East Main Street



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The Evolution of Waterford’s East Side

The Village of Waterford was originally surveyed into streets and lots in 1842 with a fairly balanced design on both sides of the Fox River. (See EARLY HISTORY and WEST SIDE for further information.) However, business development on the east side didn’t flourish until the 1860s and early ’70s – some 30 years after settlement.

An 1858 map sets the base for the development of Waterford’s east side. Relatively few businesses were located on the east side of the Fox River at that time. As the relocation of the west side plank road shifted traffic through the east side of town, business development was primed to grow, not only on Main Street, but also on the cross streets of First, Second and Third.

1858 Waterford Village Map cropped

1858 Map of Waterford with Business Directory

It has not been determined when the plank road was shifted to run through the village, however, when it did, there were more available lots to develop springing up a number of support businesses. Mercantile stores, barbershops, shoe repair, a cooper shop (barrels), a jewelry store, saloons, harness and livery stables, hotels, among others, would populate the east side, rather than the west side, which had become mostly residential in expansion. All schools were on the west side and the churches were mixed on both sides.

A wooden bridge spanned the river but was easily damaged or destroyed with the spring runoff or flooding rainfalls. It frequently had to be repaired or replaced. After a major flooding incident in the Spring of 1881, which washed away the bridge, a lattice-style iron bridge took its place for many years. It had a lattice tower built above that held the fire bell which would be wrung to alert the village’s volunteer firefighters in the event of a fire. It lasted until the present concrete structure was built in the early 1930s. A new bridge is scheduled for construction in 2019.

1876 Rac Advocate Waterford Directory1

1876 Rac Advocate Waterford Directory2

1876 Business Directory – Racine Advocate

At the center of the village would be the primary reason for its existence – water power. The area along the river from the dam to Main Street became the “industrial park” of its time. A sawmill, two grist mills, creamery, fanning mill, and others crowded together to share the water resource. A “runaway” water trench fed several businesses along its return back to the river just north of the bridge. More information can be found at the MILLS OF WATERFORD page.

It was on Friday evening, July 2, 1898 that a catastrophic fire destroyed most of the businesses on the east side. (See 1898 FIRE for more details) Rebuilding allowed officials to raise the level of Main Street near the bridge which was a marshy area and had been subject to periodic flooding1. Many of the businesses were rebuilt from the ruins shortly thereafter. Others sold their burned lots for redevelopment. A revived business district rose out of the ashes to create even more opportunities to grow the village.

The following slide show starts from early photographic images2 and proceeds through time to show how the East Side evolved through nearly 180 years to what it is today – a quiet, caring, yet vibrant small town in southeast Wisconsin.



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Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.

NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford.  We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared.  Credit will be given.


  1. Waterford: Stories of our village and it’s busy life – Waterford, Wisconsin, 1923, Waterford Post
  2. Wisconsin Digital Collections: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.WaterfordLocHist
  3. 1858 Map from Racine Historical Society.

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