The Root River system began forming about 20,000 years ago when Wisconsin's glaciers began to retreat. Starting in eastern New Berlin, it flows through southwest Milwaukee County before entering Lake Michigan at the city of Racine (French for "root"). Teeming with fish and game, the river and its drainage area drew many Native Americans. The last, the Potawatomi, were here until their departure by treaty in the 1830s. Later residents of the area now within the city of Greenfield found "more than a bushel basket" of stone artifacts and a copper tool from ca. 3000-500 BC, "innumerable little Indian heads as short as an inch and the largest were 4-5 inches long," as well as a trove of projectile points that was uncovered by a young boy during the 1950s.
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Root River Parkway
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Later 19th and early 20th century settlers struggled to farm here. During the mid-20th century, houses were built on areas of the floodplain, with many soon demolished following sefveral subsequent floods. Charles Whitnall, the father of the Milwaukee County Parks System, included the Root River Parkway in his 1923 master plan. Land acquisitions during the New Deal era led to its creation as a major recreational resource. The Milwaukee County landscape architect and Wisconsin native Alfred Boerner designed the parkway and its units, including the Boerner Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, which were built by laborers in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, and other Depression-era work programs. In 2013, portions of the Root River Parkway were listed in the National Register of Historic Places.