St. James started by Irish escaping potato famine

Oct. 3, 2012

The first resident priest for St. James Catholic Church was James Colton from Ireland. He came to serve the congregation of Willow Springs, which met in James Brogan's log cabin home. They had been meeting there since 1842.

James Colton was an energetic young man who decided to construct a church building for the congregation. One acre of land was donated by James Brogan for the church and parsonage and one acre was donated by L. Kingsley for the cemetery. The parishioners quarried stone from a nearby field and erected the first church. St. James parish is located between Willow Springs Elementary School and Whiskey Corners Tavern in Menomonee Falls. It is the second oldest parish in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and a community landmark.

The James Brogan log cabin now resides in the Old Falls Village historical park. The log cabin church was a mission church of St. Dominic's in Marcy.

The church was enlarged, and a steeple and bell tower were added in 1885-86. The bell tower was named Santa Maria, weighed one ton and could be heard for miles around. It was destroyed by lightning in 1921. The steeple was never rebuilt. The parish was mostly Irish settlers who had escaped the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s. St. James was named for the saint's name of the first resident pastor.

A school building was constructed in 1954 along with a convent in 1955, and a ground floor church in 1961. The original church remained unused until 1971 when it was restored as the chapel and used for special services. In 1998 a brand new church was built for $3.4 million dollars.

This site features a Waukesha County historical marker erected and maintained by the Waukesha County Historical Society and Museum. Please visit our website at to see information on all of our historical markers. To find the markers, go to the bottom of the home page. For each marker you will find pictures, history, and maps and directions.


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