You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Wisconsin? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Wisconsin city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Badger State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Sheboygan (Photos)
- Kenosha (Photos)
- New Berlin (Photos)
- Milwaukee (Photos)
- Beloit (Photos)
- Fond Du Lac (Photos)
- Superior (Photos)
- Appleton (Photos)
- Rice Lake (Photos)
- Menomonie (Photos)
For being 238 years old, Sheboygan doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Wisconsin? That would be Brookfield — a brand spanking 64 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Wisconsin… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Wisconsin, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 109 out of 145 in Wisconsin with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 75.2% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Sheboygan turning out to be the matriarch of Wisconsin at the ripe old age of 238.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 48,560Founded: 1780
Before settlement by European Americans, the Sheboygan area was home to Native Americans, including members of the Potawatomi, Chippewa, Ottawa, Winnebago, and Menominee tribes. Migrants from New York, Michigan, and New England were among the pioneers to this area in the 1830s. One very early settler remarked ‘Nearly all the settlers were from the New England states and New York.’ Lumbering was the first major industry, as trees were harvested and shipped to eastern markets through the Great Lakes. Sheboygan was officially founded in 1846. Much of the town was platted in 1836, when property investors laid out more than 1,000 lots.
Population: 99,623Founded: 1835
Early archaeological sites have been discovered in the Kenosha vicinity; the discoverer of two sites believes they antedate the Clovis culture, making them contemporaneous with the ice age. Paleo Indians settled in the area at least 13,500 years ago.
The Potawatomi originally named the area ginoozhe (also transcribed kenozia, kinoje) ‘place of the pike’.
3. New Berlin
Population: 39,779Founded: 1840
The first settlers, Sidney Evans and P.G. Harrington, arrived in the northeastern part of what is now the New Berlin in 1836. The area first came under local government in 1838 as part of the Town of Muskego, which at the time was composed of New Berlin and Muskego. The area that is now the city of New Berlin was separated from the Town of Muskego in 1839 and named the Town of Mentor.
Population: 599,086Founded: 1846
The name ‘Milwaukee’ comes from an Algonquian word Millioke, meaning ‘Good’, ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Pleasant Land’ (cf. Potawatomi language minwaking, Ojibwe language ominowakiing) or ‘Gathering place [by the water]’ (cf. Potawatomi language manwaking, Ojibwe language omaniwakiing).
The first recorded inhabitants of the Milwaukee area are the Menominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe (all Algic/Algonquian peoples) and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago, a Siouan people) Native American tribes. Many of these people had lived around Green Bay before migrating to the Milwaukee area around the time of European contact.
Population: 36,733Founded: 1846
Twelve men in Colebrook, New Hampshire created the ‘New England Emigrating Company’ in October 1836 and sent Dr. Horace White to find a suitable region of Wisconsin in which to settle. The level fields and the water power of Turtle Creek and the ‘unlimited gravel’ in the area around what is now Beloit fixed the site of the intended village and farms. White purchased the land. At the same time as the Colebrook settlers, six families from Bedford, New Hampshire arrived and settled in the region. They said that the Rock River Valley had a ‘New England look’, which made them feel at home. The village was platted in 1838 and was planned with wide streets which built on the New England model.
6. Fond Du Lac
Population: 42,910Founded: 1847
Native American tribes, primarily the Winnebagos but also the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and Mascoutin lived or gathered in the area long before European explorers arrived. Although the identity of the first white man to explore the southern end of Lake Winnebago is uncertain, it was probably Claude-Jean Allouez, followed by French fur trappers.
Population: 26,473Founded: 1854
The first-known inhabitants of what is now Douglas County were Mound Builders. These people appeared on the shores of Lake Superior sometime after the latest glacier receded. They mined copper in the Minong Range and at Manitou Falls on the Black River. They pounded this metal into weapons, implements, and ornaments, some of which were later found buried as grave goods in mounds with their dead. Their civilization was eventually overrun by other tribes, mainly of Muskhogean and Iroquois stock, and they disappeared as a distinct culture in late prehistoric American times.
Population: 73,832Founded: 1857
Fur traders seeking to do business with Fox River Valley Native Americans were the first European settlers in Appleton. Hippolyte Grignon built the White Heron in 1835 to house his family and serve as an inn and trading post.
Appleton was settled in 1847 and incorporated as a village in 1853. John F. Johnston was the first resident and village president. Home to Lawrence University, Appleton grew along with the school. With the financial backing of Amos A. Lawrence, the Lawrence Institute was chartered in 1847. Samuel Appleton, Lawrence’s father-in-law from New England who never visited Wisconsin, donated $10,000 to the newly founded college library, and his name was given to the community in appreciation.
9. Rice Lake
Population: 8,302Founded: 1887
Rice Lake was named in 1870 after nearby Rice Lake. A post office has been in operation in Rice Lake since 1872.
Population: 16,222Founded: 1902
The earliest known residents of the area were people from the Trempealeau Hopewell Culture of the Middle Woodland Period (1-400 AD). Evidence from their culture includes a mound from the Wakanda Mounds Group in Wakanda Park, along the western shore of Lake Menomin. Most of these mounds are thought to be from Effigy Mound cultures from this time period. Artifacts from the Late Woodland Period (400-1000 AD) have also been uncovered. It is theorized that agricultural villages supported the population during summer months, transitioning to hunting and gathering from fall through spring. The next known population group is the Santee Dakota in the 1600s and 1700s, who engaged in conflicts with the Ojibwe people, who migrated west as refugees. Armed with European weapons, the Ojibwe pushed westward, eventually winning at the Battle of Kathio in 1770. The two tribes continued their warfare, eventually signing the 1825 First Treaty of Prairie du Chien, which made a border between the two just north of Menomonie, with the Dakota claiming the southern lands.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Wisconsin
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Wisconsin. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Wisconsin.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Badger State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Wisconsin:
- Brookfield (Founded in 1954)
- Holmen (Founded in 1954)
- Monona (Founded in 1954)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Wisconsin
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