement, but there was still plenty of room for newcomers. By 1846, the year Milwaukee was chartered, Story owned 160 acres west of the city. The New Englander's land, bordered by 43rd and 51st Streets between Wisconsin Avenue and Canal Street, included nearly all of the present Story Hill neighborhood.
Story started a farm above the Menomonee River, but an accidental discovery led him to more lucrative pursuits. According to local legend, a storm uprooted a large tree on the farm in the 1850s, revealing a deposit of high-grade dolomite, better known today as Lannon stone. The farmer becam a quarryman, supplying the needs of builders throughout the region. Business was so demanding that Hiram's brother, Horace Story, joined him as a partner in 1857. The Story brothers' quarry eventually covered what is now the north parking lot of Miller Park, and it spread east beneath the present Highway 41 expressway. The brothers built homes on the high ground above the quarry, and the area was soon known as "Story Hill."
Competing stone quarries opened in the Menomonee Valley, among them the Manegold and Monarch operations, which lay just over the hill from the Story quarry. (Filled in today, they constitute Doyne Park.) Between the quarries, at the crest of the hill, was the main road between Milwaukee and all points west. The "highway," little more than two ruts at first, had been blazed in the 1830s to connect the lakeshore city with the little village of Blue Mounds, west and south of Madison. There it joined the old Military Road connecting Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. Most of the route is still in use as Highway 18.
Blue Mound Road, as it came to be called, was a country lane in the mid-1800s, but it brought the first non-rural development to the Story Hill area. In 1857, Milwaukee's Catholic diocese opened Calvary Cemetery east of Hawley Road on Blue Mound. It had 10,000 burials by 1880, and its "residents" would eventually include such notables as Solomon Juneau and Patrick Cudahy.
Urban development reached the very edge of Story Hill in the late 1880s. A small settlement called Pigsville spread across the Menomonee Valley floor in the 1880s and '90s, its residents drawn by job opportunities in nearby industries, uncluding the Story quarry. But Pigsville was destined to remain an urban village, one of the most isolated communities in the Milwaukee area. Development farther west, on Story Hill, was blocked by the western bluff.
The area's urban future clearly hinged on easy connections to the city. The first link was forged in 1892, when a streetcar company build a spindly trestle across the valley at Wells Street. There was soon regular service to Wauwatosa, and after 1901, to West Allis.
Sensing a boom, developers opened subdivisions on the Wells Street section of the bluff in the 1890s. They found few takers, despite the improved connections to the city. The streetcars, however, remained in service until 1958, and the trestle was not demolished until 1962. The West Allis roadway persists, with its wooden ties still intact as a narrow belt of green space between 52nd and 53rd Streets south of Wells.