Quickie Summary: State “Trunk” Highway 145 is about every kind of road one can possibly be in Wisconsin. It’s a two-lane road winding past farm fields, a multi-lane suburban sprawl connector, a six-lane freeway heading into a major city, a boulevard in city neighborhoods, a city street cutting through areas that have seen better days and some that are renewing, a new boulevard built to replace a torn-down freeway, and a downtown throughfare serving major attractions, including major arenas and museums… all within 25 miles.
Wisconsin Highway 145 Road Trip
The Drive (North to South): Highway 145 follows U.S. 45’s former path from Richfield into Milwaukee. Starting at the I-41/U.S. 45 interchange in Washington County (now known as the “where Cabela’s is” place, if you need a compass to help with your State Trunk Tour trips, well, I’m pretty sure they’ll have some available), Highway 145 meanders through the countryside for its first few miles. Open spaces and farms adorn either side, but on certain hill crests the distant – but not for long – skyline of downtown Milwaukee beckons.
Highway 145 starts when Pioneer Road, a local road cutting through Washington County, meets up with I-41 & U.S. 45 where they split (northbound) or come together (southbound) in Richfield. The area has become a boomtown in recent years and sports one of the few Cabela’s in Wisconsin (pictured below). Office parks, retail stores and gas stations have popped up, as well as a series of roundabouts. A LOT of roundabouts. Once you navigate your way through these (and trucks are plentiful, so be sure to yield) and cross U.S. 45, Highway 145 more or less parallels the I-41/45 freeway into Germantown, but is much more interesting.
After the brief start in the town of Richfield, Highway 145 enters Germantown (pop. 20,100), rated by Money Magazine in July 2007 as the 30th most appealing city, town or village to live in the United States. Much of Germantown is newer, developing city but it retains history in a downtown area that began as the settlement of Dheinsville.
Dheinsville was established by the Dhein family in 1842, The Bast Bell Museum features Wisconsin’s largest bell collection – over 5,000 bells. Sila Lydia Bast, for whom the museum is named, lived in Germantown from 1900 to 1992 and collected them all. Highway 145 cuts right through the Dheinsville Historic District at the intersection with Holy Hill Road (once Highway 167). , which serves as Germantown’s original “downtown” area approaching Holy Hill Road.
Germantown’s downtown is just down the road. A turn west onto Main Street brings you past some of the town’s original buildings with a German flair. Stop in Jerry’s Old Towne Tavern and karaoke if you have the courage. The Germanic tradition of Germantown is also reflected in some of the cross-street names like Freistadt Road.
From Germantown, Highway 145 darts down growing suburban streets and crosses the corner of Waukesha County in Menomonee Falls (pop. 32,647), Wisconsin’s largest “village” (they haven’t gotten around to applying for city status yet.) “The Falls”, as locals call it, serves as corporate headquarters for the Kohl’s Corporation, Cousins Subs, and even Strong Funds before Eliot Spitzer got his hands on them. It’s also home to a major Harley-Davidson engine plant. Highway 145 grazes Menomonee Falls’ northeast corner and briefly meets up with Highway 100 before heading down the Waukesha-Milwaukee county line on a new alignment designed to accommodate the growth from new suburban-style office buildings that are sprouting up in this area.
From there, Highway 145 hooks up with U.S. 41/45 and enters Milwaukee (pop. 592,887), Wisconsin’s largest city and 28th largest in the United States. This route hits a cross-section of the city and includes some of its best – and worst – parts.
Highway 145 from the Menomonee Falls-Milwaukee city limit was originally slated to be a freeway all the way to downtown Milwaukee and the lakefront. It would run southeasterly from the Granville Interchange (today’s I-41/U.S. 45/Highway 145/Good Hope Road interchange at Park Place) to the Capital Court Shopping Center – now called Midtown Center. It would then turn southerly along 60th Stret to Appleton Avenue and follow Appleton and Lisbon Avenues to the northern end of the Stadium Freeway (U.S. 41) at 47th & Lisbon. From there, it would run easterly as the Park West Freeway between North and Meinecke Avanues from 46th Street to 20th before heading southeast along Fond du Lac Avenue again to 12th, where it intersects with I-43. It was to continue as the Park East Freeway along the northern edge of downtown Milwaukee to the lakefront, and then turn south to meet up with I-794 and the Hoan Bridge. The section from the Granville Interchange to 68th Street & Hampton Avenue was completed in 1967 and remains to this day; the Park East segment from I-43 (then U.S. 141) to Jefferson Street was completed in 1971 and was torn down in 2002. Today, Highway 145 follows the freeway segment to 68th & Hampton and then Fond du Lac Avenue to downtown, where it becomes McKinley Avenue. Highway 145 was adjusted to head south on 6th Street from there to end at Wells.
The twin office buildings amidst a sprawling complex of restaurants, hotels and parkland are part of the Park Place development, where A.O. Smith moved their corporate headquarters and a number of emerging companies have set up shop. A suburban-like office complex set in the City of Milwaukee, Park Place was originally designed in 1980s and after a period that saw little growth, has recently expanded like donuts on a jelly injector. Dretzka Park, which lies to the north of the complex, covers a huge area of real estate and serves as a great place to relax or play golf – and that includes frisbee golf, since Dretzka has one of the better courses for that growing activity.
The exchange Highway 145 has with I-41/U.S. 45 and Good Hope Road is called the Granville Interchange, named after the Town of Granville, which was the last holdout from the City of Milwaukee’s aggressive annexation campaign in the 1950s. Although Milwaukee’s city boundaries have been unchanged since 1957, some residents of the former Town of Granville held out with their mailing address, tax filings and more until well into the 1960s. Through this area, Highway 145 stays a six-lane freeway for about four miles past the complex around Park Place, paralleling Fond du Lac Avenue (once State Highway 55 waaay back when). During that run, especially around 91st Street, you get a pretty cool view of Milwaukee’s downtown in the distance. The angle from the northwest makes for a good vantage point.
Highway 145 was upgraded in northwestern Milwaukee as a freeway in 1966. The original plan was for the freeway to extend (as U.S. 41) all the way downtown. It was stopped at Hampton Avenue, pending other construction projects, and has been blending into Fond du Lac Avenue ever since. Consequently, it’s more lightly traveled than other Milwaukee area freeways.
Shortly after the 76th Street/Grantosa exit, Highway 145 merges back onto Fond du Lac Avenue, the same street it was back in Germantown. It remains a boulevard past the former site of Capitol Court, one of the first indoor shopping centers in Milwaukee – and for that matter, the country – to open up. Capitol Court dated back to 1956; changing demographics and shopping habits changed the development and today it’s an area called Midtown Center, a series of big-box stores with some “main street” designs for smaller retailers. This is a busy area of the city, and traffic can be heavy as you approach 51st Street and Highway 190 (Capitol Drive). Highway 145 continues southeast through denser neighborhoods. This is an area that has seen better times, as evidenced by the condition of some of the surrounding buildings. There are some great old architectural pieces along the way, though. Some were banks built in the late 1800s, others were grand old houses – some of which are still kept in great condition.
This area features a lot of cellphone stores, wig shops and taverns where a random venture may be too much of an adventure, but a must-stop for fans of the Cornish delicacy known as a pasty need to check out Reynolds Pasty Shop (3525 W. Burleigh Street, 414-444-4490). Established in 1956 and still going strong, Reynolds packs in the beef, potatoes, carrots and spices in a delicate, flaky crust and does a brisk business with customers from all over the city. It’s primarily a carry-out business, perfect for road trips, and pasties are designed to eat with one hand – also perfect for road trips. There’s a small triangular block bounded by 36th Street, Burleigh Street and Fond du Lac Avenue (Highway 145), and Reynolds is clearly visible from Fond du Lac Avenue. You can park on the street or in the municipal lot in the triangle. A regular pasty costs $3.79 and they have a variety of side fixin’s, including gravy and cheese.
As you approach 20th Street/Highway 57 and North Avenue (one of the many five- and six-point intersections on this stretch), Fond du Lac Avenue widens again into a boulevard and downtown beckons. Barbecue and deli lovers, however, take note: you have two outstanding choices within blocks. First, a quick jog eastward (left) onto North Avenue to 17th Street will bring you to Jake’s Deli, a Milwaukee institution that is open for lunch only and draws fans of corned beef, pastrami and matzoh ball soup for hundreds of miles. Just a bit further down at the light with Walnut Street, you can duck eastward (left) briefly to Speed Queen BBQ (Walnut & 12th, 414-265-2900), which has some of the best pork, ribs, beef and turkey in the Midwest.
The murals along Highway 145 under I-43 tell quite a story. Here’s a story on it from WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) in Milwaukee that aired in February, 2016:
Continuing down Highway 145 you reach an interchange with I-43, which provides connections a-plenty. Downtown beckons straight ahead. Just past the interstate, the street becomes McKinley Boulevard and offers another terrific view of downtown Milwaukee. To the right is the old Pabst Brewery complex, which cranked of millions of barrels of beer annually until it was shuttered in 1996. The area is being redeveloped, with a complex of hotels, university space, restaurants, offices and condos. To the left is one of the MillerCoors/Leinenkugel breweries, which is easier to spot from I-43 but nonetheless is right there. Further east, the old Schlitz Brewery is just north of McKinley on 3rd Street, aka Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Yes, if there was ever an epicenter for past and present breweries, this is it. Today, the Schlitz complex is a business park that includes the world headquarters of Manpower, Inc.
Sports and Entertainment Venues Abound
Highway 145 turns south onto 6th Street, going past Fiserv Forum home to the NBA Milwaukee Bucks (and, of course, 2021 NBA Champions!) Fiserv Forum anchors the Deer District, a complex of bars, restaurants, even office buildings and condos that bring a vibrancy around the arena that was sorely lacking back when the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which was on the adjacent block, was standing from 1988-2018. On the next block south, the American Hockey League Milwaukee Admirals, soccer with the Milwaukee Wave, and basketball with the UW-Milwaukee Panthers takes place at UWM Panther Arena. This 12,700-seat facility opened in 1950 as the Milwaukee Arena and served as the original home for the Milwaukee Bucks when they started play in 1968. It was also the site of the only Beatles concert in Wisconsin, when the Fab Four played the Arena on September 4, 1964. Next door to that, the Milwaukee Theatre hosts a variety of performances. Originally opened in 1909. The building had fallen into disrepair by the late 90s; a renovation completed in 2003 refurbished the facility and it now boasts a 4,100-seat theatre and, architecturally, a half-domed rotunda lobby ringed by three levels of walkways. Highway 145 runs along the western edge of all of this as 6th Street.
On the next block east, Major Goolsby’s is one of the better known sports bars in the country, while on that same block (along Kilbourn Avenue, between 3rd & 4th Streets, 2-3 blocks east of Highway 145), Major League Baseball’s American League came into being in what was the Republican Hotel back in 1900 during a baseball ownership group meeting.
Highway 145 ends at Wells Street, which is also U.S. Highway 18. The Wisconsin Center, the city’s primary convention center, is to your left; Wells actually continues under it as a two-block long tunnel on its way to the lakefront. The Milwaukee Public Museum is one block to the right along Wells Street. The Museum contains an IMAX Theater and a series of permanent exhibits: natural history and the Streets of Old Milwaukee are prominently displayed, along with a popular butterfly exhibit.
JUUUST BEYOND THE END…
Although Highway 145 ends at Wells Street, you can continue south on 6th Street to the Harley-Davidson Museum. The epicenter of everything that rocks on two wheels, the museum opened in 2008 and showcases the past, present and future of motorcycles. Harley’s history is traced to its 1903 beginning, the restaurant Motor is a great place for lunch, dinner or evening beverages, and the gift shop has more Harley stuff than previously thought humanly possible.
The Harley-Davidson Museum is located in east end of the Menomonee Valley, which is bisected east-west by Canal Street. Following Canal Street west, away from the H-D Museum, brings you past a power plant and to Potawatomi Bingo Casino, one of the largest casinos in the Midwest and a mecca for Milwaukee gamblers.
One final recommendation, at the southern end of the 6th Street Viaduct, is the Iron Horse Hotel. Opened in 2008, the Iron Horse has rapidly become a popular boutique hotel in Milwaukee, catering to Harley riders, business people, and more recently actors and musicians…it’s become the hip place to stay, drink and eat, both in their bar and at their restaurant, Smyth. The Iron Horse is located 1/2 mile south of the Harley-Davidson Museum at a large roundabout just north of where Highway 38 begins; you can’t miss it!
The southern end of Highway 145 at U.S. 18 (Wells Street) is in close proximity of everything in downtown Milwaukee. Check it all out! We’re happy to help with suggestions, just contact us!
The end of the road for Highway 145, along 6th Street at Wells. To your left will be the Wisconsin Center, the city’s leading convention facility; to the right, the Milwaukee Public Museum is just a block down, although it will relocate north about half a mile during the next few years – still close to Highway 145. Straight ahead less than a mile is the Harley-Davidson Museum. Less than a mile beyond that is the start of Highway 38, which will take you to Racine. There’s really no end to this stuff!
Can connect immediately to: U.S. 18, I-43, I-94
Can connect nearby to: Highway 32, about 1 mile east; Highway 38, about 1.5 miles south; Highway 57, about 2 miles northwest; Highway 59, about 2 miles south