Watertown - absorbing, fascinating

I visited Watertown, frankly, for no compelling reason. I had heard it was about equidistant from Milwaukee and Madison, but I had no interest in visiting either on this trip. Once I started investigating the city, I found what looked like a great B&B close to town, and I was interested in getting the rest B&Bs so frequently offer. Once I got to town, the B&B did not disappoint, I was surprised by a few things I saw, and I found plenty to do in a day-long car tour and another day up at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 minutes drive to the north. All in all, time well spent. When I got home and started to research the city. I found out a great deal about its history and some of its facilities. I found I need to go back and take in many of its historic structures which I missed in the historic downtown area, each of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Watertown is much more than a city half-way between Madison and Milwaukee. Fascinating.

May 4, 2018



I drove from Wausau to Watertown in about three hours including lunch. I found the B&B I had reserved, the Jesse Stone House, 300 South Washington St., quite close to the downtown area.

I spent my first full day in Watertown driving around the city. It has over 20,000 residents but has a small town feel to it. I did run across a few things that surprised me.


"Welcome in Watertown," in German. In 1848, some 700,000 people fled German-speaking countries after a failed revolution of that year and emigrated to the US. They have often been referred to as "The Forty Eighters." A good number of them settled in Watertown, making the city a center of German immigration. A newsletter of the Max Kade Institute of Winter 2011-2012 said they "had a profound impact on the culture, society and economy." They were active in setting up a vibrant music scene in the city. In 1856 Margarethe Meyer Schurz founded a kindergarten considered to be the first German-language kindergarten in the US. Keep this kindergarten in mind.

Please note the barbershop pole in the upper left section of the photo, and the American flag which marks the location of the Main Street Barber. I'll come back to the barbershop in a moment. As an aside, if you were looking at the "Willkommen" mural and swiveled around 180 degrees you would be looking at the next photo of the Main Street Bridge. The point I wish to leave you with is the barbershop is at one end of the bridge. It's just a point of reference when I discuss the bridge and the shop.


This photo of the downtown area shows the Main Street Bridge over the Rock River and gives you a sense for how the city has worked to maintain its historic district. As a matter of history, the Main Street Bridge was built in 1844. It underwent multiple major repair efforts and finally the flood of 1881carried part of the bridge away. Once people got a look at what remained, they were horrified by the poor construction. The city wanted an iron bridge but it was too expensive, so they built a temporary bridge, some time between 1881 and 1885. I know that a new bridge was under construction in October 1881 because a derrick used in the construction fell while being moved. Two ladies were badly hurt but survived.

Apparently yet another Main St. Bridge was constructed in 1908 and electric trolley cars began using it. A completely new bridge was constructed in 1931 and dedicated that year. This bridge has undergone several rehabilitation projects but is essentially the one that stands today. The bridge was named and renamed multiple times in honor of various people but is now widely known as the Main Street Bridge.

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Here you are looking to the east on Main Street. I'll note here that the city of Watertown is in Dodge and Jefferson counties. Main Street is in Jefferson County, just a bit south of the county line with Dodge County. In 2001 the US Department of the Interior National Park Service listed Watertown's Main Street Commercial Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. For those interested in the details of the architecture and the city's history, I commend this document. I found it fascinating.

Timothy Johnson is credited with founding the city. The Rock River rapids, historically known as Johnson's Rapids, attracted early settlers in 1836 who saw value in those rapids for milling the abundant timber in the area. The buildings reflect various periods of construction in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Those include Italianate, Romanesque, Queen Anne, Neo-classical and 20th Century Period Revival. Of 158 properties on Main Street, 49 are especially architecturally or historical significant.

During the 1840s and early 850s, large groups of German and Irish immigrants joined the original "Yankee" settlers. Main Street became a commercial center. The
Viehmarkt livestock market developed in 1859. The city became a milling, railway and trade center.

Most of the buildings are constructed of cream brick mostly made in the city. They were mostly vernacular; that is, an architectural style that is designed based on local needs, availability of construction materials and reflecting local traditions without much decorative ornament. As local wealth increased so did more elaborate cornices, pilasters and friezes. Then more fashionable Italianate architecture began to appear along with the others I mentioned earlier. The district reflects a commercial center that has been preserved to this day.

It would be fun to take this National Park Service document on a multi-day visit to Watertown as it identifies many specific buildings that reflect specific architectural and commercial characters.

Mullen's Dairy Bar


I arrived a bit early, had lunch at Mullen's Dairy Bar, called by tripadvisor.com a "Nostalgic ice cream parlor." That it was. Watching my weight, I figuratively tied my hands together to avoid diving into the ice cream. I enjoyed my cheeseburger and reluctantly rejected the french fries which looked fabulous. In the end, it was more fun to watch other people partake in the malts and shakes, cones, sundaes and containers of a wide variety of ice cream. I should have had some — my doctor wasn't there, so I could have!

Homes in the old style


This is the Jesse Stone House B&B, run by Charles and Patricia Damaske. It has two rooms. It is a beautiful place. It is an elaborate Second Empire styled residency built in 1876, a place that exudes character. The Damaskes have preserved and cared for this home with a tremendous sense of the history it represents,

Once I checked in with Charles, I went to my room and crashed on a great bed in "Sarah's Room," most comfortable indeed. Clearly this was a place in which to experience a quiet, warm and comfortable stay. I commend this B&B to you.

I happened to notice a few other homes close to the B&B and took shots of them. It was a short walk back in time.


I could easily envision myself sitting out on the porch for days!


I thought this to be most elegant. I am no architectural genius, but I suspect this to be a Second Empire style too, also known as the Mansard Style, popular between 1855-1885, most notably in France and in the Midwest and Northeast, US.

Lyons Irish Pub


No matter what city I go to, I am always looking for an Irish Pub, and I found one for dinner at Lyon's Irish Pub on E. Main Street in the heart of the Historic Downtown. I relished my pints of Smithwicks and Reuben sandwich, and enjoyed the hospitality of those working there and partaking as customers like me.

The barbershop


Recall my rant about the barbershop with the "Willkommen" mural on the side of the building. So here's the shop. There's a lot of history behind this barbershop at 5 East Main Street. John Seager owned it, setting up shop in the late 19th century. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of Watertown's historic district.

The flood of 1881 sent huge cakes of ice down the Rock River and ripped out the pilings of several buildings and part of the Main Street Bridge. Seager's business was spared. He installed three tin bathtubs and offered five baths for one dollar. But it was not spared in the flood of 1904. The flood swept the building away, but Seager managed to rescue most of his equipment. The shop was rebuilt. Somewhere in here his sion, Charles took over. As I understand it, the shop moved a few times after the flood but ended up back at Nr. 5 in around 1948. John Seager's son, Charles continued operating it at 5 E. Main Street. He retired in 1958 and sold it to Leith Poole who retired in 1965. The lady who now owns the
Main Street Barber, Deborah "Deb," is a delightful person, and gives a cracker-jack haircut. I got one from her even though I caught her as she was about to go to lunch. We had a wonderful conversation.

The Octagon House


This is the Octagon House, also known as the John Richards Octagon House. It is described by architect Rexford Newcomb as "probably the best-planned octagon house in the country …" John Richards, a lawyer and mill owner, built it and finished it in 1854. The family sold it to the Watertown Historical Society and it opened under that ownership in 1938. It's brick with eight square rooms on each floor and triangular rooms in the corners, a total of 32 rooms including the cupola.

Recall I mentioned Margarethe Meyer Schurz earlier, the founder of a kindergarten in Watertown considered to be the first German-language kindergarten in the US. The kindergarten continued until WWI and was closed because of opposition to use of the German language.

The restored first kindergarten building originally stood at the corner of N. Second and Jones Streets, Watertown, and was later
moved to the grounds of the Octagon House in December 1956 in order to preserve it.

Maranatha Baptist University


As I drove around town, quite by accident I came up the Maranatha Baptist University. We Catholic-bred lads are not used to seeing such a place and I confess I was surprised by it. I think that is because one of the first houses of worship I saw when I arrived in town was a fabulous Catholic Church, St. Bernard, which I will show you later. I guess I just figured most people were Catholic. Boy was I wrong there.

I was drawn to Maranatha, compelled to drive around and take some photos. It has a marvelous campus.

Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm, a member of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, founded Maranatha College in 1968. Its name was changed to Maranatha Baptist University because that's what it had actually been since its founding.
Maranatha is an Aramaic or Syrian word which means "Lo, He cometh."

The university has been called "the miracle school" because of its unusual beginning without funds, equipment, students, faculty or a constituency.


The centerpiece of the university, at least for me, is this building, known as the "Old Main." It was originally constructed in 1873, but it was built in phases over a 21 year period. It had served as the University of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, then Sacred Heart Military Academy. It closed in 1967, when there was a feeling that it cost too much money, and was moved to Indiana. Dr. Cedarholm bought it in 1968. He had a vision of turning it into a Baptist Bible college. He bought it at a bargain price of $150,000. I say "bargain" because he could see the opportunities the existing facilities and campus offered. The Old Main now houses three floors of classrooms, labs, libraries administrative offices, two fine arts performance halls etc.

The Maranatha Baptist Bible College emerged on July 1, 1968 and grew quickly. In 1970 the Maranatha Baptist Graduate School was established, in 1973 the Maranatha Baptist Academy for high school students (9-12) opened, and then in 2009 the Maranatha Baptist Seminary. The Board of Trustees changed the name of the overall effort to Maranatha Baptist University (MBU) in October 2013, largely because it had expanded to become much more than a Bible college.

In September 1968 the university enrolled 200 students. The first graduating class was 13. There was a 27 member facility. Today it offers over 40 accredited degrees in a wide variety of majors, and has graduated 5,000 students. At present its total undergraduate enrollment is 953, with a total enrollment of 1,118. Those numbers may vary over time. The university is a member of National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division III and the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Division II. MBU competes in the Association of Division III Independents (AD3I) and the North Region of the NCCAA DII. The MBU teams, both male and female, are known as the "Sabercats."


This is a look at the backside of the Old Main. I believe the building center photo hosts the student center, campus store, book room and maintenance facility on the first floor.


There are multiple buildings attached to the principal Old Main building. It's quite a complex, nice and compact in my view. The setting for me was extraordinary.


Another look at part of there backside.


This building is known as The Century House. Steve Board, an instructor at the School of Business, told me that the Century House, probably built around 1848, was originally used as a residence. Today the second floor hosts offices for professors while the first floor is used mainly as a piano teaching facility for youngsters. The university students do the teaching. There is also a place on the first floor to teach other instruments such as strings. Quite fascinating, and Bravo to the student teachers working with the youngsters.


Critical to any university, the dining hall, or as the university calls it, the dining complex since it offers such a wide variety of foods and services. It is especially important for Maranatha since all single students under the age of 23, except graduate students or those who reside with parents, are required to live on campus. All those living on campus participate in a meal plan. The dining complex has been rated as among the very best in the country.

As an interesting aside, the complex includes seven classrooms (all with full video equipment), two computer labs, a 145-seat lecture hall, and a faculty workroom. It also provides a nursing lab classroom and lab suite.


This is the Cedarholm Library, close to the dining facility. Dr. Cedarholm made the first donation that enabled the library to get p and running. His wide, Mrs. Thelma Cedarholm, was the first librarian and guided the library as its director for 20 years through 1988.

I hope I can be forgiven for being so lazy. I did not get out of my car to read the inscriptions on the bell in the lower right section of the photo. Next time!

I found visiting this university to be fun and exciting.

Following this visit, I continued driving around town, really with no specific purpose in mind other than to look around.

Once again I was surprised, and again quite impressed.

Luther Preparatory School


This is the Luther Preparatory School. Its mission is to prepare young men and women for the full time ministry in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is a four year secondary school owned by the Synod and offers a college preparatory curriculum to students who are considering the full time pastoral or teaching ministry as their life’s work. It is the oldest Lutheran high school in the US.

While the school's purpose is to prepare for the ministry, its curriculum meets or exceeds the entrance requirements of all other colleges and universities throughout the country.

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Main campus

In 1865 it was the prep department of Northwestern College. It became the Northwestern Preparatory School of Watertown in 1974. It then merged with several other prep schools and built from there. It has about 415 students with a senior class of about 108. In 2015 the school celebrated its 150th anniversary.


About three quarters of the school population lives in the dorms. They are watched over by the statue of Martin Luther.


I was astounded by the size of the campus, the layout, and structures. It looks like a great place to go to school.

Statue of Martin Luther center campus

I believe these are mostly classrooms and offices

All students must complete a core curriculum which requires four years of religion, English, science, foreign language, and music; three years of mathematics (through algebra 2), social studies, and physical education; and one half year of computer. In addition, all students will have the opportunity to participate each year in keyboard (piano/organ) courses, chorus, band, and handbell choir. A wide array of electives in all subject areas is offered during the junior and senior years.

The school has an active athletic program for boys and girls and belongs to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. Many of the teams simply place "Luther" on their shirts, but they are known as the "Phoenix."


And, of course, the chapel.

I enjoyed going to my public high school, but I can tell you I was wishing I could have attended a prep school like this. Quite impressive operation.

St. Bernard Catholic Church


I mentioned earlier I was raised a Catholic. I said the first thing I saw when I arrived in town was a fabulous Catholic Church, St. Bernard. This is it. You can see the steeple from several miles away. It is affiliated with St. Henry Catholic Church in what is called Watertown Catholic. Together they operate the Watertown Catholic School on two campuses, grades 3K - 8. The St. Henry Campus began in 1854 and the St. Bernard Campus in 1857. Today about 225 students are enrolled.

It was not my intention to avoid other faiths during my visit. I simply ran across these three and ran out of time. However, now that I have spent some time on the subject of churches in Watertown, I have been told the city ranks very high in the nation with regard to the number of houses of worship located there. As I looked on Google, I could see many of them are also very beautiful structures and contribute enormously to the city's culture.

Rock River, the Milwaukee Street Bridge, and the Globe Mill Dam

I plead guilty, I did not know the Rock River flowed through Watertown. Once I found out, I figured I out to take a quick look anyway.

The Rock River is a tributary of the Mississippi and runs nearly 300 miles through Wisconsin and Illinois. Three of its branches flow into Horicon Marsh to the north. The Rock River then departs the Horicon Marsh and makes its way to the Mighty Mississippi at Rock Island, Illinois.

I came upon the river walk in South First Street Park, and immediately saw a historical marker highlighting the Milwaukee Street Bridge.


This bridge is said to be one of the nation's most innovative bridges, a rare example of a steel-reinforced, three span, open-spandrel, continuous rib arch bridge. There is quite a history that goes with bridges across the Rock River in Watertown. This one was designed by Daniel R. Luten and constructed by Eau Claire Engineering. This team built a bridge here in 1930, and replaced it by November 2007. The old Milwaukee Street bridge was a three-span, open spandrel, reinforced concrete, continuous-rib-arch bridge that had a structure length of 240 feet. It was demolished in early December 2007. The new Milwaukee Street bridge is an open arch structure with a Texas concrete rail. Because the Milwaukee Street bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the designs for the new bridge had to be aesthetically similar to the old structure. It was opened in early November 2008.


The Rock River dam is just a bit to the north of the Milwaukee Street Bridge. This dam too has a history. Many cities and towns in Wisconsin have grown over the years next to rivers and regrettably have been plagued by flood damage. Watertown was no exception. In 1858 a new dam was built here after the flood "carried the old one away." There were four factories close to the new dam, two on each side. The dam was washed out again in 1904. Contracts went out right away to build a concrete dam and that was done. Following that, a lot of effort was put in to expand the generating power and there was considerable repair and refurbishment done to keep it up to snuff. The rehabilitation of this dam was completed by December 2017; it had been last repaired in 1992. So what you see today is a completely refurbished dam.

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This building is fairly new, finished in 2010-2011. It is the River Mill Senior Residences. It occupies the area where once stood the Globe Mill that converted grain to flour. Some people still call the dam the Globe Mill Dam because of that. This building was to be the first phase of new downtown riverfront development.


This is an older building known as Mill Race Terrace. It is an apartment building just down the street from the River Mill Senior Residences, and is quite close to the Milwaukee Street Bridge.


Last but not least is a photo of what I would say is the only guy in town who understands his priorities on this, a Friday. The River Mill Senior Residences are to his back.