History


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 rolling kettle moraine country in what is now southern Wisconsin that they were moved to call it "Minneiska" - the city beautiful.

The Whitewater area boasts a proud and colorful history that dates back to 1836 when the first settler carved his initials on a tree next to Whitewater Creek.

Four years later, commerce came to Whitewater when a New York native by the name of Dr. James Trippe erected the first grist mill. Although the Whitewater school system got its start during this period of the founding of Whitewater, it has managed to keep up a steady progress since its early beginning. It was a humble beginning in 1840 with the building of a tiny log cabin erected in a clearing just northwest of the original public library; the one-room school, 16 by 18 feet, was presided over by Sheldon C. Powers. The tiny cabin soon gave way to a larger building which became dear to the hearts of early Whitewater settlers as "Little Brick," located in Library Park where the Birge Fountain now stands.

Increasing enrollments, then and continuing to the present, brought about the need for increased facilities. As a result the "Union School" became a reality in 1854 under the guiding hand of the Rev. A. D. Hendricksen. "Standing on the elevation back of the Union School on Center Street on Monday, May 18, 1857, we counted over 30 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."

During one of the busiest building periods in early Whitewater, the city erected Union School House Number 2, also known as the East Side School and now as Washington School.

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, in 1872, the local school board appointed F. J. Starin, Mr. Hansen and F. C. Keyser to study the needs of public schools.

In July of 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. Also, the German School managers were considering abandoning their school, requiring the district to absorb additional students, presumably on the east side with the Irish and Norwegians rather than on the west side with the Yankees.

The Union School Center Street development evolved into "Big Brick," which was constructed in the early 1880s, 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. Not unlike the pride our current principal has in showing visitors through the Whitewater High School ($12 million plus) that was completed in 1993.

The first graduation was the Class of 1887. There was one graduate, Nellie Wright. She later became Mrs. Nellie J. Anderson, and her last known address in the early 1900s was 4638 Lake Park Avenue, Chicago Illinois. Her graduation was quite an event and was covered in detail by the Whitewater Register, including a speech about modern women taking their place in the world. It would be a service to the district if someone who might know the history of Nellie would provide it to the Central Office, 419 S. Elizabeth St. Whitewater WI 53190.

A. R. Page took over the position of superintendent in 1920 and again the school system felt the effect of growing pains and the need for a larger building. Through the inspiring leadership of Mr. Page the city took a big step by bonding itself for $133,000, which made the new high school building 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. "Big Brick," although reduced to ashes, still held a warm spot in the memory of the men and women in Whitewater, as it had played such a part in their lives.

The new high school building became known affectionately as "City High" because the local Normal School (now University of Wisconsin-Whitewater) also had a high school and it was necessary to distinguish between them. It was constructed on the site of the old Esterly property at the end of Center Street. The Esterly home had been used as a school prior to its razing for the construction of the new building.

As Whitewater began to feel the effects of the population bulge following World War II, it became apparent that another building project would have to be undertaken. A new elementary school on Prince Street (Lincoln Elementary) opened its door in 1953 and helped take the pressure from the overcrowded conditions in the high school building. The new building met the needs for a short time and it was agreed by the voters that further building would have to be done. The old East Side School built in 1857, with an addition in 1872 at a total cost of $5,500, became the next point of expansion, with an addition to the building being completed in 1955 at the cost of $101,900.

It was during this period of the school history that the size of the Board of Education grew to a total of 16members, making it one of the largest boards in the state. The increase in board size was brought about by the annexing of several rural school districts to the Whitewater system. The first annual meeting of Joint School District #1 of Whitewater, Lima and LaGrange Townships was held on July 1, 1955. On July 14, it petitioned for consolidation with the Whitewater (city) School District. On July 25, it approved a $130,000 building loan. Lakeview School was dedicated on November 11, 1957.

Mr. P. A. Piddington succeeded Mr. Bjorge as Superintendent in 1956. At this time it became evident that a new high School would be needed. The new building opened its doors in February 1960.

On July 1, 1960, Whitewater put into effect the first unified school district in the state of Wisconsin. The new-type district set up by a new law reduced the membership of the Board of Education (now called School Board) to seven members, all elected at large, and separated all school business and budget matters from the city council control.

The district has added to Lakeview School and completed a new high school in 1993. In addition, district taxpayers approved a spending referendum in the spring of 1996 for $1.5 million for technology improvement in all schools.

Mr. Thane Uglow (1968) followed Mr. Piddington as District Administrator, and several additions to the schools attested to the continued growth. Dr. John K. Negley succeeded Mr. Uglow in 1983. Dr. Leslie Steinhaus succeeded Dr. Negley in 2002. Dr. Suzanne Zentner succeeded Dr. Steinhaus in 2009. Mr. Eric Runez succeeded Dr. Zentner in 2011. Dr. Mark Elworthy succeeded Mr. Runez in 2016. 

This brief summary shows indeed the continued support throughout the years of the Whitewater citizens for public education.

 


 

Lima Center Bell
The Lima Center Schoolhouse bell was chosen as the logo for the Whitewater Unified School District. The bell was purchased for the Lima Center school in 1881 at a cost of $60 and weighed 200 pounds. It was raised on the school the last day of the year, 1881. It was heard at midnight welcoming the new year with its merry chimes. M. A. Child, a respected depot agent, was the prime mover in the enterprise and many made generous contributions. It was stated that "those who love to listen to its beneficient music will greatly sympathize with those who do not, but have to." In 1962, all Wisconsin school districts were required to become a part of a high school district, so the Lima Center school became part of the Whitewater Unified School District. The bicentennial project of the Student Congress at Whitewater High School was completed as the Lima Center Schoolhouse bell was mounted on a historical marker in front of the high school, now the Whitewater Middle School, where it still rests today.