Brook Hotel, livery stable become Clock Tower Park
Downtown Sussex sports a 1-acre mini park known for its clock tower, though it no longer keeps accurate time.
The park has had various names – Brook Park, Village Square, Clock Tower Park and variations. The village lists it as Old Brooke Park for the nearby Sussex Creek.
The park was once the eastern end of the village, just before Slant Road (today’s Silver Spring Read) veers southeast. Old photos show that Slant Road used to have a marker designating it Milwaukee Avenue. Slant Road’s “valley” east of the corner was also once known as Grogan’s Alley because the first Sussex village president, Frank Grogan, lived in a home there where the BP filling station is today.
In 1891 a Temperance Temple was built on the current Brooke Park land, but in short order it turned 180 degrees and became a saloon-tavern with an attached butcher shop. It then evolved into a hotel, hosting the salesmen who came out to Sussex on the Bug Line Railroad needing room and board for the night.
As it went through those changes, it grew from one story to two, then doubled in size to become a landmark at the increasingly important corner of Main and Silver Spring.
A livery stable was later added between the saloon-hotel and the creek. Lacking enough land to square it off, part of the livery stable’s concrete floor was cantilevered over the edge of the creek. A Waukesha Free Press clipping from April 17, 1901, referred to the establishment as Creek Hotel.
George Weaver was an important early owner of the saloon, but the most important long-term owner was the Otto and Paul Schroeder family. Besides enlarging the hotel-saloon, they were the ones who put in the livery stable and later converted it into a multipurpose garage that fixed motor vehicles and sold gasoline and farm equipment.
The tavern also hosted the first Sussex Lions dinner-meeting in April 1939.
The Hardiman family, headed by Walter Hardiman and his sons, Milo and Ralph, were the next owners, and they called it Hardiman’s at first, then Hardiman’s Oil Co., as they added oil products and an oil heating business to the store.
Besides being an important local businessman, Milo was for decades the elected Sussex village clerk.
When the village widened Main Street in the 1950s, adding a curb to the sidewalks, the Hardiman brothers used the down time to build a new Hardiman’s in the Silver Spring Road valley, two long blocks east of Main Street. That building is now the BP gas station.
When Marion Donkle acquired the saloon and the then vacant Hardiman filling station, he converted it into a variety/sweet shop. Next came Vern Gullickson, who turned it into a true drugstore. Virginia Reicher took it over from him, but just sold patent medicines because she was not a pharmacist.
Bill and Mickey Bierman acquired the saloon and variety/sweet shop in the 1960s. Mickey’s sweet shop, with its old-fashioned soda fountain, attracted the teenage set in Sussex. The railing on the bridge over the nearby creek was their meeting place, with 15-cent ice cream cones, penny pretzel sticks and 35-cent chocolate malts available nearby.
The store lasted until 1974, when the Biermans tired of running it. They rented it out to a succession of small businesses: first a fish and aquarium shop, later a sporting goods shop and then an archery shop.
Then came a custom woodworking shop run by Tom Orth, later a piano tuner and rebuilder. An arts and crafts shop, Country Treasure Chest, took over next. The store’s last incarnation turned it into a mini arcade and T-shirt printing business.
By now Mike Miller owned the place and decided that the hassle of renting out a small business site in an old building was not very profitable. In 1983 he hired local Vietnam War veteran Gero Piel and his cohorts to tear down the converted-livery portion and use it as a parking lot for his Skeet Weed’s Tavern.
The last owner was Chuck Bush, who renamed the tavern Sussex Place.
The Village of Sussex, which had been trying to get the owners either to upgrade the site or tear it down completely, finally bought it in the mid-1990s and razed it on the hottest day of 1995, July 13. The village then put in grass and trees and made it the small park it is today.