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Watertown, Wisconsin
Main Street in downtown Watertown
Main Street in downtown Watertown
Location of Watertown, Wisconsin
Location of Watertown, Wisconsin
Country United States
State Wisconsin
Counties Jefferson, Dodge
 • Type Mayor – Common Council
 • Total 12.51 sq mi (32.40 km2)
 • Land 12.11 sq mi (31.36 km2)
 • Water 0.40 sq mi (1.04 km2)
853 ft (260 m)
 • Total 23,861
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,970.4/sq mi (760.8/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
Area code(s) 920
FIPS code 55-83975
GNIS feature ID 1576295

Watertown is a city in Dodge and Jefferson counties in the US state of Wisconsin. Most of the city's population is in Jefferson County. Division Street, several blocks north of downtown, marks the county line. The population of Watertown was 23,861 at the 2010 census. Of this, 15,402 were in Jefferson County, and 8,459 were in Dodge County.

Watertown is the largest city in the Watertown-Fort Atkinson micropolitan area, which also includes Johnson Creek and Jefferson.



Watertown was first settled by Timothy Johnson, who built a cabin on the west side of the Rock River in 1836. He was born in Middleton, Middlesex County, Connecticut, on the 28th of June, 1792. A park on the west side of the city is named in his honor. The area was settled to utilize the power of the Rock River, which falls 20 feet (6.1 m) in two miles (two 10-foot (3.0 m) dams). In contrast, the Rock River falls only 34 feet (10 m) in 58 miles (93 km) upstream from Watertown. The water power was first used for sawmills, and later prompted the construction of two hydroelectric dams, one downtown (where the river flows south) and one on the eastern edge of the city (where the river flows north).

In the 1850s, German immigrants arrived in Watertown from Germany. These people were fleeing revolutions and turmoil in Germany, which often saw pogroms against the wealthy. It was deemed better to be poor or middle class in America than it was to be wealthy in Germany, as a result most of the German immigrants who arrived in Watertown brought with them the trappings of the German middle class, including a proclivity for classical music, the Latin language and ornate furniture. Unlike other instances in other parts of the country in which they faced discrimination and xenophobia, they were welcomed with open arms by the English-Puritan descended "Yankee" population of Watertown and Jefferson County as a whole. This warm reception led to chain migration, which in turn greatly increased the German population of the region. Culturally they had much in common with the New England derived population, for instance both groups unanimously opposed slavery and both had a pronounced love for commerce and industry. Economically both communities would thrive in Watertown for the entirety of the 19th century, not facing any measurable economic hardships until the Great Depression in the following century.

Milwaukee and Rock River Canal

A canal from Milwaukee to the Watertown area was once planned, but was replaced by railroad before any work had been completed, other than a dam in Milwaukee. The territorial legislature incorporated the Milwaukee and Rock River Canal company in 1836, but the plan was abandoned in 1848. The canal would have provided a waterway between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, but even if completed, it may not have seen much success because railroads had already become the preferred mode of transportation.

19th century growth

In 1853, a plank road was completed from Milwaukee to Watertown. After plank roads were no longer used, the route was replaced by highway (Wisconsin Highway 16) and a railroad. A street named "Watertown Plank Road" survives in Milwaukee. It is referred to in the "Plank Road Brewery" family of beers, produced by Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee.

Fischers building and dam
The downstream of Watertown's two dams, with a portion of downtown in the background

There was an influx of German immigrants in the late 19th century. The city is the home of the first kindergarten in the United States, started in 1856 by Margarethe Schurz, wife of statesman Carl Schurz; the building that housed this kindergarten is now located on the grounds of the Octagon House Museum in Watertown.

City railroad bond default

Growth of the city was substantially hampered when Watertown issued almost half a million dollars in bonds to support the building of two railroads to town to encourage further growth: the Chicago & Fond du Lac Company and the Milwaukee, Watertown & Madison Road. The success of the plank road convinced residents that a railroad would be even more beneficial, and bonds were issued from 1853 to 1855. The Milwaukee and Watertown Railroad, as it was called before it extended to Madison, was completed in 1855, only the second line in the state.

Soon after, the two railroads went bankrupt in the Panic of 1857. The bonds were sold by the original investors to out-of-town speculators at a small fraction of their face value. Since the railroads were never built and did not produce revenue, the city was unable to pay off the bonds. Moreover, the city did not feel compelled to do so because the creditors (those who held the bonds) were not only from out of town, but weren't even the original holders. Yet the creditors exerted so much pressure on the city to pay off the bonds that Watertown effectively dissolved its government so that there was no legal entity (the government as a whole or officers) that could be served a court order to pay or appear in court. The case was not resolved until 1889, when it had risen all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which essentially dismissed the case of the creditors. A small amount remained to be paid, and this was not paid off until 1905, half a century later.

Geography and climate

Watertown is located in southeastern Wisconsin, approximately midway between Madison and Milwaukee, at 43°12'N 88°43'W (43.193, −88.724). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 12.51 square miles (32.40 km2), of which, 12.11 square miles (31.36 km2) is land and 0.40 square miles (1.04 km2) is water. Small communities in the immediate area (e.g., within the school district) include Richwood, Lebanon, Old Lebanon, Sugar Island, Pipersville, Concord, Ebenezer, and Grellton.

The Rock River flows through Watertown in a horseshoe bend before heading south and west on its way to the Mississippi River. The city originally developed inside the horseshoe, though it has long since grown beyond. Silver Creek adjoins the river in the city, as does a short creek on the west side.

The most notable geographical feature is a high density of drumlins, long hills formed by the glaciers of the Wisconsin glaciation as they retreated northwards. Hills in the area are elongated in the north-south direction.


Climate data for Watertown, Wisconsin
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F 28 30 41 55 68 78 82 80 71 60 42 32 55.6
Average low °F 10 14 24 35 44 55 59 57 50 39 28 17 36
Rainfall inches 1.4 1.3 2.1 2.9 3.3 4.0 3.7 3.5 3.8 2.5 2.2 1.6 32.3
Average high °C -2.2 -1.1 5 12.8 20 25.6 27.8 26.7 21.7 15.6 5.6 0 13.1
Average low °C -12.2 -10 -4.4 1.7 6.7 12.8 15 13.9 10 3.9 -2.2 -8.3 2.22
Rainfall mm 36 33 53 74 84 102 94 89 97 64 56 41 820
Source: Weatherbase


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 1,451
1860 5,302 265.4%
1870 7,550 42.4%
1880 7,883 4.4%
1890 8,755 11.1%
1900 8,437 −3.6%
1910 8,829 4.6%
1920 9,299 5.3%
1930 10,613 14.1%
1940 11,301 6.5%
1950 12,417 9.9%
1960 13,943 12.3%
1970 15,683 12.5%
1980 18,113 15.5%
1990 19,142 5.7%
2000 21,598 12.8%
2010 23,861 10.5%
Est. 2015 23,819 −0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2010, there were 23,861 people residing in the city.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 23,861 people, 9,187 households, and 6,006 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,970.4 inhabitants per square mile (760.8/km2). There were 9,745 housing units at an average density of 804.7 per square mile (310.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.0% White, 0.8% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 2.7% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.3% of the population.

There were 9,187 households of which 33.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 10.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.8% had a male householder with no wife present, and 34.6% were non-families. 28.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 3.03.

The median age in the city was 35.7 years. 25.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 25.4% were from 25 to 44; 24% were from 45 to 64; and 14.5% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.4% male and 51.6% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 21,598 people, 8,022 households, and 5,567 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,974.1 people per square mile (762.3/km2). There were 8,330 housing units at an average density of 761.4 per square mile (294.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.90% White, 0.25% African American, 0.39% Native American, 0.61% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.69% from other races, and 1.13% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.94% of the population.

There were 8,022 households out of which 34.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.2% were married couples living together, 9.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.6% were non-families. 25.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.55 and the average family size was 3.07.

In the city, the population was spread out with 26.0% under the age of 18, 10.3% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 19.4% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 93.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $42,562, and the median income for a family was $50,686. Males had a median income of $34,825 versus $23,811 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,977. About 4.6% of families and 6.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.8% of those under age 18 and 6.9% of those age 65 or over.


Primary automobile transportation is provided via Highways 19, 26 and 16. Highway 19 begins in Watertown and runs westward. Highway 16 runs east-west across Wisconsin from Milwaukee to La Crosse, passing around Watertown via a bypass. Business highway 26 runs north-south through the center of the city, while highway 26 bypasses the town to the west. Highways 26 and 16 provide access to Interstate 94. Highway 16 provides access to the Milwaukee metro area, and highway 19 provides access to the Madison metro area.


Watertown Municipal Airport (KRYV) provides service for the city and surrounding communities.


Amtrak's Empire Builder passenger train passes through, but does not stop in, Watertown.

Historic landmarks

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