Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Stevens Point, Wisconsin - A Brief History

A Brief History of Stevens point | Wisconsin Historical Society

Stevens Point is located in central Wisconsin along the Wisconsin River in Portage County. Two years after the Menominee Treaty of 1836, George Stevens traveled the Wisconsin River looking for opportunities in the growing lumber industry. Stevens used the Stevens Point area as a strategic stopping and storage place during his travels. Although he had no permanent connection to the place, Stevens' name was adopted for the city that was eventually established there.

With no roads into the vast northern Wisconsin woods, the river system served as the primary means of transport and gave rise to Stevens Point as the "Gateway to the Pineries." The timber industry dominated the area for decades and made Stevens Point into a thriving city.

Until the 1860s, most of the city's incoming immigrants were of British and Norwegian descent. After 1860, more than half of the immigrants coming to the area were Polish.

Many of these immigrants became farmers and potatoes were a favored cash crop. The bustling market square in the center of Stevens Point was a favored trading spot for farmers and other businessmen as well as a social gathering place for residents.

Other prominent Stevens Point businesses include the Stevens Point Brewery, which opened its doors in 1857. In 1895, the Lullabye Furniture Corporation invented the self-rocking cradle. One year later, in 1896, Jack Frost began selling homemade fishing flies, a business that made Stevens Point into the "Fly-tackle Capital of the World."

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, opening as the Stevens Point Normal School in 1894, became the first university in the nation to offer a major in conservation. The school is still focused on the environment today, with courses in forestry, water, and wildlife sciences.

[Source: WHS Library-Archives Staff, 2009]