West Bend, Wisconsin
West Bend, Wisconsin
Aerial view of downtown
Location of West Bend in Washington County, Wisconsin.
|• Mayor||Christophe E. Jenkins|
|• Total||15.30 sq mi (39.62 km2)|
|• Land||15.14 sq mi (39.22 km2)|
|• Water||0.16 sq mi (0.40 km2)|
|Elevation||932 ft (284 m)|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||2,086.11/sq mi (805.46/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−6 (Central (CST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−5 (CDT)|
Early history and settlement
Northeastern Washington County's earliest known inhabitants were pre-Columbian Mound Builders, who constructed effigy mounds in the area sometime between 650 CE and 1300 CE. They were semi-nomadic and survived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. They made pottery and constructed tools from bone, wood, stone, and occasionally copper. They built effigy mounds shaped like mammals, reptiles, birds and other creatures, both real and mythical, as well as conical, oval, and linear mounds, some of which contain human burials. Some mounds in the West Bend area were destroyed by white settlers to create farm fields, but several dozen survive and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Washington County "Island" Effigy Mound District, which includes the Lizard Mound County Park site in nearby Farmington as well as several privately owned sites.
In the early 19th century when the first white settlers arrived in Southeastern Wisconsin, the Potawatomi and Menominee Indians inhabited the land now occupied by the City of West Bend. In 1831, the Menominee surrendered their claims to the land to the United States Federal Government through the Treaty of Washington. The Potawatomi surrendered their land claims in 1833 through the Treaty of Chicago, which required them to leave the area by 1838. While many Native people moved west of the Mississippi River to Kansas, some chose to remain, and were known as "strolling Potawatomi" because they were migrant squatters. In the mid-1800s, there was a large Native American village on the shore of Silver Lake, southwest of the modern-day City of West Bend. Eventually the Potawatomi who evaded forced removal gathered in northern Wisconsin, where they formed the Forest County Potawatomi Community.
The present-day city traces its origins to two communities that formed when the first white settlers arrived in the mid-1840s. One community was West Bend, and the other was the now-defunct Village of Barton. In 1845, the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature authorized the construction of a road to connect Fond du Lac and Milwaukee with a new settlement near the halfway point to provide provisions and overnight accommodations for travelers. Byron Kilbourn, James Kneeland, and Erastus B. Wolcott were the commissioners tasked with constructing the new settlement, and they decided to locate it on a westward bend in the Milwaukee River—the present-day location of the City of West Bend—because of the river's potential as a power source for mills. By the end of 1845, they had purchased eight eighty-acre tracts of land along the river, and invited local landowner E. N. Higgins to join their venture as well. In 1846, Wolcott constructed a dam and a sawmill in the new community, and in 1848, he constructed a gristmill.
In 1845, land surveyor and early settler Barton Salisbury built a sawmill on the river north of West Bend. The community that grew around the mill was known as Salisbury's Mills before to the name was changed to Barton in 1853. Additional sawmills and gristmills sprang up on the river in the community's early years, and by 1855, Barton's population was over 1,000, making it larger than neighboring West Bend. Despite its early growth, however, Barton would be overshadowed by West Bend in the coming decades.
19th century politics and growth
The Wisconsin Territorial legislature created the Town of West Bend on January 20, 1846. At the time, the town included land that is now part of the City of West Bend, as well as the neighboring towns of Barton, Farmington, Kewaskum, and Trenton.
In the 1840s and early 1850s, Washington County included the land along Lake Michigan that is now Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. Port Washington served as the county seat, which was controversial at the time. West Bend, Cedarburg, and Grafton vied for position of Washington County seat and the material advantages it would entail. In 1850, the Wisconsin legislature voted to bisected Washington County into northern and southern counties, with Port Washington and Cedarburg as the county seats, respectively. County residents failed to ratify the bill, because there were voting irregularities in some communities. In 1853 the legislature instead bisected the county into eastern and western sections, creating Ozaukee County. Port Washington became the seat of the new county, and the Washington County seat moved to West Bend. The bisection was controversial. When Washington County officials from West Bend arrived in Port Washington to collect relevant county records, they were run out of town, and Ozaukee County officials refused to hand over the records for several months.
In November 1862 during the American Civil War, the draft was unpopular with some Washington County residents, including German immigrants who had experienced or fled conscription in their homelands. On the day that men from the nearby Town of Trenton were being drafted at the courthouse in West Bend, a mob disrupted the proceedings and forced the draft commissioner to flee to Milwaukee. On November 22, 1862, the commissioner returned to West Bend with six companies of the 30th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment to prevent further disruptions.
A railroad station was constructed in West Bend in 1873, bringing new residents, businesses and economic connections into the community. The community had previously only been located on the western bank of the Milwaukee River, but in the 1870s residents began to develop property on the river's eastern bank as well. In March 1885, West Bend incorporated as a city.
Industrialization and post-war growth
In the 1890s, West Bend's economy began to transition being a rural market town to being an industrial community. Early manufacturers included the Schmidt and Stork Wagon Company; the Enger-Kress Pocketbook Company, which moved its operations to West Bend in 1884; the West Bend Aluminum Company, which began manufacturing low-cost aluminum utensils in 1911; and Amity Leather, which was founded in West Bend in 1915 and was once the world's largest manufacturer of leather billfolds. Other 20th century manufacturers in West Bend included Pick Manufacturing Company, which fabricated automotive parts; Gehl Brothers Manufacturing Company, which produced construction and agricultural equipment; and West Bend Concrete Products.
Barton also benefited from West Bend's growth in the early 20th century, and the community incorporated as the Village of Barton in 1925. However, the village existed for fewer than four decades before being annexed by the City of West Bend on November 1, 1961.
During World War II, West Bend experienced labor shortages because many local men had been conscripted into the military. In 1944 and 1945, Pick Manufacturing Company and the West Bend Canning Company addressed labor shortages by contracting German prisoners of war from local POW camps in Little Kohler and Rockfield.
West Bend experienced dramatic population growth during the post–World War II economic expansion. As automobiles became more commonplace, more people moved to West Bend and commuted for work, taking advantage of new roads such as U.S. Route 45, which connected West Bend to Milwaukee. Between 1950 and 1990 the population more than tripled from 6,849 to 23,916, and the city annexed land from the surrounding towns as well as the Village of Barton.
In 2009, a controversy arose after a local couple complained to the West Bend Community Memorial Library about the presence of "sexually explicit books" and "books for youth on homosexuality" in the young adult section of the library. A petition called on the library to label the identified books as explicit, move them to the adult section of the library, install Internet content filters on the library's computers, and "adopt a policy to attain balance in the viewpoints of selections (both affirming and opposing) that the libraries carry in issues sufficiently controversial within the West Bend community (i.e. homosexuality). Specifically, we request faith-based and/or ex-gay books affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives be added to the library."
The West Bend Common Council refused to reappoint four library trustees whose terms were ending. One councilman complained that the library board was stonewalling the complaint, while another asserted that the library trustees were not serving the interests of the community “with their ideology.” The council's actions were widely criticized, and local citizens unsuccessfully sought to have the vote rescinded. After a public hearing on the petition in June 2009, the library board voted to reject any restrictions on young adults' access to books in the library.
Four Wisconsin men belonging to the Christian Civil Liberties Union filed a claim against the West Bend library, asking for $30,000 apiece for "emotional distress", and that Francesca Lia Block's book Baby Be-Bop be "burned or destroyed."
The Washington County Historical Society operates four distinct museums located in West Bend. Buildings and sites that have been deemed historic by official bodies include:
- Old Courthouse Museum
- Old Sheriff's Residence and Jail
- West Bend Company/Regal Ware Museum
- Father Rehrl's Rectory at St. Agnes Historic Site
Downtown West Bend has a movie theater which originally opened in 1929. The theater was last renovated in 1992 to house a total of three movie screens. The theater was closed and listed for sale in January 2012, with a purchase occurring in May 2012. The theater has not been re-opened for any purpose.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.72 square miles (38.12 km2), of which, 14.57 square miles (37.74 km2) is land and 0.15 square miles (0.39 km2) is water.
The average temperature in West Bend ranges from a high of 81 °F (27 °C) (July) to a low average temperature of 11 °F (−12 °C) (January). Record high and low temperatures are 107 °F (42 °C) and −30 °F (−34 °C), respectively. The average annual rainfall is 31.4 in (800 mm). The average annual snow measures 45.6 in (1,160 mm).
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2010, there were 31,078 people, 12,769 households, and 8,250 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,133.0 inhabitants per square mile (823.6/km2). There were 13,546 housing units at an average density of 929.7 per square mile (359.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.8% White, 1.0% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 1.4% from other races, and 1.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.9% of the population.
There were 12,769 households, of which 32.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.1% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 35.4% were non-families. 29.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.96.
The median age in the city was 37 years. 24.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 28.9% were from 25 to 44; 24.3% were from 45 to 64; and 14.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.3% male and 51.7% female.
Although many current residents of West Bend work in neighboring communities, the city's economy has been historically based in manufacturing and financial services. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company was founded in the city in 1894 and West Bend Savings Bank (now Westbury Bank) in 1926. The West Bend Aluminum Company (later the West Bend Company) was founded in 1911 by Bernhardt C. Ziegler, and remained in West Bend until 2003. Ziegler had previously founded the securities brokerage company B.C. Ziegler & Co. in 1902. In 1915 Robert H. Rolfs founded Amity Leather in downtown West Bend, which eventually became the world's largest manufacturer of leather billfolds. Amity leather left the city in 1996. The strong economy in West Bend in the 1930s led Ripley's Believe it or Not to claim that West Bend was the only city in the United States that did not enter the Great Depression. In 1949, the printing company Serigraph, Inc. was founded in a garage in West Bend and went on to employ people all over the world. The Gehl Company is also located in West Bend.
The Army National Guard operates an armory near the airport, at 125 Chopper Drive, West Bend.
Recreation and tourism
A paved riverwalk snakes through the city along the banks of the Milwaukee River. The Eisenbahn State Trail, a Rails to Trails project, has added another trail for walking, running, biking, and roller skating. The 1,000-mile National Ice Age Trail crosses through West Bend. West Bend also has over 1,200 acres of parks and green space.
Just north of downtown is Regner Park, which offers a wooded area for hiking, a baseball diamond, a community swimming pond with a beach, a fishing pond, and several softball and soccer fields. On the southeast side of the city is Quaas Creek Park, home to the Roman "Doc" Gonring Athletic Complex and Quaas Creek Trail. This facility includes scenic bike/pedestrian trails, a canoe launch, three softball fields with two concession stands, and a children's play area. Lac Lawrann Conservancy, offers a 137-acre nature preserve and 5 miles of trails.
A farmers' market is held in Downtown West Bend on Saturday mornings from May through October each year. The market is one of the largest in Southeastern Wisconsin. It includes entertainment from various sources and boasts over 65 vendors, selling produce, fruits, meats, eggs, maple syrup, bakery items, spices, soaps, herbal products, prepared foods and more. It was listed as a favorite farmers' market in Vogue magazine.
Entertainment on Thursday nights in the summer is provided by Music on Main. The street in Downtown West Bend is closed to traffic and a different band takes the stage at Old Settler's Park each week. One local restaurant is designated each week to provide food and beverages for purchase.
Maxwell Street Days and German Fest are two summer events held in the downtown. Riverfest (formerly Seafood Fest) is held every year at Regner Park on the first weekend in June. A more recent annual event in Riverside Park is JazzFest.
West Bend has been branded the “Geocaching Capital of the Midwest™,“ boasting over 1,200 caches within a 10-mile radius of the city. An annual "Cache Ba$h" has been sponsored by the West Bend Area Chamber of Commerce since 2008.
A holiday light show, Enchantment in the Park, was moved to Regner Park in West Bend in 2012 (previously it was hosted at the Washington County Fair Park). The event accepts donations to support local food pantries. The event also includes an opportunity to visit Santa and ice skating on the pond at Regner Park.
The Washington County Fair Park and Conference Center is located five miles south of the city. Numerous events are held throughout the year, including the Washington County Fair. The facility was built in 1999 and has a 24,000 sq. ft. pavilion, Agricultural and Equestrian Complexes and theater entertainment areas.
The city is served by the West Bend School District. The public schools in the district include six elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools.
A public charter school, Pathways, was created in the 2014–2015 school year, serving grades 7-10. The school began serving grades 7-12 during the 2016–2017 school year. Pathways Charter School closed permanently on June 30, 2019.
The two high schools, West Bend East and West Bend West, are housed in a single building. The schools share facilities, but are operated as independent schools. Each school has its own sports teams and mascot.
The district also operates an alternative school, the West Bend Online Learning Academy.
Post-secondary schools in West Bend include University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Washington County (UWM-WC) and Moraine Park Technical College.
There are also a number of private schools in West Bend. Good Shepherd Lutheran School is a Pre-K and K-8 Christian school of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Trinity Lutheran School is a Pre-K and K-8 Christian school of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
West Bend has a country music station, WMBZ (92.5 FM) and a classic hits station, WIBD (1470 AM). The official newspaper of the City of West Bend is the West Bend Daily News. The West Bend Booster is an independent, family-owned newspaper covering the area and has an office in West Bend. The city of West Bend and the West Bend School District maintain their own separate public, educational, and government access channels, carried by both Spectrum and AT&T U-verse throughout the region and also online.
- William Arnemann, Wisconsin State Representative
- Samuel S. Barney, judge
- Zack Baun, football player
- Mathias J. Berres, farmer and Wisconsin State Representative
- Andrea Boehlke, television host and reality television star
- Bill B. Bruhy, Wisconsin State Representative
- Ward Christensen, computer scientist
- James Davison, Wisconsin State Representative
- John DeMerit, baseball player
- Almah Jane Frisby, physician and professor
- Leander F. Frisby, lawyer
- Bob Gannon, Wisconsin State Representative
- Kenneth William Haebig, Wisconsin State Representative
- Fred H. Hildebrandt, U.S. Representative
- Theodore Holtebeck, Wisconsin State Representative
- George F. Hunt, Wisconsin State Senator and physician
- Ken Jungels, baseball player
- Florian Lampert, U.S. Representative
- Scott May, baseball player
- Stephen F. Mayer, Wisconsin state senator
- Willie Mueller, baseball player
- Andrew P. O'Meara, United States Army officer
- B. S. Potter, Wisconsin State Representative
- Ryan Rohlinger, baseball player
- John W. Salter, Wisconsin State Representative
- Frederick C. Schroeder, Wisconsin State Representative
- Dick Smith, software engineer and computer consultant
- Dave Steckel, hockey player
- Patricia Strachota, Wisconsin State Representative
- Frank Weddig, Colorado State Legislator
- Viola S. Wendt, poet
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