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Sun Prairie, Wisconsin facts for kids

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City of Sun Prairie
Official logo of City of Sun Prairie
City of Sun Prairie Logo
Groundhog Capital of the World
Location in Dane County and the state of Wisconsin.
Location in Dane County and the state of Wisconsin.
Country  United States
State Wisconsin
County Dane
Settled 1839
Incorporated (city) 1958
 • Type Mayor-City Council
 • Total 12.25 sq mi (31.73 km2)
 • Land 12.23 sq mi (31.68 km2)
 • Water 0.02 sq mi (0.05 km2)
984 ft (300 m)
 • Total 29,441
 • Estimate 
 • Density 2,401.0/sq mi (927.0/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central Standard Time)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (Central Daylight Time)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 608
FIPS code 55-55025
GNIS feature ID 1584255

Sun Prairie is a city in Dane County in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. A suburb of Madison, it is part of the Madison Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city's population was 29,441 at the 2010 U.S. Census. It is the second most populous city in Dane County after Madison. Sun Prairie became widely known for Jimmy the Groundhog when the rodent bit the mayor's ear during the city's 2015 Groundhog Day celebration.


Bird's-Eye.View Sun Prairie ca.1875
Bird's eye view of Sun Prairie, c. 1875

President Martin Van Buren commissioned a party of 45 men, including Augustus A. Bird, to build a capitol for the Territory of Wisconsin in Madison. The group of men left Milwaukee on May 26, 1837, and traveled for days in the rain. On June 9, the group emerged at the edge of the prairie and with the sun shining for the first time in days, carved the words "Sun Prairie" into a tree. Charles Bird returned to the area two years later and became the first settler.

The Town of Sun Prairie was created on February 2, 1846. The village of Sun Prairie, which grew from that town, was incorporated in an act of the Wisconsin legislature on March 6, 1868. Sun Prairie was incorporated as a city in 1958.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 12.25 square miles (31.73 km2), of which, 12.23 square miles (31.68 km2) is land and 0.02 square miles (0.05 km2) is water.


The Yahara River Valley encompasses part of the city of Sun Prairie. This area contains deep glacial deposits created by the last Wisconsin Glaciation. The eastern part of Dane County, known as the drumlin and marsh physiographic area, includes most of Sun Prairie. The deposits found in this area include general glacial deposits and marsh deposits, and consist of many small drumlins interspersed with shallow glacial deposits having poorly defined drainage.

The general soils associations in the Sun Prairie area include the Dodge-St. Charles-McHenry, Plano-Ringwood-Griswold, and Batavia-Houghton-Dresden Associations. The Dodge-St. Charles-McHenry soils are found in the eastern, southern, and central portions of Sun Prairie. This association has a varied landscape, which is mostly sloping to sloping with some areas on benches and in depressions. The Dodge, St. Charles and McHenry soils are gently sloping to mostly sloping and well drained to moderately well drained. The Sable soils in this association are nearly level and poorly drained. Most of the soils in this association have moderate permeability and a high available water capacity. Most also have slight to moderate limitations for urban uses and farming.


Main.St Sun Prairie ca.1900
Sun Prairie's Main Street, circa 1875.

The landscape of the city consists mostly of gently rolling hills and plains. The elevation of the city averages about 984 feet (300 m) above mean sea level.

Sun Prairie has, in recent years, developed a number of traditional neighborhood developments (TND). Often referred to as "new urbanism", these neighborhoods focus on the pedestrian and the appearance of city streets. While these developments have sought to address the problems and concerns associated with conventional suburban development and urban sprawl, many occupy former farmland and undeveloped rural lands. The city's planners addressed the criticisms that they were "attempting to recreate "pretend" neighborhoods" by noting that the aim of the TND was to borrow those design ideas and features effective in older neighborhoods and adapting them to current needs.


Weather chart for Sun Prairie
temperatures in °F
precipitation totals in inches
source: Weatherbase

In the Köppen climate classification, Sun Prairie is in the warm summer humid continental climate zone (Dfa). Summers tend to be hot and humid. The warmest month of the year is July, with an average maximum temperature of 82.1 °F (27.8 °C), while the coldest month of the year is January, with an average minimum temperature of 9.3 °F (−12.6 °C). Temperature variations between night and day tend to be moderate during summer with an average difference of 21 °F (12 °C), and fairly limited during winter with an average difference of 16 °F (9 °C).

The annual average precipitation at Sun Prairie is 32.95 inches (837 mm). Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, and the wettest month of the year is August with an average rainfall of 4.33 inches (110 mm).


Wisconsin Rain 5 June to 13 June 2008
NWS map of Wisconsin rainfall totals for 5 June 2008 to 13 June 2008.

The city of Sun Prairie encounters occasional flooding because of the presence of hydric soils, spring melting and its proximity to the Koshkonong Creek. This condition is compounded by storm water runoff from development and urbanization in the upper reaches of the watershed. Many residents of the city believe that the problems with flooding are worsening, becoming more frequent over the last 14 years.

A flood on April 11, 2008, caused by heavy overnight rains that outpaced the city's storm drain system and leaked into the sewer system, resulted in flooding in residential basements. The city suffered considerably from the June 2008 Midwest floods.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 626
1880 597 −4.6%
1890 704 17.9%
1900 938 33.2%
1910 1,119 19.3%
1920 1,236 10.5%
1930 1,337 8.2%
1940 1,625 21.5%
1950 2,263 39.3%
1960 4,008 77.1%
1970 9,935 147.9%
1980 12,931 30.2%
1990 15,333 18.6%
2000 20,369 32.8%
2010 29,364 44.2%
Est. 2015 32,365 10.2%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 29,364 people, 11,636 households, and 7,641 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,401.0 inhabitants per square mile (927.0/km2). There were 12,413 housing units at an average density of 1,015.0 per square mile (391.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 85.4% White, 6.1% African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.7% Asian, 1.4% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.3% of the population.

There were 11,636 households of which 37.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.1% were married couples living together, 11.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 34.3% were non-families. 26.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.08.

The median age in the city was 33.3 years. 27.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 32.8% were from 25 to 44; 22.9% were from 45 to 64; and 8.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.5% male and 51.5% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 20,369 people, 7,881 households, and 5,437 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,133.7 people per square mile (823.5/km²). There were 8,198 housing units at an average density of 858.8 per square mile (331.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.68% White, 3.10% Black or African American, 0.29% Native American, 1.34% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.98% from other races, and 1.58% from two or more races. 2.72% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 7,881 households out of which 38.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.0% were non-families. 23.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.07.

In the city, the population was spread out with 28.5% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 33.7% from 25 to 44, 19.8% from 45 to 64, and 9.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 92.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $51,345, and the median income for a family was $61,197. Males had a median income of $40,510 versus $28,786 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,277. About 3.8% of families and 4.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.1% of those under age 18 and 5.3% of those age 65 or over.


Points of interest

Sun Prairie Water Tower
The Columbus Street Water Tower
Location Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Built 1899
Architect Stegerwald, Frank
NRHP reference No. 00000360
Added to NRHP April 6, 2000

Four properties in Sun Prairie are listed in the National Register of Historic Places: the Dr. Charles G. Crosse House, the Fuhremann Canning Company Factory, the Adam and Mary Smith House, and the Sun Prairie Water Tower. The Crosse House was built in 1864 by a locally prominent physician and city leader. The Fuhremann Canning Company Factory, in use from 1900 to 1974, now lies vacant. The Adam and Mary Smith House was constructed in 1879 by Adam Smith, who had come to Wisconsin to do shingle work on the Wisconsin State Capitol. The Sun Prairie Water Tower, located at the junction of Columbus, Church and Cliff Streets, was designed by Frank Stegerwald and constructed in 1912 of stone, metal and wood.

Other points of interest include:

  • The National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame at Angell Park Speedway
  • The Youth Baseball Complex, home to baseball and softball programs, including Sun Prairie's Little League program
  • Sun Prairie Historical Library and Museum
  • The Sun Prairie Firemans Park in the Prairie a community-built park completed in 2007
  • The Prairie Athletic Club has a water park called Dolphins Cove
  • Sun Prairie Golf Course located off of Happy Valley Road
  • Sun Prairie Family Aquatic Center located down the road from The Youth Baseball Complex
Chase Grain Elevator (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin)
Chase Grain Elevator, built in 1922 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010


"1990 Census data indicates that most Sun Prairie residents drive their own vehicles to work (79.4%). A fair number of residents use carpooling as their primary transportation to work (13.4%). Other methods of transportation remain a minor factor."

Interstate highways

  • I-39 runs concurrently with I-90 from Illinois to Portage. In Madison, they are joined by I-94 until Portage. This overlap occurs in the area immediately between the metropolitan city of Madison and Sun Prairie.
  • I-90 runs east–west through the western, central and southern portions of the state, and is located to the west of Sun Prairie. A total of 187 miles (301 km) of Interstate 90 lie in Wisconsin; the Madison exit (designated 135B) leads to US 151 North and Sun Prairie.
  • I-94 as it occurs in Wisconsin runs east–west through the western, central and southeastern portions of the state. The junction of I-90 and i-94 occurs roughly six miles to the southwest of Sun Prairie heading eastward toward Milwaukee at what is commonly known as the "Badger Interchange" where the three interstates (I-39, I-90 and I-94) meet at the eastern terminus of WIS 30.

U.S. routes

  • US 151.svg U.S. Route 151 (normally called U.S. Highway 151, 151 or US-151) is a freeway in Sun Prairie that runs northeast–southwest across the eastern to southwest portions of the state. Sun Prairie is divided lengthwise by US-151, southwest to northeast, having four different access points: Windsor Street, Reiner Road, Main Street and Bristol Street.

Wisconsin state routes

  • WIS 19.svg Wisconsin Highway 19 (often called Highway 19, STH 19 or WIS 19) is a state highway which passes around the north side of Madison and crosses US-151 as it passes through Sun Prairie. It serves as a local connector route that links via various interchanges the communities of Sun Prairie, Watertown and Waunakee. The roadway follows two-lane surface road for the entire length with the exception of urban multilane arterials.

Prior to 1947, WIS 19 followed the current route of US-18 between Bridgeport and Madison. The route then passed through downtown Madison and followed then WIS 31 (part of the current US-151) to Sun Prairie. East of Sun Prairie the route followed its present-day alignment to Watertown. The route then followed present-day WIS 16 to Waukesha and east from there along present-day WIS 59 into Milwaukee. When the U.S. Highway system was implemented, WIS 19's western terminus was relocated to Madison. The portion between Madison and Sun Prairie remained despite the debut of US-151 as did the eastern portion that became concurrent with US-16. In 1947, the eastern terminus was moved to Watertown, the section along US-151 was removed, and the portion between Mazomanie and Sun Prairie was implemented.

The part of WIS 19 roughly from those interstates west to WIS 113 had at one time been on the corridor of a planned beltline route around the north side of Madison. The current status of the parkway is uncertain.

County routes

Sun Prairie is bordered by the following county roads:

  • C (also named N. Grand Avenue) runs north–south and borders Sun Prairie to the west and is crossed by interchange by US-151.
  • N (also named N. Bristol Street) runs north–south and bisects a third of the city to the west and is crossed by interchange by US-151.
  • VV (also named Twin Lane Road) runs north–south and borders the city to the east and is crossed by interchange by US-151.
  • Vinburn Road, which borders the city to the north, runs west toward DeForest and east toward Columbus.

Bus service

Sun Prairie has no bus service outside of the school buses that serve area schools, but instead has provided a Shared Ride Taxi service for the past decade, whereby residents can travel throughout the city for a small charge, sometimes sharing the ride with other passengers. This service is subsidized by grants obtained by the city, which also provide for low income transit via the use of identification cards. Corner service is also available at specific street locations during the academic school year, and is intended primarily for middle-school and high school students. While the taxi service is exclusively for the city, Shared Taxi also provides for thrice-daily shuttle service (8:30 am, 12:30pm, 4:30pm) to nearby East Towne Mall, on the northeastern edge of Madison, thus allowing commuters to use the Madison Metro bus system to travel within Madison.


Dane County Regional Airport (IATA: MSNICAO: KMSNFAA LID: MSN), also known as MSN Truax Field, is a commercial airport located 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Sun Prairie. Dane County Regional Airport has three runways and in 2006 served over 1.6 million passengers. Airlines serving the airport include AmericanConnection, American Eagle, Delta, Delta Connection, Frontier Airlines, United, and United Express.


Although Sun Prairie has tracks for freight trains to the south of the city, the only passenger train to serve the area (including Madison) is Amtrak's Empire Builder, which operates in the Midwestern and Northwestern United States. The route runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, arriving in nearby Columbus (CBS). The ridership on the train has increased slowly, averaging 16,850 per year traveling to and from Columbus, despite the population growth in Sun Prairie. Travel time to and from Chicago is slightly under three hours.

Local events

Sun Prairie's Jimmy the Groundhog is the local favorite on Groundhog Day in February. The United States Congressional Record described the city as the "Groundhog Capital of the World" in 1955.

During the city's Groundhog Day celebration on February 2, 2015, Jimmy bit Mayor Jonathan Freund's ear while being held by Jimmy's caretaker. The next day, Freund issued a proclamation that officially pardoned and absolved Jimmy "of any perceived wrongdoing and charges" under the city's ordinance. The proclamation stated that Jimmy had "created an international media sensation, thereby helping the world to learn more about our great City". Two weeks later, Freund came in last of three candidates in the city's mayoral primary election.

Following the biting incident, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources informed the organization that had sponsored Sun Prairie's celebration that capturing wild animals for exhibit was against the law. The organization's manager then reported that Jimmy had escaped from his hutch before she could respond to these complaints. Sun Prairie's next Groundhog Day celebration on February 2, 2016, featured a caged groundhog purchased for $1,200, an elected costumed "mascot" and a different mayor.

In mid-June, the city holds a local Taste of the Arts fair, in conjunction with the Georgia O'Keeffe Celebration. Artwork is exhibited and instructional classes for arts and crafts are held. A Georgia O'Keeffe recreation discussion is held.

The Flags of Freedom Field Show is a day-long series of events in July, involving high-school marching band competitions that feature bands from throughout the United States and Canada. It is hosted by the Sound of Sun Prairie.

In mid-August of each year, Sun Prairie hosts a Sweet Corn Festival, which is attended by over 100,000 people from all over the Midwest. Over 70 short]</ref>

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