MILWAUKEE — Nestled between American Family Field and the Miller Brewery is a tiny neighborhood with a long history, faithful residents, and just one business - but it keeps the neighborhood together.
That neighborhood is Piggsville, or as the city tried to rename it, Valley Park. While the signs in the area say 'Valley Park', all the residents still call it Piggsville. It's much smaller than many other neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Piggsville is just about six blocks long. But for what the area lacks in size, it makes up for it in spirit.
The residents of Piggsville are fiercely loyal to the neighborhood. Many of them have been raised here and subsequently raised their families in the same neighborhood. It hasn't always been easy, though. Twice these families had to endure major floods that filled basements with multiple feet of water. The floods destroyed homes and businesses. The city eventually leveled multiple structures to build a retaining wall. Ultimately, that left just one business standing in Piggsville.
In this edition of the My Block series, we traveled to Piggsville to learn about the neighborhood through the eyes and experiences of the people that know it best - the neighbors. Where we went, who we talked to, and what we talked about was all up to the neighbors.
To begin a story about Piggsville, we must begin at the lone business in the neighborhood, The Valley Inn.
This restaurant and bar has been in the neighborhood since 1959. Jim Hutterer's parents started the business. He was even born in the upstairs unit. Then Jim took over the family business in 1996.
“This place holds the neighborhood together, and they have a lot of meetings here," Hutterer said.
Other than its devoted neighborhood customers, the Valley Inn is a popular lunch break destination. A lot of Miller Brewery, Harley Davidson, and Rexnord employees make The Valley Inn their go-to lunch spot. Brewers fans often stop there on the way to and from games, and Bob Uecker has been known to drop in on occasion too. The restaurant can get seriously packed as customers flock to get one of their famous pizzas.
The restaurant is also a favorite among police. The back wall displays police patches from Milwaukee to Pewaukee to Los Angeles. There is also an altar dedicated to fallen officers.
The Valley Inn doesn't have a huge staff. It's a low-key establishment and mainly run by two people, Jim Hutterer and his friend Barbara Orban. You can find them inside almost any time of day.
“I used to run in here when we were playing outside. I would run in here to use the bathroom and (Jim's) dad would always give me a soda and a bag of chips," Orban said.
The two have known each other for nearly their entire lives. When Hutterer asked Orban to be part of the business, it wasn't a hard decision to make.
"I just think it's a little hidden gem that you should really come down and check it out."
And people do check it out. After all, Molson Coors and Harley Davidson are international companies. That means everyone from factory line workers to big executives are coming to eat at The Valley Inn.
While Orban said it's cool to serve customers like those, her favorite people to serve are the regulars. They become more than customers.
"I established great customers that became my friends. I hang out with them. I golf with them outside of here."
Orban is the one who is responsible for the restaurant's famous pizza. The most popular is the cheese, sausage, mushroom, onion, and pepperoni pizza.
However, she won't be making the pizza for much longer. Hutterer plans on retiring and selling the place in the next year or so. It was a tough decision to make, but one he knew had to be done.
“I try not to think about it to be honest because it’s going to be hard to leave, but it’s time for me to move on," he said.
The last vestige of this blue-collar community is going to change. That’s something Valley Inn's long-time customer and neighbor Alan Pollnow is all too familiar with seeing in the area.
Pollnow has been living in the neighborhood for 75 years. He was raised here by his parents. He raised his children here. It's the home to his grandchildren too. However, the neighborhood looks drastically different from when Pollnow was a kid playing along the streets.
Two devastating floods in 1940 and 1997 changed the landscape of the neighborhood forever.
"The first one, I had like four feet of water in my basement. The second time I had six feet of water in my basement.”
The city ended up buying the businesses and 18 homes near the river to build a flood wall. There used to be a barbershop, bakery, grocery store, and multiple restaurants. However, to build that flood wall, the city had to destroy those businesses and homes. That displaced a lot of the people Pollnow grew up with.
“I miss everybody. It can be a lonely existence when you don’t have anybody to just make a phone call to."
It’s not to say Piggsville isn’t a thriving community anymore. It’s just different for those residents who have been here their entire lives. They have new neighbors, a new park, and a new walking path.
“You know things do change, but I think the people down here don’t accept change as readily as everybody else," Pollnow said.
In a way, Pollnow feels like people are beginning to forget about the neighborhood altogether. Being so small with really only two ways in and out, Piggsville can easily be overlooked in comparison to larger areas like the Lower East Side, Harambee, or Muskego Way.
"It's strange - a lot of people that live in Milwaukee, they don’t even know we're down here. They go past us on the freeway, and they look down here and they see a hole," Pollnow said.
Now, all life seems to revolve around the Valley Inn, which is why Hutterer has a tough time saying goodbye to the restaurant. It's the place that Miller Brewery employees, police, neighbors and more call home.
But Hutterer holds out hope that the next owner will treat The Valley Inn with the same reverence he did, and that it will continue to serve the people of Piggsville for generations to come.