Elevator and Feed Mill History
Transcribed and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
Last Revised 05/03/2009
A Look Back at the Sussex Mills of Old: Sussex Mills a Fixture of Area's History
by Fred H. Keller, published, Sussex Sun, November 30, 1999
With the coming of the Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls and Western Railroad in 1890, sussex Elevator was the end of the line on Maple Avenue. William Small and his son, John, were the original proprietors of the Sussex Elevator.
There were in fact there businesses on the site - the elevator and feed mill, a coal yard, and the end of the line for the train depot.
Students would collect in the morning and take the passenger train east to Menomonee Falls High School. In the evening they would return on a passenger train west.
Meanwhile, the elevator was into a big business of shipping barley to the breweries, mostly to Milwaukee. Later, loads of beets were also shipped.
John Small, the manager of the elevator, coal yard and depot, died in 1917, at age 60.Afterward, a variety of owners and managers took over until after World War II.
In 1917, Sussex had no less than three feed mills-elevators, one on the Bugline, one on the Northwestern and one (the oldest) on the Wisconsin Central (started by James Templeton).
Sussex Elevator, for a period of time, became a farmers' cooperative, but there was no cooperation, and it went semi-bankrupt.
In time the elevator up on the Northwestern bought out Sussex Elevator and closed down the Northwestern mill, using it only for long-term storage.
In the 1930s, Al Otto and Lester Nettesheim bought Sussex Elevator, and changed the name to Nettesheim and Otto. They added a machinery division to the north and also began to deliver fuel oil.
Roland and George Reinders of Elm Grove, after World War II, bought mills in the city of Waukesha, Dousman, Whitewater and Sussex.
Their initial manager in the newly named Sussex Mills did not get along with the public and was replaced by Hip Keller, a former employee at the Elm Grove plant.
Keller accepted Reinder's bid to hire him, but insisted he be a majority owner. Reinders agreed. Keller bought into the company in September of 1946.
These were the days of the Marshall Plan when the United States was helping Europe get back on its feet. The U. S. was buying a lot of grain and shipping it to Europe. Sussex Mills began shipping oats by the carload. There was even a time when hay was brought by the carload and shipped to Europe, and Sussex Mills participated, too.
The coal business hit a crescendo in the late 1940's with 54 cars delivering to Sussex Mills one year, but this business quickly died as oil conversion units were put into older homes and oil burners were going into all new homes.
The Reinders brothers did not purchase the machinery business when they acquired the mill. It became a separate business, Evert Farm Store.
Brothers Pete and Roy Evert did a business of farm machinery sales and repair, plus a lot of water-well work.
The oil-delivery business was spun off to Lester Nettesheim; however, in the late 1970's, the buildings and land of Evert Farm Store was purchased by Sussex Mills after Roy Evert died.
In 1950, Waukesha County was known as Cow County USA because Waukesha County had more cows than any other county in the United States. Keller upgraded the grinding service of the mill and added an enterprising young assistant, Gordon Pfeil, a local farm boy just out of Waukesha High School. In time Pfeil and a couple of other investors bought out Reinders' entire stock in Sussex Mills.
Grinding and mixing feed was the big business in the 1950s and 1960s. The Bugline Railroad delivered carloads of bran, soybean meal, linseed oil meal, brewers grains, alfalfa meal, beet pulp, oyster shells, salt and various other commodities.
Meanwhile, trucks delivered concentrates, waste malt and barley screenings, meat scraps, bone meal, minerals and Dr. Roberts' medications for the dairy, pig and chicken farm that dominated the Lisbon landscape.
The grinding of farmers' corn, oats and other items was done with a 75-horsepower mill that fed into 2 1/2 ton mixers. In 1954, a new piece of machinery was added, a molasses mixer.
Initially, the liquid molasses was delivered by railcars, but soon the molasses was just as cheap trucked from the Mississippi barges to Sussex Mils. The mills added an average of 2 to 10 percent molasses to most mixed rations for cows and, for a period of about 10 years, there was 1,000 pounds of molasses used every day, a million pounds in less than three years.
Sussex Mills began to have private-label mixes of concentrates. There was also a complete assortment of whole grains and cracked grains.
Keller retired in the early 1960's and Pfeil became manager and sole owner. The dairy industry was changing in Waukesha county and he attempted to change with it.
One of the big changes was the evolving horse business. He put in a oat crimper and started to make Sussex Mills horse feed, which became big business for a period of years.
The local shutdown of dairy farms and the resulting cash cropping meant Sussex Mills had to change with the times. One facet was a spin-off from their old salvage of torn bags of flour, sugar and dog food into a full-fledged salvage food business.
Meanwhile, the coming of many new subdivisions turned the main business of Sussex Mills to a lawn and garden center and the delivery of salt.
The lawn and garden center also sold snowmobiles, at one time handling Fox Track, Evinrude and Bolens. One year, more than 200 snowmobiles were sold.
The main lawn and garden sales were of fertilizer, lawn seed, lawn mowers and chainsaws, and, in the spring, garden seeds and plants.
The salt business became so large that a new warehouse was built in the late 1960s to handle an average of 60 tons per week. The peak of the salt business was 360 tons in one week.
Much of the salt was delivered into basements, and wholesale business was built up. The business was essentially run with part-time labor, but over a period of time, some of the part-timers became full time.
The Teamsters approached a group of full-time salt handlers, and a vote was taken to start a union. Sussex Mills could not pay the demands of the Teamsters, so it went out of the salt business.
This was the high-water mark of Sussex Mills in the early and mid-1970s. Business declined until the door closed Oct. 27, 1990, when the mill site was sold to the village of Sussex.
Initially there was consideration that the site might become a large shopping area that would require all the Main Street homes to be razed.
There was also the idea that Hamilton High School would build an administration office on the site. These ideas did not pan out with the electorate.
In 1993, the mill was torn down and the land cleared.
Prior to this, the Bugline rail track had been abandoned in 1978 and a few years later, made into the Waukesha County Bugline Trail that goes from Menomonee Falls to Merton. The depot disappeared prior to World War II.
In 1994, the land was purchased from the village for the elderly housing projects that now exist. On Jan. 11, 1995, in the snow, the ceremonial ground-breaking for the new development took place. WovenHearts assisted living went up first, with the Sussex Mills Apartments not far behind.
The apartments kept the look of old Sussex Mills Elevator, As a special gift at the dedication, miniature bags of bird feed were sewn into specially printed cotton cloth bags. These were meant to be collector items, and they are still found in the local area.
Today, sussex Mills Apartments is a meal site for senior citizens. Its main meeting room held the local senior citizens activity center for a period of years. The center is now at willow Springs School where more space is available.
Sussex Mills Apartments has filled to capacity and may possibly build another set of similar apartments to the west, but this is only in the planning stage.