History Lesson on Cedarburg, Wisconsin - Part 1


This is the first installment on the history of this little city  of Cedarburg, located in southeastern Wisconsin.  Ever wonder what it was like, who settled it and why?  Let's dig in...

In the late 1830's, Native Americans from the Potawatomi, Chippewa, Menominee, Sauke and Fox lived off the waters before the German and Irish began settling the area.  Frederick Luening was a townsman who coined the term "Castle of the Cedars", based on the German word burg which translates to "castle" or "fortress".  Not surprisingly, there were plenty of Cedar trees in the area, which were eventually cut and made into wooden plank roads.

Why did early settlers come to this wild area? You may remember from your history classes, that settlements were built based on resources.  Cedarburg was rich in many of the resources that were key to the success of communities in the 1800s.  The many waterways were one of the biggest resources.  Dams were built to provide power.  Limestone was quarried locally to create large buildings.  Trees were cut and milled to build houses and wood plank roads.  German and Irish settlers chose to settle here based on word of mouth from friends and family and through churches. 

The founding of this city was not easy, with no electricity until 1901 and sewers about 20 years later.  The creek was used not only as a source of disposal, but  a power source for the mills that would populate Cedarburg in the later half of the 19th century, ranging from grain to woolen to nails to wood.   Small businesses cropped up to provide the laborers and settlers the things they needed and wanted like dry goods, harness shops, liveries and of course saloons.  

Farming was huge part of this community, with entire families working hard to clear the heavily wooded land. In the late 1800's, there was a 72 acre vacation spot called Hilgen's Spring Resort located east of downtown Cedarburg which drew visitors from as far as Chicago and St. Louis.  There were two hotels, a bathhouse, trails and a bandstand. Reportedly, locals could pay a fee to take a bath there on Saturdays, saving themselves from the hard work of collecting water for a bath.  

I love reading about the settlement years of Cedarburg.  I have been referencing a book called Images of America - Cedarburg by Lisa Curtis as I learn more about my little city.  It's a book I've checked out many times over the years from the library (our library is recently built and is fantastic). I find it fascinating that the Cedarburg Mill, a landmark in the center of town, was built in the mimd 1850s for a cost of $22,000.  (I can hardly imagine what settlers thought about the 5 story limestone building.)  Early settlers Frederick Hilgen and William Schroeder bought the land for the mill as part of a 35 acre purchase from Ludwig Groth.  The dam that was built helped power the mill, which used to be able to produce 120 barrels of flour a day.

Another interesting fact relates to the Cedarburg Woolen Mill, which is now known as The Shops of Cedar Creek Settlement. It was built in 1864 to make blankets, clothing and hats for Civil War soldiers.  After the war, they pivoted to make other wool based woven like cardigans, flannels.  It was reported that the water wheel could generate 50 horsepower.  The weavers could earn $3 day for 12 hours of work.  

Well, I hope you like that little history lesson as much as I loved researching and writing it.  I'll do another lesson in the future for those interested in knowing a bit more about this little city of Cedarburg, Wisconsin.  Comments or questions?  I'd love to hear it!


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