Nestled in the southeast corner of Wisconsin, Burlington originally blossomed from agricultural and industrial roots. The first settlers, in the mid- and late 1830s, were farmers seeking fertile lands and entrepreneurs seeking water power for mills at the junction of the White and Fox Rivers.
A grist mill that supplied flour locally, as well as to Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha, was the first in Wisconsin to ship flour to New York. A wooden mill made the first roll of cloth turned out in Wisconsin and supplied cloth for Union soldiers’ uniforms during the Civil War.
Wheat was the leading farm product through the Civil War days, when livestock and dairying, which had made inroads by 1860, became the major farm industry. Agricultural implement makers and dealers, wagon makers, and blacksmith shops, as well as stores handling groceries, dry goods, clothing, hardware, and other commodities, were established to server the farmers and other residents.
Although Indian mounds and several Indian trails have been noted in the area and a small Potawatomi village existed somewhere in the town of Burlington prior to the 1830s, there was no Indian village in Burlington itself. The Indians, however, hunted in the area and grew some crops in the warmer seasons.
Over the years, Burlington – originally known as Lower Forks and then Foxville – grew to attract a wide variety of business, industry, tourism, and families. The first of two railroad lines was built through Burlington in 1855; the second which still operates, was built in 1886. From 1909 to 1938, Burlington was served by an electric rail line running to the Milwaukee Area.
In the late 1800s, the nearby lakes began attracting summer visitors from Milwaukee and Chicago; and several resorts were built to server vacationers and tourists. The resort properties have since been converted to condominiums and residences.
Today, Burlington is home to several industries, including a Nestle Company chocolate plant; and on Memorial Day weekend, the city hosts an annual chocolate festival, earning it the name of “Chocolate City”.
– Don Vande Sand
Burlington Historical Society