ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin







In 1853, Watertown ranked as the state’s second largest community at a population of 4,000 with 2,000 of those citizens claiming German heritage.  This population is a large step from the 218 inhabitants in 1840, 800 recorded in 1847, and validates the 10,000 estimated in an 1856 census (City Council, 1856).  German influence was particularly penetrating in the city’s sixth ward which came to be known as “Little Germany.”  The continuous German inflow has been accredited to the presence of other Germans which is comparable to the growing Hispanic citizenry today.  Sadly this remarkable growth was abruptly ended by the Panic of 1857 in which the city’s huge bonds to support railroad expansion fell through and red bankruptcy flags lined city streets forcing the city to temporarily dissolve its government to avoid paying back the bonds.  Wallman reports the population dropping by almost 50% within three years to its recorded population of 5,302 in 1860.  There was only negligible growth for the next seventy-five years.


1855 Census

Watertown Democrat, 08 02 1855


Population of city of Watertown -- just finished -- 8,512.  An increase of 7061 since 1850.   WD



1860 Census

The Marvelous Growth of Wisconsin

Watertown Democrat, 03 14 1861


It is a remarkable fact that the census of 1860 renders Wisconsin the fifteenth state of the Union—counting slaves and whites in the Southern States.  We have a larger population than Louisiana, a state that has been settled over one hundred years and which contains the fifth city in the Union.  Wisconsin is the growth of barely twenty-five years, yet we have a population larger than any of the New England states, except Massachusetts, and in 1870 we hope to pass even that old and flourishing commonwealth.  Our population in 1860 was 768,000.  In 1870, if our legislation is SO BEARLY DECENT AS NOT TO DISGRACE OUR STATE, we shall have a population of 1,400,000.  The secession movement will have the tendency to bring us a large emigration from the border Slave States—for the last few months have lamentably shown the insecurity of states where slavery is allowed to exist.

  More on 1860 Census 

Watertown Democrat, 05 24 1860


The time for taking the census of the United States is near at hand.  The Marshal of Wisconsin, Jehu H. Lewis, is naming his deputies to do this important work.  For this Assembly district, Gen. John C. Gilman has been appointed, and for the Jefferson district, A. H. Waldo, both first rate selections of officers who will discharge their duties promptly and accurately. 


In Dodge County, Richard Mertz of Juneau has been appointed to take the census in the Oak Grove district, and Capt. Gustavus Hammer in the Mayville district.

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Watertown Democrat, 05 31 1860


Tomorrow, the 1st of June, the Deputy Marshals begin the discharge of their official duties as census takers.  Every facility should be afforded necessary to enable them to make a correct enumeration of inhabitants and collect trust-worthy statistics concerning the resources of the country.  Marshal Gilman has prepared the following list of questions he is obliged to ask, and it will be a great convenience if those who must answer them will be prepared to do so when they shall be called on, as will soon be the case:


1st. Name of corporation or individual, producing article to the annual value of $500.

2d. Name of business manufacture or produce.

3d. Capital invested in real or personal estate in the business, raw materials used, including fuel.

4th. Quantity.

5th. Kinds.

6th. Value.

7th. Kind of motive power, machinery, structure or resource, average number of hands employed.

8th. Male.

9th. Female.

   Wages during the year ending June 1st, 1860.

10th. Average monthly cost of male labor.

11th. Average monthly cost of female labor.

   Annual Produce

12th. Quantities.

13th. Kinds.

14th. Value.


It becomes necessary that the above questions be answered as accurately as possible, in order to arrive at the truth in relation to the productive industry of the country.

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Watertown Democrat, 06 14 1860

Not Very Sensible


One of the instructions given to Deputy Marshals in the discharge of their duties as census takers is that they must not furnish any statistics to newspapers for publication.  We confess that we are too obtuse to fathom the object of any such arrangement.  Uncle Sam is such a slow old coach that if we have to wait for him to supply the information we will be at least two years in finding out our population and the thousand and one other items of intelligence, to obtain which the census is especially taken.  But we suppose the thing is all right and can’t be helped.

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Census of Watertown

Watertown Democrat, 07 26 1860

We are indebted to Deputy Marshal John C. Gilman for the following statement of the present population of the City of Watertown:  [population of individual wards listed]  5,242 Total.


It will be seen that these figures show a considerable falling off from the enumeration of 1855.  At that time three railroads were being built within the limits of the city, giving employment to at least 1,000 men.  A large amount of building was going on, requiring the services of hundreds of masons and carpenters.  All this has since been changed.  The railroads are built, the blocks are finished and the laborers dispersed.  Then came the revulsions of 1857 and the Pike’s Peak excitement.  Many of our most prominent mercantile houses were swept away and company after company of adventurers started on their way to the newly discovered land of gold. 


All these and other causes have been in constant operation to draw off and diminish our numbers.  The floating elements of our population have drifted away, but the permanent remains.  We are surrounded by a country of unrivalled fertility and productiveness.  It is being rapidly brought under cultivation.  Every year adds to the area of improved lands and lessens the extent of wilderness that spreads out in every direction.  We still have a vast and undeveloped water power.  This will not always be permitted to run to waste.  It will one day be used to its utmost capacity.  When that period arrives, an industrious and energetic population must gather here and help to construct a large and flourishing city.  The foundations of wealth and business are here and will not always remain dormant.  Everything around us is advancing and improving, and we cannot fail to feel the beneficial influence of such activity.






1870      Census

Watertown Republican, 09 14 1870


FACT FROM THE CENSUS -- There are in our city, south of Main Street, 3,389 inhabitants; north of Main Street, 4,180.  There are in Dodge county 2,186; in Jefferson county 5,383.  There are on the east side of the river 4,811; on the west side 2,758.  On the east side of Rock River and Silver Creek there are about 5,411; west of the same 2,158.  The last two items are nearly correct, but we could not give the exact figures as three of the wards lie on both sides of the river, and Silver Creek also divides one ward.



Watertown Population 8829

Watertown Gazette, 01 13 1911


The late census gives Watertown a population of 8829, an increase of 392 since 1900.  This is not as great an increase as was expected, but many cities in Wisconsin and the Middle West have fell behind in 10 years instead of increasing in population, Watertown ought to feel pleased with so substantial an increase.



In 1954 Watertown celebrated its centennial as a city and published a booklet in commemoration of the event.  Besides its recording of the city’s history, the booklet has provided a view of the city’s current status. It claimed the population to be around 12,417 according to a 1950 census.




1960 Census


Watertown's gain in population the past decade has been 1,984 according to census figures for 1960.  The total population at present is 14,401, compared with 12,417 in 1950.  The 1960 census was completed some time ago and figures for Watertown were issued this morning at Madison.  The city's Jefferson County wards have a population of 10,450 and the Dodge County wards a total of 3,951.  In 1940 the population of Watertown was 11,301, according to census figures issued at the close of the 1940 enumeration and in 1930 the official figure was 10,613.


Watertown Daily Times, 12 02 1960

Watertown's official population, as shown in the 1960 census, is 13,953, according to a report issued today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Census population date is April 1, 1960. In 1950 Watertown had a population of 12,417. The report shows that the population of the Jefferson County portion of the city is 9,975 and of the Dodge County wards 3,968. The total population of Dodge County is 63,170.




Once the second largest community in the state, the 2000 Census puts the city of Watertown at a total population of 21,597 and the 2008 estimate of 23,127 leaves it ranked as just another third class city. Of this population there are an estimated 8,046 households and 5,583 families.  The city’s median income per family is $42,562 while about 4.6% of families fall below the poverty line.  When compared to the national median income of $41,994 it becomes apparent that Watertown is a prime example of a middle-class city.  The employment status of Watertown continues this standard with 70% of its population of working age in the labor force, and 3.3% of the population unemployed.


Watertown Daily Times, 03 08 2001

Watertown's official 2000 census is 21,598, an increase of 2,456 or 12.83 percent in the past decade, official numbers released late Thursday afternoon show. The 1990 census showed Watertown's population to be 19,142. The new population places Watertown as the 40th largest city in Wisconsin. That's a drop of nine places from the 1990 census when the city was ranked 31st in the state. Dodge County's population increase was far larger than Jefferson County's both in absolute numbers and in percentages. In the past decade, Dodge County's population increased from 76,559 to 85,897 for an increase of 12.2 percent. Jefferson County's increase was 9.2 percent as the population rose from 67,783 to 74,021.