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The Automobile: Let's go for a ride


Buick Model B, 1904. From the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Collection. WHi(x3)8635

While various developers pursued streetcar or bus suburbs in the early years of the twentieth century, these neighborhoods grew slowly until the family automobile became more commonplace. For example, the three suburbs platted in the Madison area in the early 1910s,  Nakoma, Lakewood (now part of Maple Bluff) and College Hills (in the Village of Shorewood Hills), experienced very slow sales despite the availability of bus service. Once automobile ownership expanded, these communities blossomed as well.

State motor vehicle registrations demonstrate the astounding growth of automobile ownership in Wisconsin. In 1910 fewer than 6000 vehicles were registered in the state. By 1915 this number had grown to 88,390. In 1920 the number of registered automobiles alone was over 277,000. Not surprisingly, the two counties with the highest automobile registration were Dane and Milwaukee counties, corresponding to the location of the state's most populous cities, Madison and Milwaukee.


Highway 100, south
of West Greenfield Avenue
in West Allis, 1955.
From the Wisconsin
Historical Society
Archives Collection.
(Classified file - 51)

The convenience of automobile commuting great increased the desirability of suburban homes, and home buyers were attracted by lower land costs, larger lot sizes, and easy accommodation of automobiles. As more homeowners became automobile owners, the design of houses changed to reflect this trend. While during the early days of automobile ownership garages were usually separate from the house, by the 1920s garages were integral parts of house design in middle-class neighborhoods. Tudor inspired designs often incorporated garages within a long sweep of the roofline. Colonial Revival designs would balance the garage on one side with a sunroom on the other. To integrate garages into the overall design, lots became wider with greater street frontage. With widespread automobile ownership, the tight cluster of older neighborhoods like Emery Streetgave way to more spacious suburban tracts like Nakoma, with lots on long, curvilinear streets, low population density, and increased reliance on the automobile.

More examples from the National Register:

Nakoma Historic District, Madison

Emery Street Bungalow District, Eau Claire

East Broadway Historic District, Waukesha

College Hills Historic District, Shorewood Hills

East End Historic District, Middleton

North Sherman Boulevard Historic District, Milwaukee

Union Auto Company, Eau Claire

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