A Message from the Chamber
Welcome to Elkhorn! It's my pleasure to introduce you to a community steeped in traditions of music, harmony and Christmas. Having lived here a good part of my life, I've had the opportunity to live and work with many of the people you're soon to be reading about. In my role as Chamber Exec., I've experienced first hand how this community can come together for the common good with a solid foundation of conservative values and a strong work ethic. This community has a vision of positive economic growth that will blend with the already exciting industrial growth we're experiencing and the residential growth that compliments both areas.
As you experience our fair city, one thing you will notice are the friendly, caring people who will welcome you.
They are hard- working people who will go the extra mile to get the job done right. They are people who treasure history, but also welcome the challenges that the coming years will bring. They wrestle with the changes that come with economic expansion, but know too that the next century demands that we move forward.
Finally, Elkhorn is a community that realizes that its future lies in the hands of today's youth. Our focus on education is across the board, from kindergarten through college. Excellence in education has always been a priority in this community.
I invite you, resident and visitor alike, to experience this community first-hand. Shop in our stores and see the variety and quality our vendors supply. Participate in the many enjoyable events the community provides to attract visitors to our town, and instill pride in our residents. See the many sights in town and in the surrounding area. Elkhorn is located in the center of one of the prettiest counties in the state. Visit our model industrial park and see why so many prominent industries are locating here.
Finally, stop and visit us at the Chamber of Commerce. We are located in City Hall, on the corner of Walworth and Broad streets. As the "hub" of Elkhorn's many activities, we are always happy to talk about our community's many facets. Have a great Elkhorn day, and again, welcome!
Recently ranked #14 of the "100 Best Small Towns in America" based on surveyed communities's quality of life, Elkhorn successfully balances strong industrial and business growth with preservation of its small-town ambiance and a unique family setting. Elkhorn, the Walworth County seat, is one of the fastest growing towns in Wisconsin, where a quaint downtown shopping district blends with new commercial development, where new residential communities complement existing historic structures and the surrounding rural area. Industry and agriculture, neighbors and business people, a rich history and bright future, all come together harmoniously to make Elkhorn a great place to live and work.
The history of Elkhorn traces back more than a century-and-a-half, when brothers Daniel and Milo Bradley, and LeGrand Rockwell, first set claim to the undisturbed meadowlands and woods of what is now the downtown area. The city's name is said to have been derived by a Colonel Samuel Phoenix, who saw a set of elk antlers stuck in a tree and dubbed the site "Elkhorn"! The first documented population count of 14 was recorded in May of 1837. By the time the first town meeting was held in April 1846, the number of citizens in Elkhorn had grown to 539.
Even the town's earliest settlers recognized a need for careful planning of their community. When Elkhorn was platted in 1842, areas were set aside for parks, a school - and a jail! Additional land was purchased for a city hall and firehouse in 1884.
Elkhorn's population grew slowly but steadily over the next 50 years. In 1846, Elkhorn was designated the Walworth County seat. The first residential neighborhood, Holton Heights (on north Broad St.), brought 25 new homes to Elkhorn. The city's first designated subdivision was opened on the northwest side of town in 1926. A new city well was dug in 1924, curbs and gutters installed on six streets in 1928, and buildings were given street numbers in 1929, the same year the Matheson Memorial Library opened its doors. Its initial collection numbered 200 donated books; just 10 years later, the library had increased its holdings to 7,000 volumes.
A new municipal building, which also housed the fire department, was completed in 1931. The building was used as a temporary home for the local American Legion chapter, whose Legion Hall, as well as the community's Methodist church, had been destroyed by fire earlier that year.
The Great Depression had little effect on businesses in Elkhorn; in fact, deposits were larger than withdrawals during those years, perhaps indicating local residents confidence in their local banks.
The Walworth County Hospital was built in 1917. A new building was completed in 1939, as was an addition to the high school to accommodate the growing population - the graduating class of 39 included 54 students. The Elkhorn Area School District was formed in 1955 by combining nearby rural school districts with Elkhorn's districts. Two years later, the EASD had built and opened three new elementary schools - Bowers (which has since closed), West Side, and Tibbets, both of which have been expanded to welcome more students as Elkhorn's population has continued to grow. Elkhorn Area High School opened in 1967 and was expanded and remodeled in 1998; the project included installation of a swimming pool.
In 1960, a new Walworth County seat and courthouse building replaced the two former buildings which stood in the same place, in downtown Elkhorn (now known as Courthouse Park). The building was dedicated in 1961; the jail was in use by 1963.
Elkhorn's famed city bandshell was carefully dismantled and relocated in 1963 from the town square to make room for the new Walworth County Courthouse, then reassembled at its present location at Sunset Park. It's design, by architect G. Phelby of Phoenix, Arizona, and method of construction - incorporating thousands of 1-foot x 1-inch wooden slats - is one of only two of its kind known to be in existence in the U.S today. Originally built in 1926 by the local Kiwanis to house the Holton Co. Community Band, the bandshell was restored in 1996. The $100,000 project included landscaping around the bandshell and construction of a walkway/patio built with bricks donated by community residents and businesses.
The renowned Walworth County Fair - recently named one of the top 25 county fairs in the country - was first held in Elkhorn in 1851. The first fair site was a block southwest of the present Courthouse Park; it moved to Delavan for one year, in 1853, but came back to Elkhorn in 1854 and has been held here every year since. Six acres were purchased in 1855 to be used as a permanent site for the event; today, the fairgrounds encompass 90 acres, owned by the Walworth County Agricultural Society.
The Webster House Museum (built in 1836 and originally the home of Joseph Philbrick Webster, composer of "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" and more than 1,000 other hymns and ballads) today houses many archival documents tracing the history of the area, as well as many Civil War artifacts. The museum's Music Room also displays many treasures depicting Elkhorn's musical history - the city has been home to band instrument manufacturing since the early 1900s. The Elkhorn city logo, with a French horn forming the letter "O" in Elkhorn, as well as the community's unofficial slogan, "Living and Working in Harmony," displays this proud musical heritage.
Elkhorn is known coast to coast as "Christmas Card City." This national reputation is thought to have come about through two events, both occurring in the 1950s.
In 1952, the "March of Time" television series chose Elkhorn as the setting for one of its shows to depict "a small American town during the Christmas season." The show was seen by millions of viewers nationwide and was rerun several subsequent years.
Then, in 1958, New York artist Cecile Johnson was commissioned by the Ford Motor Company to create a series of six watercolor paintings to illustrate an article for its company magazine. Johnson, who had spent Christmas in Elkhorn in 1956, chose the town as the setting for her paintings. Five of the six paintings were later used by a major publisher as artwork for Christmas cards - which have been printed and reprinted by the hundreds of thousands.
Ford presented one of the paintings to the City of Elkhorn, and four more of the original commissioned paintings were eventually located and purchased by the city. All five are on display at City Hall. The sixth painting, however, has never been found; it was traced to the Hartford, Connecticut school system in 1982, but there the trail ended.
Carrying on the Christmas Card City tradition is local artist Jan Castle-Reed, who in 1996 began a new series of Elkhorn Christmas cards. As did Cecile Johnson, Janet Castle-Reed has beautifully captured the hustle and bustle, the joy and spirit of the Yuletide season here in "small town America."
Centrally located between Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee, nestled in picturesque Walworth County, the city of Elkhorn is easy to get to for both Wisconsin and Illinois residents. A close-knit community surrounded by rolling farmlands, Elkhorn typifies small town living. . . . an escape to the country, yet close to modern day conveniences. It's no wonder so many residents and businesses know Elkhorn as"a great place to live and work!"
Whether leisure traveling or moving supplies and products in and out of the city, residents and businesses find that Elkhorn offers convenient, easy access to major highways. US Interstate 43 goes north to Milwaukee and Green Bay, 45 miles and 150 miles respectively; and south to Beloit (25 miles) and Rockford, Illinois (48 miles). I-43 also connects directly to I-94 just south of Milwaukee.
North on US Interstate 12, Whitewater is 17 miles away, and Madison a 75-mile drive. The resort town of Lake Geneva is just 9 miles south, and a few miles further is the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
State Highway 11 takes travelers and commuters to Burlington and Racine to the east, Delavan, Janesville and Monroe to the west; and to I-90 into downtown Chicago. State Highway 67 runs north to Eagle and Oconomowoc, and south to Williams Bay and Fontana.
Elkhorn is just 35 miles from Mitchell Field in Milwaukee, and 75 miles from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. In addition, there are three private airports located within 10 miles of Elkhorn: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva; East Troy Airport in East Troy; and Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan.
Recently expanded Sunset Park, encompassing 28 acres and site of the Elkhorn Bandshell, features the city swimming pool and tots pool, bath house and sunning area, four tennis courts, two baseball/softball diamonds with bleachers, and the Lions Field for soccer play. The Elkhorn Youth Soccer league (EYSL) grows in number every year as the sport grows in popularity among area youngsters. The EYSL organizes teams of boys and girls age and five and older into league play during two seven-week spring and summer seasons. New soccer fields were built in the fall of 1997 along Highway 67.
Also at Sunset Park is the Lions Den meeting hall, complete with a cozy fireplace and available for use by other local groups or organizations. Outside the Lions Den are Little League baseball diamonds, playground equipment, horseshoe pits, Vita exercise course, sand volleyball courts, and picnic tables.
The Elkhorn Summer Rec Program operates out of Sunset Park to offer activities for"kids of all ages" - daily classes, workshops and activities such as arts and crafts, cheerleading, sports for.youth age 6-18, plus swimming instruction for tots and older children. Individuals and small groups may check out chess and checker games, frisbees, badminton and table tennis equipment, horseshoes, and baseball and football equipment at the Lions Den, as well as use its facilities.
The Summer Rec Program sponsors the Penguins swim team, which competes weekly with other local teams; and runs adult summer softball leagues, with men's, women's and co-ed teams. Most games are played at Harris Field, the city's other developed recreational park site. Harris has two basketball courts, two tennis courts, three baseball diamonds with bleachers, an electronic scoreboard, concession stand and playground equipment.
Another softball league, sponsored by Two Seasons Bowl in Elkhorn, fields men's and co-ed teams. Also during the summer months, Two Seasons offer sand volleyball leagues.
The 51-acre Babe Mann park encompasses Elkhorn Lake, a favorite "swimming hole" with sandy beaches for sunning and playing. Courthouse Park is the site of festivals and other special events, as well as families enjoying a picnic under sprawling, mature trees. Temlitz Nature Park's 3.3 acres on the west edge of the city feature a pond, wooded area and birdhouses. Northside Children's Playground is a small neighborhood site with playground equipment and picnic tables.
Tasch Park on Lincoln Street, the city's newest park facility, was built largely through community fundraising efforts. Currently the park has a soccer field, baseball diamond, basketball court, playground and picnic tables; future plans include basketball court lighting, more picnic tables and landscaping.
Three public golf courses, both located within a few minutes drive of Elkhorn, welcome beginners and handicappers alike and offer team/league play. Evergreen Golf Club, two miles north on highway 12/67, offers 27 challenging holes situated amid rolling farmland. Six miles further north, also on 12/67, is the 9-hole Lauderdale Lakes Country Club golf course, adjacent to picturesque Lauderdale Lakes. Five miles to the south, on the shores of Lake Como, Geneva National Golf Club offers three challenging courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player.
Lauderdale Lakes is a small chain of lakes which includes Mill, Middle and Green Lakes. Local residents and visitors alike flock to the area to enjoy fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, and sailing.
Just a short drive from Elkhorn is Kettle Moraine State Forest in Eagle, with its beautiful, 18,000-acre landscape of heavily wooded forest preserve for hunting and fishing, scenic wetlands, campsites, and trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing.
For those who enjoy the great outdoors yearround, winter sports are just around the corner in Elkhorn. One of the parking lots at Sunset Park becomes an ice skating rink and sledding hill. Alpine Valley Ski Resort, Grand Geneva Resort Ski Hill, and Wilmot Ski Hill are within 12 miles, with trails for everyone from beginners to well-experienced skiers. Miles of snowmobile trails run through and around Elkhorn; trail maps are available from the Walworth County Snowmobile Alliance. New members are always welcome to join one of the local snowmobiling clubs, the Elkhorn Sno-Drifters or Lauderdale Lake Riders.
During winter the Lauderdale Lakes area welcomes ice-fishermen, ice boaters, skaters and cross-country skiers. Nature lovers can hike through the woods surrounding the lakes' shores to catch glimpses of wildlife, or simply enjoy the quiet tranquility provided by winter's blanket of snow.
More than 70 clubs and organizations keep Elkhorn residents actively involved in hobbies, special interests and community-oriented projects. The city is home to local chapters of service clubs: Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus and Jaycees, as well as Daughters of the American Revolution, Junior Women's Club, Women's Club, and Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. Several 4-H clubs, including one in Elkhorn, welcome youngsters with an interest in farming as well as other youth activities.
Older residents stay busy with the Elkhorn Senior Citizens Club, Retired Senior Citizen Volunteer Program, or Walworth County Senior Travel Club. The Holton Elkhorn Band, Lakeland Audubon Society, Limber Timbers Square Dancers, Lake Area Running Club, Walworth County Historical Society, Elkhorn Kennel Club, and Elkhorn All-Sports Booster Club are but a few of the many organizations that offer residents of all ages the opportunity to meet new friends or get involved with their community.
The Lakeland Players, Ltd., Elkhorn's own community theater group, was founded in 1973. Members present four shows a year, three at the Sprague Theater downtown and a dinner/theater show at the Monte Carlo Room. The historic, art deco-style Sprague Theater was built in 1928 and was about to be demolished when Lakeland Players formed the Walworth County Performing Arts Center (WaCPAC) and purchased the building in 1990. WaCPAC now manages and maintains the theater, making it available to Walworth County organizations for presentations, exhibits and other performances.
The Matheson Memorial Library holds in its collection more than 37,000 volumes, plus nearly 3,000 audio tapes, 1,300 videos, and subscriptions to over 149 periodicals. It has recently begun automating its card catalog and offers patrons Internet access through public-use computers. The library offers a number of activities throughout the year to patrons of all ages, such as summer reading programs, storytimes, lectures and more. The Matheson Memorial Library Foundation raises money for the purchase of new items for the library's collection with donations from foundation members and local businesses.
Elkhorn, the"Christmas Card Town," has become a popular tourist destination for visitors from all over the U.S. - and not just during the holiday season!
The Walworth County Fair, one of the largest in the Midwest, attracts hundreds of thousands of people to Elkhorn each August during the six days culminating on Labor Day. The fun and excitement takes place at the fairgrounds' sprawling 90 acres, situated on the east side of town. It's a real county fair - complete with animal shows and 4-H exhibits, big-name entertainment, harness racing, tractor pulls, carnival games and rides, concessions, and plenty of hearty country vittles - from hot dogs and fresh squeezed lemonade to barbecue and homemade confections!
Elkhorn's town square - Courthouse Park - plays host year-round to arts and crafts fairs, marathon races, parades and other special events. And during the Christmas season, the square glitters with thousands of lights, a giant decorated Christmas tree, merry holiday adornments and a dazzling Christmas parade. Visitors often travel to Elkhorn during the Yuletide season just to see the"real life" Elkhorn scenes of the Cecile Johnson Christmas cards they have given or received over the years - and they're never disappointed!
Other annual events that draw tourists and local residents alike to Elkhorn include the huge, monthly Antique and Flea Market, May thru September; arts and crafts shows; the exciting Lauderdale Lakes Aqua-Skier Shows presented each Saturday, Memorial Day through Labor Day; the Holton/Elkhorn Band Concert Series, held Friday evenings June through August at the Sunset Park Bandshell; and the Firstar Fireworks celebration, concert and ice cream social at Sunset Park held on the Friday before, or on July 4th.
The Festival of Summer in August at Courthouse Square is a family-oriented summer celebration with arts and crafts exhibits, live entertainment, Rotary Corn and Brats Days, EFA Fit for Life Marathon (more than 600 runners participate each year), retail Maxwell Street Days, classic car show, sand volleyball tournament and more.
The Webster House Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. from early May through mid-October. During its season the staff offers numerous special events and exhibits, such as"An Irish Christmas," one-room school classes, hands-on demonstrations of old world crafts, Civil War historical presentations and much more.[ top of page ]
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