East Troy is a charming community that celebrates its history while also looking to the future.
Nestled in the center of Walworth County right off a major expressway, East Troy is only 45 minutes from Milwaukee and Madison, and only two hours from Chicago. East Troy has a rich historical feel with well-maintained historic homes and buildings. The center of it all is the East Troy town square, which features local restaurants, bars, coffee shops, an antique bookstore, and a shave shop. The square is a favorite spot for the locals to host events.
East Troy’s historic main square has been coming back to life in the past few years, thanks to several families who bought a few of its buildings and renovated them, decorating them with bright awnings and vibrant colors. In 2013, a café, bakery, and grocery store were opened. The café, which is called “2894 on Main”, has an atmosphere that could be described as “modern meets traditional”, and the delicious coffee is from Stone Creek Coffee in Milwaukee. Besides coffee, there are a variety of homemade baked goods. Inside the café is the Square Roots grocery store, where residents can buy locally-grown seasonal produce, dairy and meat, some of which comes from the farms of the families who own it, as well as specialty items like jars of local honey, tahini, Brazilian nut butters, hot chocolate mixes, sesame oils, and tomato purees. Recently, an independent bookstore called Ink Link Books opened next door to the café, featuring a collection of 5,000 books of all genres.
round the corner from 2894 on Main is Sammy’s Place, a bar where many locals come to relax and enjoy themselves. The bar’s owner, Samuel Bresler, was born and raised in town. The building used to be a bank before the Great Depression hit. The bar’s nickel-topped counter is impressively decorated with 340 nickels. Sammy’s Place features an outdoor patio overlooking the square and is right next door to the iconic Ivan’s restaurant.
East Troy’s beauty can also be found in the old-world charm of its businesses. There aren’t many old-fashioned soda shops or 1950s drive-ins in most parts of the country anymore, but East Troy has two such places: J. Lauber’s Ice Cream Parlor and Gus’s Drive-In. J. Lauber’s is modeled after a 1920s-drug store in Milwaukee that the owner frequented during his childhood. Patrons truly feel like time-travelers when they step inside this ice cream parlor. Not only are the desserts delicious, but they can also be customized. As for Gus’ Drive-In, it is a 1950s-style rock and roll drive-in restaurant that sells burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and gyros, among other things. Gus’ is known for its classic car shows on Saturday nights, featuring cars, trucks, and motorcycles that travel there from all over the Midwest.
“The town may be tiny, but it is an epicenter for a much larger community. The people here really look out for one another.”
– Brian Beierle
Charming businesses aren’t the only things to explore in East Troy. Just a few minutes outside of town is one of the few privately funded agricultural research facilities in the country. The Michael Fields Agriculture Institute, a non-profit research facility, and educational institution, has existed for 32 years and is dedicated to organic and biodynamic agriculture.
“Early in Michael Fields’ history, we spent a lot of time training students from all over the U.S., and the world for that matter, to run their own garden market programs. As a result of that, around this area there’s probably six to eight different small farm operations that have been started by students who came here and stayed in the area,” explains Perry Brown, Executive Director of the Michael Fields Institute.
One of the main historical features of this community is the East Troy Railroad Museum, located in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum is run by local volunteers, and visitors can learn about the history of the East Troy Electric Railroad, as well as ride restored, historic trolleys.
East Troy is full of pleasant little spots to enjoy the surroundings. With three lakes in the area, lake life is a major part of living and visiting East Troy. One of these spots is Booth Lake’s Memorial park and beach. Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, this quaint beach is a favorite for children and adults. Lake Beulah is a popular spot for boating and enjoying the summer days at the sand bar or beaching up to the waterfront restaurants.
In addition to enjoying lake life and celebrating the history of the town, East Troy is a progressive community when it comes to its children’s education. Personalized learning is at the forefront of the East Troy Community School District. The school district was the first in the state to have SmartLabs, twenty-first-century classrooms where students study robotics, computer sciences, circuitry, and other areas within STEAM education.
Brian Beierle, a teacher in the school district who has been teaching for twelve years and grew up in the community, sums up what he loves about the towns school system, and indeed, the whole community: “There’s always been a sense of community in East Troy that I haven’t felt in other places. The town may be tiny, but it is an epicenter for a much larger community. The people here really look out for one another.”
Photographer: Matt Haas
By: Danielle Gensburg