Growing up in Sunset Village When it was Still a Village
Marian Bennett Sorensen

Sunset Park Memories from the 1940s and 1950s
Over 70 years ago, my parents, Roderick and Barbara Bennett, walked into the woods to choose a lot to build the house that I grew up in at 4122 North Sunset Court. The woods remained at the bottom of Sunset Park where we picked as many violets and buttercups as our little hands could hold. There were also shooting stars, jack-in-the-pulpits and May apples. Once when we returned from a short trip, we found out that we had been annexed to the city. Then the city regularly mowed the grass under the trees, and there weren’t so many wildflowers. The park was the focal point of the neighborhood, with activities planned throughout the year. In winter we had a lighted ice rink with benches at the top of the park; in the summer we took our lawn chairs to the same area for serial movies every Saturday night; on Halloween there was a big bonfire that we marched around for the costume and jack-o-lantern judging; and Santa came into houses that put a blue bulb outside the front door. The slide, baby swings, big swings, teeter-totter, and sandbox were popular year-round. When we went down the slide, we sat on wax paper to make it slipperier. The boulder in the woods was meant for climbing and playing cowboys and Indians. Kids liked to crawl through the culvert that went up East Sunset Court. When water was running after a rainfall, it formed a stream through the woods at the bottom of the park, before going into another culvert that led west. We could launch paper boats in the park and retrieve them down on Owen Drive. Every day in the summer we raced across the street when the playground “teachers” arrived. They opened up the storage shed that held all the craft items, washers, checkers, tetherball, and lots of other fun stuff. We made lanyards, bracelets, pins and earrings (for our mothers), out of gimp (plastic lacing), and we made belts, wallets, and coin purses out of leather. We had activities with other playgrounds throughout the city, including chess and washer tournaments and an annual lantern parade at Tenney Park. A bus would pick us up at the South end of the park to take us to Vilas Park or Spring Harbor for swimming, and to Westmorland Park for rollerskating to music in the shelter with our clamp-on rollerskates. One Fourth of July in the early 1950s the Madison Boy Scout Drum and Bugle Corps performed at the top of the park and inspired my older brother to join. We’re still fans of the Madison Scouts.

Other Memories of Growing Up in Sunset Village in the 1940s and 1950s
On the Fourth of July we decorated our bicycles and tricycles for a parade down Westmorland Boulevard, ending in the park where activities were planned for the whole day, including fireworks at night. Before Sunset Village was annexed, Bagley Parkway was blocked off so we could use it for sledding, and Hoyt Park had a wonderful toboggan slide that was supervised and open at night. I walked to Dudgeon School and cut across every empty lot in Westmoreland even if it took me out of the way. Midvale School wasn’t built until I was in 5th grade. I remember that each of us wrote our names on a sheet of paper that was placed in the corner stone of the new school. Paul Olson, who lived on Mineral Point Road, just a couple of houses from East Sunset Court, was our principal.

In the days when most dads went to work and moms stayed home, every family had only one car. This meant that those who had products or services to sell often came to the neighborhood. We still have pictures taken on the black and white pony that a photographer brought down our street. My older brother remembers vegetables being delivered by horse and buggy. Farmers also brought eggs and chickens. There were two dairies that delivered milk—Bowman Farm Dairy and Bancroft Dairy. The kids used to run after “Jumbo” the milkman to try to get some ice from his truck. And, of course, we bought our brushes from the Fuller Brush man. We had grease traps that were a kind of septic tank that had to be emptied regularly. A man known as Spike came along in his little black truck to do the smelly job. He walked along with his bucket on a stick and would ring the doorbell and keep on walking. If you wanted him to clean your grease trap, you had to catch him.

Who were some of the early residents? We could always count on fresh cookies when we rang Mrs. Wissler’s doorbell. Mrs. Narum had a beautiful flower garden. Mrs. Meyr gave permanents to the women and girls. Mrs. Snell took care of the few children whose mothers worked. Mr. Schape owned a car dealership. Miss Clock was the principal of Dudgeon School. Mr. Hughes was a optometrist. Mrs. Goldschmidt took care of her home and family when her husband was fighting in World War II. Mr. Peterson, a Swedish gentleman, was a carpenter who built the additions on our house. Don McKenna, a realtor who had developed the neighborhood, lived in the house behind us on Hillcrest Drive. There was a man who worked for the F.B.I. When I was in high school, I babysat for the Noth family on West Sunset Court near the corner of South Sunset Court. Their son Chris grew up to star on the TV series, Sex in the City.

My brother had a Milwaukee Journal paper route that was spread throughout Sunset Village. The Sunday papers were heavy, and he could only fit 12 in his bicycle basket. He found that the best time to collect from the graduate students who lived in the trailer park across from where the Hilldale Mall would be built, was at night when they were having parties. The Hill Farm animals would sometimes get loose and wander around.

We had a plot in the Victory Garden that was just to the south of the University Avenue bridge over Old Middleton Road. It’s now part of the Blackhawk Golf Course. With no TVs and only one car, we made our own fun. Our mothers talked over the fences as they hung their clothes to dry. Whenever we went shopping downtown, we got dressed up and took the bus. Sunset Village was a great place to grow up.

Jim Bennett’s additional memories
I remember eating the concord grapes from a backyard fence in the park & the best 4-cent homemade popsicles at Rowley's back door (dipped in the bubbler in the center of the park to increase the flavor). I remember climbing a Maple tree one evening and finding myself eyeball to eyeball with a Mourning Dove on her nest. Don't forget the Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers! I remember crawling in the storm sewers all the way to Westmorland Blvd.... you could see the 1" stream of light coming thru the manhole center from a block away! Probably the biggest adventure was going into the caves below the Hoyt Park lookout....and that toboggan slide was a huge wooden structure. I think they even had a ski jump built up there too. Thanks to all the Hickory nuts, I learned to count to 1000...good cakes. Good money shoveling driveways for $1.00. Paul Olsen...Midvale Principal, a bit intimidating with the awesome metal crutches. His address on Mineral Pt was same as ours.....4122. Likeable man, very instrumental with the Madison School Forest near Verona.

Hi Marian,

I just LOVED your memories. How lucky you were to live next to a park with so many opportunities/activities. I didn't know Miss Clock lived there. We also had a garden on University Avenue next to the RR tracks (across the tracks from Blackhawk CC). We'd sometimes find golf balls in the garden. The people that owned it were the Rodenschmidts and they kept horses there – just an electric fence away. Was that the same place you had yours?

Our garden was huge, and we had to carry water from the house to the west of the gardens to water plants - I especially remember watering the new tomato plants. We could park at the house there - it was lived in by the man who was the caretaker of Blackhawk (I'll remember his name soon - he had boys about our age) and cross a fence to get to the gardens.  There is a big new storage garage where the house was.


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