Whitewater is located in Southeastern Wisconsin, straddling the Northwest corner of Walworth County and the Southern section of Jefferson County. With a population of over 14,200, of which approximately 11,500 residents live in Walworth County with the rest residing in Jefferson County, it is the largest City in Walworth County.
Settled in 1836, the City was given its name because of the white sand located in the beds of the local creeks and brooks. In 1852 the population of the then town of Whitewater was about 500 and was starting to grow rapidly due to the newly built railroad tracks installed by Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad (now The Milwaukee Railroad). In 1858 a portion of the Town of Whitewater incorporated into a Village with a population of approximately 2,500. At this time, an inventor by the name of George Esterly, who had perfected the first successful American harvesting machine, made Whitewater the center of his manufacturing operations, and for many years this plant was the largest employer in Whitewater with about 400-500 employees.
In 1860, the Winchester and Partridge Manufacturing Company started to manufacture plows and later wagons in Whitewater employing between 150 to 200 men. The company sold its wagons throughout the US and Canada (some through Montgomery & Ward), and quickly became known as “Whitewater Wagons” for their superior workmanship and the company’s reputation.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater became Wisconsin’s second public college on April 21, 1868 when it opened its doors to 39 students taught by nine faculty members. By 1880, George Esterly, with a thriving harvesting manufacturer, also established a furniture company in Whitewater which employed 75 persons in the then village of 3,621. With all of this commerce and a growing population, Whitewater incorporated into a City in 1885.
In the early 1890’s, the City of Whitewater was booming, but 1893 brought on many challenges for the city. George Esterly moved his manufacturing facilities to Minnesota, leaving approximately 575 residents unemployed. The population in Whitewater dropped significantly from its height at that time of 4,359 to 3,108 in 1905. Today Whitewater is again a thriving city with over 14,000 residents, a University that enrolls over 11,000 students a year, and a newly created Technology Park, which was designed to leverage the knowledge base within the University to help foster innovation and job creation within the community.
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