West Bend, Wisconsin
Aerial view of downtown
Aerial view of downtown
Official seal of West Bend, Wisconsin
Location of West Bend in Washington County, Wisconsin.
Location of West Bend in Washington County, Wisconsin.
Coordinates: 43°25′30″N 88°11′00″W / 43.42500°N 88.18333°W / 43.42500; -88.18333Coordinates: 43°25′30″N 88°11′00″W / 43.42500°N 88.18333°W / 43.42500; -88.18333
Country United States
State Wisconsin
 • MayorChristophe E. Jenkins
 • Total15.30 sq mi (39.62 km2)
 • Land15.14 sq mi (39.22 km2)
 • Water0.16 sq mi (0.40 km2)
932 ft (284 m)
 • Total31,752
 • Density2,133.7/sq mi (805.46/km2)
Time zoneUTC−6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes
53090, 53095
Area code262
FIPS code55-85350

West Bend is a city in and the county seat of Washington County, Wisconsin, United States. As of the 2020 census, the population was 31,752.[4]


Early history and settlement

Northeastern Washington County's earliest known inhabitants were pre-Columbian Mound Builders, who constructed effigy mounds in the area sometime between 650 CE and 1300 CE. They were semi-nomadic and survived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. They made pottery and constructed tools from bone, wood, stone, and occasionally copper.[5] They built effigy mounds shaped like mammals, reptiles, birds and other creatures, both real and mythical, as well as conical, oval, and linear mounds, some of which contain human burials.[6] Some mounds in the West Bend area were destroyed by settlers to create farm fields, but several dozen survive and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Washington County "Island" Effigy Mound District, which includes the Lizard Mound County Park site in nearby Farmington as well as several privately owned sites.[7]

In the early 19th century when the first White settlers arrived in Southeastern Wisconsin, the Potawatomi and Menominee Indians inhabited the land now occupied by the City of West Bend.[8] In 1831, the Menominee surrendered their claims to the land to the United States Federal Government through the Treaty of Washington. The Potawatomi surrendered their land claims in 1833 through the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, which (after being ratified in 1835) required them to leave the area by 1838.[9][10] While many Native people moved west of the Mississippi River to Kansas, some chose to remain, and were referred to as "strolling Potawatomi" in contemporary documents because many of them were migrants who subsisted by squatting on their ancestral lands, which were now owned by settlers.[11] In the mid-1800s, there was a large Native American village on the shore of Silver Lake, southwest of the modern-day City of West Bend.[12] Eventually the Potawatomi who evaded forced removal gathered in northern Wisconsin, where they formed the Forest County Potawatomi Community.[11]

The present-day city traces its origins to two communities that formed when the first White settlers arrived in the mid-1840s. One community was West Bend, and the other was the now-defunct Village of Barton. In 1845, the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature authorized the construction of a road to connect Fond du Lac and Milwaukee with a new settlement near the halfway point to provide provisions and overnight accommodations for travelers. Byron Kilbourn, James Kneeland, and Erastus B. Wolcott were the commissioners tasked with constructing the new settlement, and they decided to locate it on a westward bend in the Milwaukee River—the present-day location of the City of West Bend—because of the river's potential as a power source for mills.[13] By the end of 1845, they had purchased eight eighty-acre tracts of land along the river, and invited local landowner E. N. Higgins to join their venture as well. In 1846, Wolcott constructed a dam and a sawmill in the new community, and in 1848, he constructed a gristmill.[14]

In 1845, land surveyor and early settler Barton Salisbury built a sawmill on the river north of West Bend. The community that grew around the mill was known as Salisbury's Mills before to the name was changed to Barton in 1853. Additional sawmills and gristmills sprang up on the river in the community's early years, and by 1855, Barton's population was over 1,000, making it larger than neighboring West Bend.[15] Despite its early growth, however, Barton would be overshadowed by West Bend in the coming decades.

19th century politics and growth

The old Washington County Courthouse and Jail was constructed in West Bend in 1889. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and now serves as a local history museum.
The old Washington County Courthouse and Jail was constructed in West Bend in 1889. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and now serves as a local history museum.

The Wisconsin Territorial legislature created the Town of West Bend on January 20, 1846. At the time, the town included land that is now part of the City of West Bend, as well as the neighboring towns of Barton, Farmington, Kewaskum, and Trenton.[16]

In the 1840s and early 1850s, Washington County included the land along Lake Michigan that is now Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. Port Washington served as the county seat, which was controversial at the time. West Bend, Cedarburg, and Grafton vied for position of Washington County seat and the material advantages it would entail. In 1850, the Wisconsin legislature voted to bisected Washington County into northern and southern counties, with Port Washington and Cedarburg as the county seats, respectively. County residents failed to ratify the bill, because there were voting irregularities in some communities. In 1853 the legislature instead bisected the county into eastern and western sections, creating Ozaukee County. Port Washington became the seat of the new county, and the Washington County seat moved to West Bend.[17] The bisection was controversial. When Washington County officials from West Bend arrived in Port Washington to collect relevant county records, they were run out of town, and Ozaukee County officials refused to hand over the records for several months.[18][19]

On November 25, 1853, the County Board of Supervisors attempted to change the name of West Bend to Lamartine City. However, this change was not well-received and the name was changed back 18 hours later.[20]

In November 1862 during the American Civil War, the draft was unpopular with some Washington County residents, including German immigrants who had experienced or fled conscription in their homelands.[21] On the day that men from the nearby Town of Trenton were being drafted at the courthouse in West Bend, a mob disrupted the proceedings and forced the draft commissioner to flee to Milwaukee. On November 22, 1862, the commissioner returned to West Bend with six companies of the 30th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment to prevent further disruptions.[22]

A railroad station was constructed in West Bend in 1873, bringing new residents, businesses and economic connections into the community. The community had previously only been located on the western bank of the Milwaukee River, but in the 1870s residents began to develop property on the river's eastern bank as well. In March 1885, West Bend incorporated as a city.[13][23]

Industrialization and post-war growth

Amity Leather Products manufactured leather billfolds in West Bend between 1915 and 1996. The company constructed an Art Deco factory in the city in 1925, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Amity Leather Products manufactured leather billfolds in West Bend between 1915 and 1996. The company constructed an Art Deco factory in the city in 1925, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the 1890s, West Bend's economy began to transition from a rural market town to an industrial community. Early manufacturers included the Schmidt and Stork Wagon Company; the Enger-Kress Pocketbook Company, which moved its operations to West Bend in 1884;[24] the West Bend Aluminum Company, which began manufacturing low-cost aluminum utensils in 1911; and Amity Leather, which was founded in West Bend in 1915 and was once the world's largest manufacturer of leather billfolds.[25] Other 20th century manufacturers in West Bend included Pick Manufacturing Company, which fabricated automotive parts; Gehl Brothers Manufacturing Company, which produced construction and agricultural equipment; and West Bend Concrete Products.[13]

Barton also benefited from West Bend's growth in the early 20th century, and the community incorporated as the Village of Barton in 1925. However, the village existed for fewer than four decades before being annexed by the City of West Bend on November 1, 1961.[15]

During World War II, West Bend experienced labor shortages because many local men had been conscripted into the military. In 1944 and 1945, Pick Manufacturing Company and the West Bend Canning Company addressed labor shortages by contracting German prisoners of war from local POW camps in Little Kohler and Rockfield.[13][26]

West Bend experienced dramatic population growth during the post–World War II economic expansion. As automobiles became more commonplace, more people moved to West Bend and commuted for work, taking advantage of new roads such as U.S. Route 45, which connected West Bend to Milwaukee. Between 1950 and 1990 the population more than tripled from 6,849 to 23,916, and the city annexed land from the surrounding towns as well as the Village of Barton.[13]

The West Bend tornado on April 4, 1981, struck the city, killing three people and injuring over 100 more.[27] There is a monument at a park near Green Tree Elementary School.[28]

Library controversy

In 2009, a controversy arose after a local couple complained to the West Bend Community Memorial Library about the presence of "sexually explicit books" and "books for youth on homosexuality" in the young adult section of the library.[29][30] A petition[31] called on the library to label the identified books as explicit, move them to the adult section of the library, install Internet content filters on the library's computers, and "adopt a policy to attain balance in the viewpoints of selections (both affirming and opposing) that the libraries carry in issues sufficiently controversial within the West Bend community (i.e. homosexuality). Specifically, we request faith-based and/or ex-gay books affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives be added to the library."

The West Bend Common Council refused to reappoint four library trustees whose terms were ending.[32] One councilman complained that the library board was stonewalling the complaint, while another asserted that the library trustees were not serving the interests of the community “with their ideology.”[33] The council's actions were widely criticized, and local citizens unsuccessfully sought to have the vote rescinded.[34][35][36] After a public hearing on the petition in June 2009,[37] the library board voted to reject any restrictions on young adults' access to books in the library.[38][39]

Four Wisconsin men belonging to the Christian Civil Liberties Union filed a claim against the West Bend library, asking for $30,000 apiece for "emotional distress", and that Francesca Lia Block's book Baby Be-Bop be "burned or destroyed."[40][41][42][43]

Historic sites

The Washington County Historical Society operates four distinct museums located in West Bend.[44] Buildings and sites that have been deemed historic by official bodies include:

Downtown West Bend has a movie theater which originally opened in 1929. The theater was last renovated in 1992 to house a total of three movie screens.[45] The theater was closed and listed for sale in January 2012, with a purchase occurring in May 2012.[46]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.72 square miles (38.12 km2), of which, 14.57 square miles (37.74 km2) is land and 0.15 square miles (0.39 km2) is water.[47]

West Bend is in the Kettle Moraine region, and its topography is varied. The glacial activity has formed many kettles and hills throughout the region.


The average temperature in West Bend ranges from a high of 81 °F (27 °C) (July) to a low average temperature of 11 °F (−12 °C) (January). Record high and low temperatures are 107 °F (42 °C) and −30 °F (−34 °C), respectively.[48] The average annual rainfall is 31.4 in (800 mm). The average annual snow measures 45.6 in (1,160 mm).[49]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)31,563[3]1.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[50]

As of the census[2] of 2020, there were 31,630 people, 12,769 households, and 8,250 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,133.0 inhabitants per square mile (823.6/km2). There were 13,546 housing units at an average density of 929.7 per square mile (359.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.77% White, 1.61% African American, 0.05% Native American, 0.83%Asian, 1.38% from other races, and 1.35% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.9% of the population.

There were 12,769 households, of which 32.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.1% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 35.4% were non-families. 29.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.96.

The median age in the city was 37 years. 24.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 28.9% were from 25 to 44; 24.3% were from 45 to 64; and 14.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.3% male and 51.7% female.


Although many current residents of West Bend work in neighboring communities, the city's economy has been historically based in manufacturing and financial services. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company was founded in the city in 1894[51] and West Bend Savings Bank (now Westbury Bank) in 1926.[52] The West Bend Aluminum Company (later the West Bend Company) was founded in 1911 by Bernhardt C. Ziegler,[53] and remained in West Bend until 2003.[citation needed] Ziegler had previously founded the securities brokerage company B.C. Ziegler & Co. in 1902.[54]

In 1915, Robert H. Rolfs founded Amity Leather in downtown West Bend, which eventually became the world's largest manufacturer of leather billfolds.[55] Amity leather left the city in 1996. The strong economy in West Bend in the 1930s led Ripley's Believe it or Not to claim that West Bend was the only city in the United States that did not enter the Great Depression. In 1949, the printing company Serigraph, Inc. was founded in a garage in West Bend and went on to employ people all over the world.[56] The Gehl Company is also located in West Bend.[57]


The Army National Guard operates an armory near the airport, at 125 Chopper Drive, West Bend.

Recreation and tourism

A paved riverwalk snakes through the city along the banks of the Milwaukee River. The Eisenbahn State Trail,[58] a Rails to Trails project, has added another trail for walking, running, biking, and roller skating. The 1,000-mile National Ice Age Trail crosses through West Bend. West Bend also has over 1,200 acres of parks and green space.[8]

Just north of downtown is Regner Park, which offers a wooded area for hiking, a baseball diamond, a community swimming pond with a beach, a fishing pond, and several softball and soccer fields. On the southeast side of the city is Quaas Creek Park, home to the Roman "Doc" Gonring Athletic Complex and Quaas Creek Trail.[59] This facility includes scenic bike/pedestrian trails, a canoe launch, three softball fields with two concession stands, and a children's play area. Lac Lawrann Conservancy, offers a 137-acre nature preserve and 5 miles of trails.[8]

A farmers' market is held in Downtown West Bend on Saturday mornings from May through October each year. The market is one of the largest in Southeastern Wisconsin. It includes entertainment from various sources and boasts over 65 vendors, selling produce, fruits, meats, eggs, maple syrup, bakery items, spices, soaps, herbal products, prepared foods and more.[60][61] It was listed as a favorite farmers' market in Vogue magazine.[62]

Entertainment on Thursday nights in the summer is provided by Music on Main. The street in Downtown West Bend is closed to traffic and a different band takes the stage at Old Settler's Park each week. One local restaurant is designated each week to provide food and beverages for purchase.[60]

Maxwell Street Days and German Fest are two summer events held in the downtown. Riverfest (formerly Seafood Fest) is held every year at Regner Park on the first weekend in June.[63] A more recent annual event in Riverside Park is JazzFest.

West Bend has been branded the “Geocaching Capital of the Midwest™,“ boasting over 1,200 caches within a 10-mile radius of the city. An annual "Cache Ba$h" has been sponsored by the West Bend Area Chamber of Commerce since 2008.[64]

A holiday light show, Enchantment in the Park, was moved to Regner Park in West Bend in 2012 (previously it was hosted at the Washington County Fair Park).[65] The event accepts donations to support local food pantries.[66] The event also includes an opportunity to visit Santa and ice skating on the pond at Regner Park.

West Bend is also home of the Museum of Wisconsin Art, an art museum dedicated to showing the works of Wisconsin artists.[67]

The Washington County Fair Park and Conference Center is located five miles south of the city. Numerous events are held throughout the year, including the Washington County Fair.[68] The facility was built in 1999 and has a 24,000 sq. ft. pavilion, Agricultural and Equestrian Complexes and theater entertainment areas.[69]


The city is governed by the City Council, consisting of the mayor and eight aldermen.[70]

List Of Mayors[71]
Mayor Term in Office
John Potter Jr
April 22nd, 1885

April 18th, 1886
Henry Lemke
April 18th, 1886

April 21st, 1887
Barnabas S Potter
April 21st, 1887

April 20th, 1888
Charles Miller
April 20th, 1888

April 22nd, 1894
Patrick O'Meara
April 22nd, 1894

April 24th, 1896
Joseph Ott
April 24th, 1896

April 20th, 1899
Ernst Frankenberg
April 20th, 1899

April 21st, 1901
Joseph Ott
April 21st, 1901

April 22nd, 1906
Albert E. Gray
April 22nd, 1906

April 19th, 1908
Andrew Pick
April 19th, 1908

April 20th, 1910
William G Bratz
April 20th, 1910

April 20th, 1916
Joseph Huber
April 20th, 1916

April 21st, 1920
Frank Schoenbeck
April 21st, 1920

April 25th, 1926
Henry O. Regner
April 25th, 1926

April 19th, 1930
Joseph M. Knippel
April 19th, 1930

April 30th, 1940
Clyde J. Schloemer
April 30th, 1940

April 21st, 1948
Micheal Gehl.png
Micheal Gehl
April 21st, 1948

April 21st, 1954
Walter Schmidt
April 21st, 1954

April 22nd, 1960
Paul Henke
April 22nd, 1960

April 23rd, 1966
Ralph Schoenhaar
April 23rd, 1966

April 20th, 1978
John Pick
April 20th, 1978

April 24th, 1981
Donald Gonring
April 24th, 1981

April 21st, 1987
Micheal R. Miller
April 21st, 1987

April 20th, 2005
Doug Bade
April 20th, 2005

April 28th, 2007
Kristine Deiss
April 28th, 2007

April 20th, 2011
Kraig Sadownikow
April 20th, 2011

April 21st, 2020
Download (8).jpg
Christophe E. Jenkins
April 21st, 2020



The city is served by the West Bend School District. The public schools in the district include six elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools that share the same building.[citation needed]

A public charter school, Pathways, was created in the 2014–2015 school year, serving grades 7–10. The school began serving grades 7–12 during the 2016–2017 school year. Pathways Charter School closed permanently on June 30, 2019.

The two high schools, West Bend East and West Bend West, are housed in a single building. The schools share facilities, but are operated as independent schools. Each school has its own sports teams and mascot.

The two middle schools are Silverbrook Intermediate School and Badger middle school. Each school serves grades 5-6 and 7-8 respectively.

Rolf's Educational Center provides Head Start, Title I, and Early childhood education programs.

The district also operates an alternative school, the West Bend Online Learning Academy.

Post-secondary schools in West Bend include University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Washington County (UWM-WC) and Moraine Park Technical College.

There are also a number of Pre-K and K–8 private schools in West Bend.

Lutheran schools include Good Shepherd Lutheran School,[72] of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Trinity Lutheran School,[73] of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and St. John's Lutheran School,[74] of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

Roman Catholic schools include St. Frances Cabrini School[75] and Holy Angels School.[76]


West Bend has a country music station, WMBZ (92.5 FM) and a classic hits station, WIBD (1470 AM). The official newspaper of the City of West Bend is the West Bend Daily News.[77]

The West Bend Booster is an independent, family-owned newspaper covering the area and has an office in West Bend.[78] In 2020, due to COVID-19, The Booster's parent company, Booster Publications, announced that they would permanently close.[79]

The city of West Bend and the West Bend School District maintain their own separate public, educational, and government access channels, carried by both Spectrum and AT&T U-verse throughout the region and also online.


The West Bend Municipal Airport is a city-owned, public-use airport located three nautical miles (6 km) east of the central business district of West Bend.[80]

The options for public transportation within West Bend include the city and county taxi programs. The Washington County Commuter Express provides bus service to and from the city of Milwaukee.[8]

The city of West Bend is served by US 45 as a freeway bypass west of Downtown, Wis 33, and Wis 144.

Notable people

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "West Bend, Wisconsin" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (February 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Sister cities


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  35. ^ Vote on Library Board Stands West Bend Daily News May 19, 2009
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  38. ^ "Library board rejects restrictions". archive.jsonline.com.
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  42. ^ Library Book Riles Small Wisconsin Town, ABCNews.com, June 19, 2009
  43. ^ A teen book burns at the stake, Salon.com, June 16, 2009
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  71. ^ https://cms9files.revize.com/westbendwi/Mayor/mayors_past__present_1.pdf
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  73. ^ "Welcome from the Principal – Trinity ELS School".
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