Why Ghost Town
The history of The Town of Ulao begins in 1847. The name Ulao comes from a sea captain who visited the area in the early 1840’s. The town on the bluffs above Lake Michigan was founded by James T. Gifford a wealthy entrepreneur from Illinois. Gifford founded Ulao as an outlet for European settlers who were clearing the land for farms and wanted to sell their wood. Gifford’s plan was to buy wood and sell it to the wood-burning steamers which plied the Great Lakes at this time. Along the beach, Gifford bult a 1000 foot wooden pier that extended into the lake from the beach. He then constructed a wooden chute that began at the top of the steep bluff and ended on the beach near the pier. Gifford bought wood from the farmers, cut it to the proper length, and slid it down the chute to the beach. The wood was then sold to steamer crews that were able to dock at the pier. A steamer of this day needed 600 cords; the product of ten heavily wooded acres, to return to Buffalo and the East. Thanks to the economic success of Giffords enterprises the village of Port Ulao was born complete with a plat that was filed with Ozaukee County. An original plat of Ulao showing the pier and train station dated 1878 hangs in the Ghost town Tavern & Restaurant today.
Gifford was so successful that he built the first paved road in Wisconsin from Ulao to Grafton in 1849. The pavement was made of a mixture of charcoal and clay and followed the path known today as Highway Q.
Another more sinister thread ties Ulao to history. A resident of the town named Charles Guiteau shot & killed President James A. Garfield in July 1881. He was captured and convicted in spite of his plea of insanity, and hanged later that year. The Guiteau’s brick home still stands today at 782 Ulao Road.
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s a Tavern, Dance Hall, Grain Mill and Elevator, and a Railroad Station were built along side the Chicago & Northwestern railroad tracks. Ulao was now a thriving community with grain being shipped out, passengers getting on and off at the train depot, but coal had superseded wood as fuel for lake ships and Port Washington had built three piers to Ulao’s one. So with the wood now depleted and the importance of Port Washington rising, the activity at Ulao gradually diminished and Ulao became a ghost town.
The town was hardly a Ghost town during the late 1920’s and 1930’s however, as it is rumored that during Prohibition the Ghost Town Tavern & Dance Hall was the sight of wild and woolly parties every night and there was a large consumption of moonshine liquor, homemade ale and gambling on the premises.
Today there are only five buildings left from the once thriving community. The Guiteau home, a farm house, the grain mill & elevator which are part of the Grafton Antique Mall main building, the dance hall and the Ghost Town Tavern & Restaurant.