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You don’t have to go back hundreds of years to discover why the Oconomowoc area was settled — the reasons are still here.

It was the area’s abundant natural resources that attracted its first recorded settlers, members of the Potowatomi and Winnebago tribes. Deep woodlands and clear lakes provided the tribes with wild game, fish and the raw materials to build their tools and homes, and it was they who named the area “Coo-No- Mo-Wauk,” or “Where the Waters Meet.”

The first white settlers were Charles Sheldon and Phil Brewer, who, in 1837, built log cabins in the area. The pair were soon followed by other settlers lured by stories of the area’s beauty and abundant resources. Early settler John S. Rockwell was responsible for establishing a great deal of the town’s foundation. The young entrepreneur built a grist mill, and established the town’s first store, hotel, fire department and library. The “Father of Oconomowoc,” as he came to be known, also donated land for the community’s churches, and started Bord du Lac, a women’s seminary.

Becoming the “Newport of the West”
Oconomowoc was incorporated as city in 1865, and by 1875 its population had grown to almost 3,000. Following the arrival of the railroad, Oconomowoc became a favorite summer retreat of tourists and wealthy resorters from Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and other Midwestern cities. Some of the nation’s wealthiest families built stately summer homes on the lakes, and by the 1880s Oconomowoc featured six luxury resorts. From the 1870’s until the Great Depression, Oconomowoc was known as the “Newport of the West, “ and visits by Presidents Cleveland, Harrison, Grant, Taft, Collidge, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt earned Main Street the nickname “Avenue of the Presidents. “

The area also attracted new businesses, such as the Carnation Company, now Outlook Foods, and the Oconomowoc Canning Company. Pabst Farms’ became internationally known for its purebred livestock.

Source: Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce

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