History of City

Early History

From rather humble origins, Middleton has become a thriving and vibrant community that is a vital commercial and business center as well as the home of approximately 17,000 residents. The following is a description of how Middleton grew into one of the “best places to live” in the United States.

First Residents

With its rolling landscape and ample waterways, the Middleton area was a frequent camping ground for the Algonquin tribe long before white settlers arrived. The Algonquins were known as "mound builders" and the product of their labors can still be seen at locations throughout the region. Later, the Ho-Chunk became the dominant tribe in this region.

A fur-trading post was established on the northwest shore of Lake Mendota in 1832 (now Mendota County Park). The trading post was operated by Michael St.Cyr, the area's first carpenter.

Important Early Citizens

Two of the most significant figures in the history of early Middleton were W.B. Slaughter and T.T. Whittlesey. In 1836, Mr. Slaughter platted a portion of the area near the northwest edge of Lake Mendota to be called "City of Four Lakes.” He dreamed that his new city would one day be the territorial capital, but politicians in Madison ended his ambitious aspirations.

Mr. Whittlesey was a former member of Congress from Connecticut and a judge. When the City of Four Lakes was thwarted, Mr. Whittlesey acquired some of Mr. Slaughter’s land in the vicinity of the current Century Avenue and Branch Street and developed the community of Pheasant Branch. What is now called University Avenue was originally named Whittlesey Street.

Separating From Madison

The Township of Middleton separated from the Township of Madison on March 11, 1848, just months before Wisconsin became a state. Harry Barnes, the first postmaster in the new township, suggested the name Middleton after a community in his home state of Vermont. Mr. Whittlesey was the first chairman of the Township of Middleton. With an influx of settlers, the township grew. The two most prominent and populated communities in the township were Pheasant Branch and East Middleton (later known as Middleton Junction, located east of Pine Bluff along the present-day Mineral Point Road).

The Railroad & Middleton Station

The future of both Pheasant Branch and East Middleton hinged on a single fateful decision, the placement of a new railroad line from Madison to Mississippi River shipping docks in Prairie du Chien. Much to the dismay of both communities, the tracks were built in 1856 directly between East Middleton and Pheasant Branch through a sparsely populated area that is now the City of Middleton.

Establishing Middleton

The railroad afforded an array of economic opportunities. Businesses and people constructed stores and homes near the first railroad depot, which was built by Mr. Slaughter. The original depot was located across Parmenter Street from the current depot building. To identify the rail stop, a sign was erected on top of the depot with the name, Middleton Station. Middleton Station was surveyed and the plat (map) was registered on November 3, 1856. Because registering the first plat is a critical legal step in the formation of a community, 1856 traditionally has been recognized as the year when Middleton was established. When they filed for incorporation as a village in 1905, the residents maintained the name “Middleton” but dropped the “Station.”

Early Commodities

With wheat as the king of the local economy, Middleton Station featured large grain elevators along the railroad tracks. A stone quarry, lumberyard, tin shop, pickle factory, opera house, stockyard, blacksmith shop and other bustling enterprises served the local residents. When disease decimated the wheat crops in the mid to late1800s, farmers wisely switched to dairying throughout the region.

Demographics in Settlers

The first settlers in the area were English. Later, German immigrants arrived, and they became the predominant nationality. For several years, the local newspaper published a German language supplement.In 1852, the first school opened near the area where St. Bernard’s Cemetery is now located on Branch Street. The first high school building was constructed in 1870 on Terrace Avenue across from the present Capitol Brewery.

First Fire Fighters

A devastating fire on June 19, 1900, destroyed or damaged most of the downtown district. The fire spurred the creation of a volunteer fire department in 1901. This highly respected volunteer firefighting organization is still going strong today. During its early years, Middleton Station residents endured somewhat offensive names for their community. For a time, it was nicknamed “Peatsville” because of a local business that cut and sold peat (for use as heating fuel) from the bogs near the modern-day Airport Road. 

Modern Middleton

Throughout the early 20th century, Middleton was a work in progress, like much of the Madison metropolitan area. On April 9, 1963 Middleton became a city, and the foundation for modernization and progress was created. In the 1980s, the grain elevators and other blighted remnants of the old railroad days were replaced with a downtown renovation project.

Residential developments in Fox Ridge, Stonefield, Orchid Heights, and other areas of the city added thousands of new citizens. In the 1990s, residential development continued with the addition of North Lake and Middleton Hills, which feature Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture. In the new millennium, Middleton has sustained its well-planned growth with continued downtown renovations and the addition of the Greenway Station retail center and commercial offices just east of the city-owned Pleasant View Golf Course.

Civic Improvements & Amenities

Recent civic improvements also abound with an award-winning public library, a recently expanded senior center, and a modern high school facility. During the summer, the outdoor aquatic center is an extremely popular destination for families throughout the region. A highly acclaimed Performing Arts Center is the city’s cultural focal point. The city also has maintained green space and recreational areas.

National Recognition & Success

Approximately 25 percent of the land within the city limits is open space, which includes 22 parks and 25 conservancy areas encompassing 1,100 acres. The quality of life in Middleton, often called the Good Neighbor City, was nationally recognized in 2005 when Money® magazine named it the seventh of "The 100 Best Places to Live" in the U.S.A.

Although the national acclaim is appreciated, it must be shared. Middleton owes much of its recent success to the pioneers of the past who worked together and overcame numerous hardships to create a community with constantly expanding potential and a consistently bright future.