ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Homecoming Day


Repasts, Receptions and Reminiscences


Begun in 1902


Homecoming idea originated in the middle west in Watertown   Watertown Gazette, 06 24 1910




In 1902 Watertown initiated a series of annual Homecoming Days.  These days of reunion and celebration, held in early August or September, were anticipated each summer.


The author of this online eBook likes to think that the success of the Homecoming event was a prelude to that of Watertown’s current Riverfest event, also highly anticipated, extremely successful, and held in early August.



THE FIRST ANNUAL HOME-COMING CELEBRATION in Watertown on last Sunday was a grand success.  It was under the auspices of the Milwaukee-Watertown club, assisted by a local committee.  All day Saturday and on the Sunday morning trains large crowds of people arrived in the city from all direction.  Marshal H. Wertheimer, the local arrangement committee, a delegation of the reception committee and the Sinnissippi band met the 8:50 train from the south on the C. & N. W. Ry., which brought in about 100 visitors from Janesville and intermediate places and escorted them uptown.  Arriving in Main Street the procession was joined by the balance of the reception committee and the German old soldiers and marched to the St. Paul Depot and met the 800 excursionists from that city, which included a number from Chicago, Fond du Lac and other places, the Milwaukee-Watertown club bringing them with Bach’s band . . . From sunrise to midnight the city, which had been clothed in gala attire, was given over to celebrating the return for one day of those who claim Watertown as birthplace, but whose lots have been cast in other places.  Among the reunion were: Conductor O. L. Forkenbridge, of this city, who had charge of the excursion train from Milwaukee, and Erny Cheney, of Milwaukee, an old Watertown boy, officiated at the throttle in the engine cab.  He made the run to and from this city in a manner to please the man who says modem fast time on railways is not fast enough to suit him.  Erny spun along as though he was making a trip to the moon.


1904       Chapter on 1904 Homecoming



   Watertown Daily Times 07 27 1905


The third annual home coming and excursion of the Watertown club of Milwaukee to Watertown will be held on Sunday, Aug. 6. The train will leave over the Milwaukee road at eight o'clock and arrive at Watertown at 9:20, where the excursionists will be met by a large reception committee of the citizens of Watertown.


Ward's military band will play concert music at Tivoli Island at Watertown in the afternoon . . .  It was decided to invite Mayor Dunne of Chicago, Mayor Rose of Milwaukee, and Governor La Follette to deliver addresses to the people at the picnic grounds in the afternoon. There will be a parade of all civic societies of Watertown in the afternoon.


Watertown Gazette article of 08 11 1905



08 12       Sunday, August 6, was certainly a gala day in this city it being the observance of the Third Home Coming Day which has become quite a social feature in the experience of the inhabitants of Watertown, and great credit is due the mayor and members of the home club, in making it the grand success it was under the circumstances - and there would have been a much larger attendance had the railroads made special rates for the occasion, which they were precluded from doing on account of the existing laws in the state.  As it was, there were at least 700 former residents of Watertown who came to meet relatives and friends and visit the scenes of other days.  The delegation from Milwaukee numbered about 500 . . .



07 27       Mayor Mulberger and Ex-Mayor Wertheimer were in Milwaukee yesterday in the interests of the homecoming celebration August 5.  While there they had a conference with Ernst E. Kehr the president of the association who informed them that the members will be notified so that there might be a large delegation here on that occasion.  There will be a joint meeting of all the committee appointed at a previous meeting to make arrangements for home-coming at the office of Ex-Mayor Wertheimer Thursday evening at 8 o'clock to perfect the arrangements for the event.  WL



07 19       (At last Monday's Council meeting) Alderman Ryan presented an ordinance amending an ordinance governing hack and bus men.  It was adopted and now provides that any person can operate buses to picnics, fairs, etc. without obtaining a license and not interfering with the provisions for buses running to trains.  The ordinance was amended so hastily in order that visitors here for the homecoming might have necessary accommodations to the picnic grounds and a certain few not have a monopoly in the conveyance of the visitors to the picnic grounds.


1907       Chapter on 1907 Homecoming


1908       Chapter on 1908 Homecoming


1909       The grandest of the Homecoming fetes was that of July 31 and August 1, 1909.  Bands went to the stations to meet the trains and welcome former residents. Another floral parade in which carriages and surreys still predominated, and a program, in which Mayor Arthur Mulberger and Judge George Grimm were featured speakers, was followed by amusements of many kinds - band concerts, repasts, receptions and reminiscences. [ Watertown Remembered ]

Click to enlarge


     1909                     assumed      


Chapter on 1909 Homecoming


09 03       Herman Wertheimer recognition   WG



Chapter on 1910 Homecoming, eighth annual







Chapter on 1911 Homecoming, ninth annual







       Homecomers, 1913




           1912 image altered




   Image Portfolio        




An expanded River Days, tailored after last year’s highly successful sesquicentennial celebration, is being planned this summer.  The celebration, to be known as “Watertown’s RiverFest,” will be held Aug. 4-7 at Riverside Park.  Planning the event has been under way for about one month and a number of contracts for national musical entertainment, carnival and other related activities have been discussed with entertainment agents.  Officials are hopeful that some of the top acts will be under contract in the coming weeks.  Names of the groups and their concert dates and times will be announced when details are finalized.  This year’s festival was made possible through the Watertown Common Council’s strong support.  The council earlier this year agreed to contribute $10,000 in financial support and also authorized the use of the $33,000 remaining from last year’s celebration.  The committee is planning a large raffle which should generate additional revenues which will be needed to make the festival financially sound on a more long-term basis.   WDT




So you want THE recipe for a good party?  It starts with the people.  Then you give those fine people some fine food, some fine drink and some fine entertainment in a beautiful setting, and let the whole works simmer for four days.  In only four years, Watertown RiverFest has become an institution — something the entire community can hang its collective hat upon.  Crowds over the total festival were roughly estimated at 40,000.  This year’s celebration was even attended briefly by Gov. Tommy Thompson, who made a whistle stop at Riverside Park on his way to the Wisconsin State Fair.




The City of Watertown’s Finance Committee met Monday evening to discuss the current and future state of Riverfest. The festival, which began thirty-five years ago as a celebration of the City’s founding, has been profitable over that period but dramatic increases in expenses coupled with stagnant revenues in 2022, resulted in a $45,000 loss this year. Despite the 2021 festival profiting around $29,000, the net loss over the past five years is around $30,000.


Mayor Emily McFarland, through consultation with Riverfest Chairman, Tom Schultz, provided both a financial update and an organizational update to the City’s Finance Committee on Monday evening. Mayor McFarland began her presentation by providing the committee with an update on key staff retirements from the volunteer team that has produced Riverfest for the last 35 years.


“We have been incredibly fortunate to have a group of residents, who out of the goodness of their hearts, have committed countless hours of volunteerism to bring this festival to life year over year,” Mayor Emily McFarland said.


McFarland stated she met with Schultz and learned there are around 12 key categories to the festival committee, things like the auto show, the raffle, arts and crafts show, the beverage committee, the restaurant organizer, the beverage organizer, the financial team, and the event planner, etc. Of these 12 key categories only four are returning for a potential 2023 festival. “The loss of these volunteers is substantial, and it gives the Finance Committee and me concern as to whether the festival could run the way it has in the past,” McFarland said. “These volunteers have been amazing, they deserve every moment of retirement from the festival; their shoes are just very, very hard to fill.”


In addition to only four returners from the larger committee, there is a small “core group” that are all stepping away from their roles. Chairman Tom Schultz is retiring from running the festival. “Tom and his knowledge are irreplaceable,” McFarland said. In addition to Schultz, longtime entertainment coordinator John Ertl has retired. “John was in the industry for decades and that tenure, combined with his relationships built during it, afforded the festival generously discounted rates on entertainment,” McFarland said. “With John gone, we have to assume and plan that the caliber of musical acts we have had will be more costly.” Long time raffle coordinator John Wanke, Financial Coordinators Steve Zillmer, Ron Bartels and Larry Gaugert have all stepped away, in addition to other long time volunteers.


In addition to key staff retirements, Mayor McFarland shared that volunteers are getting harder and harder to come by, even paid workers, such as temporary Park and Recreation staff, are nearly impossible to recruit. “This is a classic example of what we’re seeing in the market; less workforce to work in these volunteer and paid roles.”


Staffing was not the only thing that the Finance Committee was briefed on, McFarland also provided an update on the financial status of the festival. “The budget cannot be sustained, McFarland said, “if we ran the festival the way it is usually run, we are projected to be nearly $70,000 in the red in 2023; that can be offset by using all of the available fund balance, essentially draining the Riverfest savings account, but we would still be nearly $33,000 short.” McFarland was quick to state this isn’t the fault of any of the organizers, in fact, she stated how much the organizers have attempted to be nimble for fluctuations in pricing, while trying to maintain the core components of the festival.


“Tom (Schultz) provided a simple example that the festival buys around 80,000 plastic cups and those cups were once 14-ounce cups and three cents apiece, now those cups are only made in 16-ounce versions which makes the cost increase to nearly ten cents apiece,” McFarland said. “Larger cups leads to an increased cost to the beverage that goes into it, coupled with the price of the half barrel rising, and pretty quickly beverages alone are costing more and people are buying less.” McFarland went on to point to declining sales and increasing cost in soda and ice as well.


The Finance Committee briefly discussed ideas for revamping the festival, including reducing the days, but it appeared that each potential change had a ripple effect on expenses or availability. For example, a reduction in the number of days was proposed, however, it is likely that the carnival would not come for a three-day festival. The committee discussed increasing sponsorships, however; those come with increased expenses in fencing, tables, and chairs. An entrance fee was briefly discussed but was quickly countered with increased expenses for renting and setting up fencing to create access points in an otherwise very open park space.


By the end of the meeting, the Mayor stated that while she was not asking for action to be taken that night, considering the budget is getting approved at the end of the month and contract negotiations for the festival begin in December, she and the organizers felt that an update to the committee was warranted.


“We hope that we can figure out a way to make the festival happen; we all have these impactful memories of growing up at the park, and at the same time, we are charged with ensuring the best financial situation for the city that we can, and putting the city in jeopardy of paying for the current level of overages or, should a bad weather day happen, worse overages than we can predict, is concerning,” McFarland said.


The Finance Committee will take up this matter again at a future meeting.




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Military Band, invitation, Homecoming Day (year uncertain)    No 2     No 3  (2 and 3 are enlargements)

Tivoli Island, site of Homecoming celebrations





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History of Watertown, Wisconsin