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History

In 1842, Richland County came into being. Wisconsin itself was a young state gaining statehood in 1848. Five years earlier, the county’s population had swelled to 232, and by 1850 it had 963 residents. In 1851, Richland Center was platted by Ira S. Haseltine. It covered 16 square blocks. Haseltine offered land and other benefits to the county if it would move its seat of government to Richland Center from Orion, on the Wisconsin River. In 1852, the move was approved. Throughout the remainder of the 1850s, Richland Center grew as a commercial and financial center in the county.

With a past full of citizens like Frank Lloyd Wright and Ada James, and landmarks such as the A.D. German Warehouse, the walking bridge across the Pine River and the first municipal auditorium in the State of Wisconsin, Richland Center is an historical area. Our population is a melting pot of ethnic groups. Norwegians, Germans and Czechs settled in the Richland Center area.

Today, with more than 5,000 residents, Richland Center is the only incorporated community in Richland County. The city’s central location in the county and its significance as the county’s commercial and cultural focal point make the community the ideal base from which to explore the rest of beautiful Richland County, as well as Spring Green, historic Mineral Point, the Wisconsin Dells and Prairie du Chien.

Frank Lloyd Wright
In 1867, a man was born in Richland Center who was destined for international fame. Frank Lloyd Wright returned to the city in 1915 to put his unique imprint on it. In that year, A.D. German, a wholesale grocer and coal dealer, asked Wright to design a warehouse. What Wright created is known today as “The Warehouse,” an impressive red brick structure topped by a high band of concrete frieze that shows Mayan influences. The structure rests on a cork pad providing shock absorption and stability.

Ada James
Ada James is Richland Center’s most prominent suffragette and known for her work with disadvantaged children and women. In 1892, she and several other high school girls formed the Equality Club to assist in the campaign for women’s suffrage. Thanks to their efforts, in 1919 Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th amendment. Women voted nationwide for the first time in the presidential election of 1920.

1st Municipal Auditorium
The Richland Center City Municipal Auditorium was built in 1912. The Women’s Federated Council pushed the city council to be progressive and establish a place of culture and governance. This is the first municipal auditorium (both theatre and government offices in one setting) in the state of Wisconsin. The dream is to fully renovate and restore the building.

Purple Heart City
The Governor designated Richland Center as Wisconsin’s Purple Heart City in 2002 – the place these distinguished awards are given each summer to men and women who have earned that high honor. Local and state dignitaries take part in the yearly ceremony, along with the American Legion. Our American Legion Veterans Memorial Flag Park is located on Highway 14 West, between the UW-Richland Campus and Krouskop Park. You’ll see the flags blowing as you travel Highway 14. There is a Memorial Day Parade in Richland Center, and we hosted the Purple Heart State Convention, as well as a Purple Heart Harley Run, in 2003.

Effigy Mounds
Richland County and Southern Wisconsin is where thousands of earthen monuments in the shapes of animals, spirit figures and humans were built by ancient peoples. These fascinating mounds provide us with rare insights into the ideas of those bygone people. Internationally famous, the mounds have few items deliberately included that might help to explain them – adding to the mystery. The mounds were built 1,000 years ago, between A.D. 750 and 1050. The end of the mound construction coincides with the arrival of foreigners from the south (Illinois). Most, but not all, of the effigy mounds contain human burials. All mounds are regarded by Indian people as being sacred.

Ocooch Living History Center
The Ocooch Living History Center is a monument to the Native American people. Complete with colorful flowers and waterfalls, the Ocooch Living History Center recognizes Indian societies as complex and diverse products of history. The center gives a large history of Native Americans in Wisconsin starting with first coming to the Americas and the rise of Indian civilizations. It goes further in depth by showing how Wisconsin Indians lost their homelands and finishes with foundations for the future. Located next to Our House Senior Living, Ocooch Living History Center aims to give everyone a broader understanding and appreciation of Native Americans in Wisconsin.

DID YOU KNOW?
• From April 15-September 15, cattle were restricted to roving the streets during daylight hours – 1867

• Two kegs of gunpowder blew the roof off the little depot at the corner of Haseltine and Center streets, completely destroying the station – 1882

• First High School band in the U.S. – Richland Center High School – 1909

• A city ordinance banned showing movies on Sundays for profit. The Orpheum worked around this by selling a bag of candy at the door for admittance.

• Liberace played a concert in the early 1930s in Richland Center. A request was made for a mixed play list and not “all long haired music.”

• America’s First Rural NHS was Richland County’s Neighborhood Housing Service – 1983

• Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthplace was in downtown Richland Center – 1867

• State’s first municipal auditorium is Richland Center Performing Arts Center – 1912

• First rural electrification in Wisconsin, obtaining central station electric power from a rural electric cooperative –1936

• Richland County is the birthplace of GTE (now known as Verizon) - 1918

• One of the largest natural bridges in Wisconsin, Rockbridge, is 20 feet wide and 10 feet high.

• Boaz native Richard Brewer deputized his friend, William Bonney, who became better known as Billy the Kid. Brewer lost his life in a shoot-out on April 4th and he became a legend – 1878

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