200 years in 20 minutes: Oak Creek student restores 'a forgotten city' with historical video

Steve Kuzma in the Carollville neighborhood.

Steve Kuzma in the Carollville neighborhood. Photo By C.T. Kruger

May 6, 2014

Oak Creek — Steve Kuzma may only be 23 years old, but, in a way, he sees the world as a black-and-white image — specifically, the historic photographs of Oak Creek and Carrollville, before it was incorporated into the city.

His peers at Milwaukee Area Technical College in Oak Creek don't generally share Kuzma's interest in city history. And he doesn't expect his video slide shows of Oak Creek from the 1800s until present, "The History of Oak Creek: Yesterday's Prime and Today's Outcome," to resonate with many college students.

But for Kuzma, one of the youngest active members of the Oak Creek Historical Society, it's a means of restoring a forgotten city.

"My great grandparents lived in Oak Creek since the 1930s, and we would visit them every Saturday, getting my history lesson on Oak Creek and Carrollville. So I always had a strong connection to the history and appreciation for the rural aspect of our community," said Kuzma.

Creating the show

Kuzma used family photos to create the slide show and borrowed images from "Images of America: Oak Creek Wisconsin" by Anita and Larry Rowe as well as the "Carrollville" chapter from Jim Cech's "Oak Creek: Fifty Years of Progress."Others were provided by the Historical Society.

"I more familiarize myself with the old way of life," said Kuzma, who shows his video almost every year at the Fall Festival, hosted by the organization, when all five Historical Society buildings are open to the public.

In Kuzma's video, which spans 200 years in about 20 minutes, viewers see Oak Creek evolve from a rural farm community, into a destination for factory development and then onward to a suburban landscape with retail outlets.

"When we first moved back to Oak Creek in 1995, I always kinda liked the way Oak Creek used to be," he said. "It had that small-town vibe. As I got older, it really started rapidly changing. I thought people were kind of forgetting about that. I wanted to show what we used to be and what we turned into."

Historic ideals

The 1960s and '70s proved to be Kuzma's favorite decade in Oak Creek because the city still had factories, such as Allis-Chalmers and Peter Cooper Glue Factory, farms and apple orchards.

"Once Oak Creek stepped into the 1980s, everything started to change. We started to develop more and factories started to disappear," he said.

According to images in "Images of America: Oak Creek Wisconsin," the Leo Zimdars Farm on Howell Avenue and Oakwood Road turned into a golf course. The Chris Scherbarth Farm, located on Puetz Road, was wiped out by the construction of Interstate 94 in 1963.

In Kuzma's ideal city, "Farm fields are still as far as the eye can see and Puetz is nearly a non-traveled road. Highway 100 is just two lanes and is not lighted with interstate lighting," said Kuzma in an article he submit to NOW Newspaper in 2009.

Moving forward, Kuzma — who drives an aqua 1970s Bronco that he fixed up with his dad as a kid and still uses his grandpa's tractor from 1979 to mow and clear snow from the yard — still keeps his ideal city in mind.

"I can't change what the future will bring, but it'd be nice for the city to keep what's left of our small-town atmosphere and still try and keep that 'where the city meets the country' model," he said.

Below: Kuzma's video, "The History of Oak Creek: Yesterday's Prime and Today's Outcome"

Oak Creek 0001 from CarrollvilleWi on Vimeo.

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