Delavan, WI is very excited to host the Walldogs June 24-28 of this year. Our community is waiting in anticipation to see how your creative minds and brushes portray our history.
Before I get you excited about our past, let me tell you a little about our present.
Delavan is a city with a population of over 8,000 people of which 29% are Hispanic, a little higher than Wisconsin’s state average of 6%! Their representation is found in some of the shops and restaurants downtown.
Our downtown, like many others, has changed dramatically after an interstate was built on the southeast part of the city. The interstate brought many new chain stores, and some businesses that were once located downtown moved to that Highway 43 corridor. This left our downtown with a huge decline in traffic, customers and eventually shops and stores. Now that all of these businesses are located outside of the downtown what could be done to get visitors to come downtown?
Through the years the downtown has tried different promotions and has pondered the question – How do you make the downtown a destination? The answer to this question is especially important to the independently owned and operated shops and restaurants that line our beautiful downtown. Unfortunately, many of those shops sit empty, abandon by the last business that thought it could make a go of it, and failed. It is scary enough to start a business, let alone where there is little foot traffic.
State road 11 runs right through the heart of downtown, so there is a constant flow of traffic. But how do we get those cars to stop? If more people passing though pulled over, perhaps we could fill these empty storefronts. We are counting on the Walldog created murals to make people stop and admire them, and maybe have lunch and shop in a store or two. So in a nutshell – our downtown needs the Walldogs and welcomes you with open arms!
I won’t go into every mural topic, but let me share a little about our history. Delavan was founded as a Temperance Colony in 1836. (But don’t worry, it didn’t stay that way!) The founders, Samuel and Henry Phoenix were abolitionists and very involved in the temperance movement of the time. When they found this area, which reminded them so much of their home in New York, they decided to settle here. They purchased 4,000 acres of land and started selling it to other like minded people back home. They even had it written into the deeds that no alcohol could be consumed, stored or sold on the property so they could guarantee that the demon alcohol would stay out of the town they would call Delavan after Temperance leader Edward C. Delavan. But by 1845, both Phoenix brothers had died, and the codicil they put in the deeds regarding alcohol was declared unconstitutional. So now, within a three block stretch downtown there are four taverns and a few other places to purchase libations. smile emoticon
Shortly after that, the Mabie Brothers found Delavan Lake to be a wonderful winter quarters for their circus. To be able to start traveling in the spring from here for their performances allowed their season begin earlier. Delavan would go on to become the winter quarters for more than 26 circuses from the mid 1800’s through the turn of the century, and also become the birthplace of the P.T. Barnum Circus. Delavan was bestowed the honor of being the “19th Century Circus Capitol of the Nation”, and Spring Grove Cemetery is the final resting place of about 250 circus performers. Juliet the elephant was buried in the lake when she died, but that is a whole other story.
Just after the turn of the century, the Art Institute of Chicago started holding summer classes here and our city has been the home of many great artists.
1930’s & 40’s brought some of the best big bands of the times to the ballrooms around Delavan Lake. Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong and Al Yankovic were only a few of the big names that were drawn to Delavan when it was a ‘Ballroom Mecca’.
There are so many other things I’d love to tell you about, but I have gone on too long already.
On behalf of the Walldog Committee and the residents of Delavan – we can’t wait to welcome you in person!