Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Burlington, Wisconsin - A Brief History

A Brief History of Burlington | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

The city of Burlington is located in Racine County, at the convergence of the White and Fox Rivers in southeastern Wisconsin. Originally called Foxville, the name was changed to Burlington on July 15, 1839.

Like many other early settlements in the state, Burlington's location was largely determined by the availability of waterpower to run saw and gristmills. Moses Smith, William Whiting, Lemuel Smith, and Benjamin Perce first came to the area in 1835. They built a shanty along the Fox River while exploring the region in search of land for farming and waterpower. In early 1837, a dam and sawmill were completed, as well as a small gristmill, which ground the first flour shipped from Wisconsin to New York. That same year, the first bridge to span the Fox River was constructed, enabling grain and other products to be hauled to Southport (now Kenosha). In 1843, a woolen mill was built, which made the first roll of cloth turned out in Wisconsin and later produced cloth for Civil War uniforms.

By 1876, Burlington had nearly 2,000 residents. Incorporated as a city in 1900, Burlington today boasts a population in excess of 9,936 and is commonly know in Wisconsin as the "Chocolate City" thanks to the presence of the Nestle Chocolate Plant.

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[Source: WHS Library-Archives Staff, 2009]