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Waukesha City

Waukesha City Hall is located at 1103 South East Avenue, Waukesha, WI 53186; phone: 262.524.3700.

Waukesha City Organization [1]

The City of Waukesha is an independent, full-service municipality governed by a Mayor elected at large and a fifteen member Common Council elected from fifteen aldermanic districts. The Mayor serves as the City's chief executive officer. Appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Common Council, the City Administrator serves as the chief administrative officer and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the City, providing leadership and direction to the City's management staff. The City has a talented and tenured group of department heads that work collaboratively in the planning for and delivery of city services, including the Police Chief, Fire Chief, Public Works Director, Community Development Director, Finance Manager, Library Director, Information Technology Director, Cemetery Manager, Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director, Human Resources Manager and Water Utility General Manager. The City also has an elected Assessor, City Attorney and Clerk-Treasurer, all of whom work very closely and cooperatively with the City Administrator and City staff. The Common Council, through standing committees, provides policy oversight of City activities, services, and programs. The City is also assisted in its policy development by numerous Boards and Commissions. The City employs approximately 575 full time employees along with an additional 300 seasonal employees in the summer months. The City's 2009 budget is approximately $128 million.

Beginnings [2]

The city of Waukesha straddles the Fox River. This river was capable of supplying water-generated power for saw and flour mills in the last century, but is not large enough for commercial navigation. Initially, settlement occurred on the east bank of the river in what is now the downtown. The topography on this side of the river features a gradual slope toward a series of rolling hills which parallel the river approximately a half a mile to the south and east. One of these hills was the site of a large Indian village and later became the site of the Carroll College campus. On the west side of the river are bluffs which are in some places steep enough to preclude development. Evidence of glacial activity can be seen further from the river with well-defined eskers and a glacial cone in the newer subdivisions on the far west side of the city. At the time of settlement, the area consisted of prairie and oak openings. Although springs were once abundant, only a few still flow.

Morris and Alonzo Cutler arrived in what is now Waukesha in 1834. They laid out two 160-acre claims which included much of what is now the older part of Waukesha. The original settlers came in search of good farmland and tended to scatter on farmsteads throughout the area. In 1836, the first store in Waukesha was opened in a cabin near what is now Walton and College, about three-quarters of a mile from what is now the Five Points. However, the next year the store was moved to a new log building on a site which is now on the edge of the downtown.

In 1838, congress authorized a territorial road to be built between Dubuque and Milwaukee. This crude road followed the route of present U.S. Highway 18 and put Prairie Village on the only transportation route between the port of Milwaukee and the interior of the State. The following year, the largest flour mill in the area was opened on the banks of the Fox River near what is now the Broadway bridge. This mill attracted other economic activity such as the first limestone quarry, located in 1840 on what is now the northern end of the Carroll College campus. In 1845, the first manufacturing plant was built on the east side of Broadway near the Fox River; this building also housed a meeting hall and became the home of the City's first newspaper. Both the mill and the plant (later known as Blair's foundry) were demolished.

By 1850, the village encompassed what is now considered the downtown. The core of development, consisting of the mills and Blair's foundry, was just east of the Fox River near Broadway. Because the downtown has gone through renewal since that era, little remains in the downtown that dates from before 1850, with certain exceptions such as the Sloan House at 912 Barstow Street and the Totten-Butterfield House at 515 N. Grand Avenue.

In 1851, the first railroad in the State of Wisconsin linked Waukesha and Milwaukee. This railroad, later to become the Milwaukee Road, followed the west bank of the Fox River. The second railroad to come to Waukesha (later to become the Chicago Northwestern) arrived in 1882. The Wisconsin Central (later the Soo Line) built a third rail system through the City in 1887 which included a 12-stall roundhouse known as the Great Waukesha Shops. The shops are now partially destroyed.

In this period, most industrial development occurred on the east side of the Fox River near the Broadway crossing. However, in 1866, the Waukesha County Manufacturing Company, a large woolen mill, opened near the corner of North and Delafield, making it the first major industry to locate on the west side of the Fox River. The main building of the woolen mill has been demolished.

From 1850 to 1870, the City continued to expand primarily on the east side of the Fox River extending to include roughly a half-square mile area bounded by the Fox River, Maple Avenue, College Avenue and Barney Street. In this period, the first few houses were built in four residential historic districts. In addition, several fine buildings remain from this era.

In 1868, Colonel Richard Dunbar proclaimed that water from the Bethesda Springs had restored his health. He and others began marketing the spring water and before long Waukesha had a whole new major industry.

In 1891, the Waukesha Malleable Company opened a small foundry next to the Wisconsin Central Railroad Shops on the northeast side of the City. This plant grew to a four furnace foundry by 1920 and eventually became two foundry complexes: General Castings and International Harvester. In 1912 and 1913, three more foundries were added to the City including the Spring City Foundry west of the Fox River. The Waukesha Motor Company, started on North Street in 1906 and eventually moved to a large plant just south of the Spring City Foundry on the west side of the Fox River. Most older industrial buildings in the city have been altered, annexed, or otherwise modified.

As these industries prospered and grew in the 1920's, the City expanded rapidly. Industrial complexes grew along the Fox River and the railroad corridors. Neighborhoods of worker housing surrounded the older and often larger houses built in the Springs Era. The City grew slowly from 1940 to 1950 but then major expansion occurred after World War II which has more than doubled the size of the City in the last two decades. Because most industrial structures from this era have lost integrity, the only nominated industrial structures are the Arcadian Bottling Works,the Pokrandt Blacksmith Shop,the Waukesha Pure Food Co., and the White Rock complex.

  1. City of Waukesha Wisconsin, Strategic Plan 2009 (2009-2013),, accessed October, 2011.
  2. Richard E. Pruetz, Planner, Waukesha City Planning Department; Charles Causier, Dorothy Steele, Howard Needles Tammen & Bergendoff, Waukesha Multiple Resource Area, Waukesha, Wisconsin, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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