Long before the first Europeans set foot upon the shores of the New World, the Indians so cherished a certain spot nestled in the hills of the rolling kettle moraine country in what is now southern Wisconsin, that they were moved to call it "Minnieska,” meaning beautiful. What is now defined as Whitewater boasts a proud and colorful history that officially dates back to 1836 when the first settler carved his initials on a tree next to Whitewater Creek. And the history of Whitewater has always included the community’s dedication toward quality schools.
In 1840, commerce came to Whitewater when a New York native by the name of Dr. James Trippe erected the first grist (grain) mill. The school district's humble beginning came that same year, with the building of a tiny log cabin erected in a clearing just northwest of the original public library. It was a one room school, sixteen by eighteen feet, presided over by Sheldon C. Powers. The tiny cabin soon gave way to a larger building that became fondly known to the early Whitewater settlers as "Little Brick." It was located in Library Park where the Birge Fountain now stands. But it wasn't long before increased enrollment brought about the need for additional facilities. As a result, the "Union School" became a reality in 1854 at the start one of Whitewater's biggest growth periods. It was only three years before another expansion was needed.
The city erected Union School House Number 2, known as the East Side School (current site of Washington Elementary) in 1857. School leader Rev. A. D. Hendricksen remarked, "Standing on the elevation back of the Union School on Center Street, on Monday, May 18, 1857, we counted over thirty houses not yet finished and many more with the paint scarcely dry on them, and having every look of newness. The sound of the carpenter's hammer and saw is to be heard all over town." Several months after the Civil War in 1865, Whitewater's German community built a school on the triangle between the intersection of Franklin and Janesville Streets.
Seven years later, the local school board appointed F. J. Starin, Mr. Hansen and F. C. Keyser to study the needs of public schools. In July, 1872, this committee prepared an elaborate report showing that only one fourth of the total 457 seats provided in the district were located on the east side. At the same time, the German School managers were considering abandoning their school, requiring the district to absorb additional students. The decision was made to expand East Side School.
The Union School Center Street development evolved into "Big Brick," which was constructed in the early 1880's, and it was in this building that a high school developed. Whitewater became the envy of other communities in the area with its excellent school facilities, and Principal W. J. Pollock was happy to show visitors through the building. The first graduation was for the class of 1887. There was only one graduate that first year: Nellie Wright. Her graduation was quite an event, covered in detail by The Whitewater Register. It included a speech about “modern women taking their place in the world.”
A. R. Page took over the position of superintendent in 1920. It wasn't long thereafter when the school system suffered from growing pains again and needed a larger building. The city took a big step by bonding itself for $133,000, resulting in a new high school building becoming a reality in 1928. It turned out to be timely planning as "Big Brick" burned to the ground the same year and the students had a beautiful new high school waiting for them.
The new high school building was known as "City High" because the local Normal School (now UW- Whitewater) also had a high school, so it was necessary to distinguish between them. City High was constructed on the site of the old Esterly property at the end of Center Street. The Esterly home had been used as a private school prior to its razing for the construction of the new high school.
As children of the post-World War II baby boom entered and made their way up through the school system, a rapid succession of building expansion projects followed during the 1950’s: During this decade, our school system developed to include the townships of Whitewater, Lima and LaGrange along with the city of Whitewater. A new elementary school on Prince Street (Lincoln Elementary) opened its doors in 1953 and helped take the pressure off the overcrowded conditions at City High. But Lincoln School met the community's needs for only a short time and the voters agreed that further building was necessary. The old East Side School, originally built in 1857, became the next point of expansion in 1955. Just two years later, Lakeview School was built for $130,000 and dedicated on November 11, 1957. And a new high school opened its doors on the site of the current middle school in February, 1960.
With all this growth and expansion of district boundaries, the size of the Board of Education grew to a total of sixteen members, making it one of the largest boards in the State. On July 1, 1960, Whitewater schools evolved into the first “Unified” School District (WUSD) in the state of Wisconsin. This novel type of district, which was created under a new law, reduced the membership of the Board of Education (now called School Board) to seven members, all elected at large. And this shifted all school business and budget matters from city council control.
Since the establishment of the Whitewater Unified School District, a number of school improvement projects have been required to keep up with need. Community support has included passage of a number of major referendums during the past 15 years, such as financial support for completion of a new high school at its current location in 1993 and a district-wide technology improvement program three years later. Most recently, after years of deep district budget cuts to stay within state revenue limits while operating costs continued to rise, voters passed an operational referendum to exceed the revenue cap for four years. Our community has continued to demonstrate its commitment to a tradition of excellence in public education as it has since the early days of Whitewater.
We currently have five schools (Lakeview, Lincoln, and Washington Elementaries; Whitewater Middle School and Whitewater High School) with modern facilities, outstanding staff, and approximately 2000 students total. And every day, we focus on Building a Legacy of Excellence Student by Student.