Learn about the History of the Wausau Area!

Wausau River District

Downtown History Minute

Marathon County Historical Society

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Wisconsin Hometown Stories

Take A Tour of Wausau’s Historic Downtown Buildings

The Landmark Moments in Wausau’s History

1838

George Stephens comes to survey the area, and by the end of the following year, he will establish the first mill on the Wisconsin River at a place known as Big Bull Falls. 

1845

Mrs. J.L. Moore gives birth to the first child born in Wausau. This does not include the Native Americans who resided in the region,  but this birth shows us there were women among the lumberjacks settling in the area.

1850

Marathon County is created, with the county seat located at the small, but growing community of Big Bull Falls.

1852

At the insistence of community leaders such as lumber baron Walter McIndoe, the name Wausau is chosen to represent the settlement, replacing “Big Bull Falls”.

1860

George Ruder establishes the ​first brewery in Marathon County off Grand Avenue.

1861

The Village of Wausau is incorporated.

1868

The First County Fair is held on the newly built fairgrounds west of Wausau. The Marathon County Agricultural Society had been formed the previous year and continues to put on the annual fair to this day, even though the fairgrounds became Marathon Park in 1921. 

1872

Wausau becomes a city.

1883

In one of the largest parades and festivities in the history of Wausau, the German-American Bicentennial is held to recognize the 200th anniversary of the first settlement in the New World by Germans. 

1887

The Wausau Telephone Company begins to operate in the City of Wausau.

1898

The Grand Opera House is opened on 4th Street. It would be a favorite location for entertainment, including the first venue to show motion pictures in town. It was eventually torn down and replaced with the more modern Grand Theater in 1927.

1906

Wausau Electric Street Car Company is formed and builds a line to service much of Wausau. A few years later, it was extended down to Rothschild and Schofield, as well as further extensions to the West Side.

1914

A crowd gathers to watch the installation of a sign atop City Hall exhorting the citizens to “Work For Wausau”. For years to come, this sign, which was fitted with electric lights, lit up the night sky with the message chosen to promote the city.

1922

Helen Ohm is elected to the City Council, in the process of becoming the first Alderwoman in Wisconsin.

1924

The Hotel Wausau is built. The glamorous building was constructed by a Milwaukee based developer, who put 1.5 million dollars into the building. In the 1970s, it was transformed into apartments that remain today.

1926

The First Annual Wausau Winter Frolic Festival is held. To promote and celebrate winter sports, this event had a short initial run (before difficult years during the Depression of the 1930s brought it to an end). It was revived in the 1950s and later in the late 1980s, helping to promote many new and exciting winter sports. This event helped bring an interest to curling and ski jumping in the city.

1929

President Calvin Coolidge comes to Wausau as the key note speaker for the Convention of the Wisconsin American Legion. This event was reported to be the “greatest event ever to be held in the history of Wausau”.

1934

The school children of Wausau participate in a city-wide parade to raise money for a municipal pool. The first community pool was built later that year.

1941

The Wausau Lumberjacks Baseball Team takes the league pennant!

1950

The Wausau Jaycees take over the Fourth of July Celebration at Marathon Park. The fireworks, music and food have remained an annual tradition ever since.

1954

WSAW-TV begins broadcasting, as the first television station to broadcast in Wausau.

1964

The first Festival of the Arts is held in Wausau. It started as a relatively small affair on the grounds of the MCHS museum, and has grown to become one of the largest events in Wausau each year.

1970

The two hospitals in Wausau: St. Mary’s Hospital and Memorial Hospital agree to merge to become one entity. Until the new Wausau Hospital Center was built in 1979, the two hospitals operated as Wausau Hospital North (St. Mary’s) and Wausau Hospital South (Memorial). Decades later, as they grew beyond the city limits of Wausau, they adopted the name “Aspirus”. 

1976

The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum opens with an inaugural exhibition that takes flight and soars to become the Woodson Art Museum’s flagship and internationally renowned “Birds in Art” exhibition each fall.

1979

The first Hmong families arrive in Wausau, coming from refugee camps in Thailand. While the first families were initially sponsored by local church groups, many more Hmong would soon be making the wider Wausau area their new home.

1984

Wausau Center Mall is completed, to great fanfare and excitement.

1988

Wausau hosts the first annual World Cup Kayak Races, which were the cumulation of several years as a favorite place for whitewater canoe and kayak races on the Wisconsin River.

1991

Wausau Events was established. This organization was created by a small committee of community members, in partnership with the City of Wausau to plan events within the city limits. Their mission is to “create community through events”.

2004

The Fall school year begins at the new Wausau East High School building. This left the old Wausau High building without classes for the first time in over a century. This building was later developed into apartments.

2007

The Dudley Tower (aka First Wausau Tower) is completed. This changed the skyline of downtown Wausau as the first high rise building in the city’s history.

2012

The Wausau River District splits from Wausau Events to become two separate organizations. One is dedicated to creating community events, the other dedicated to expanding our main-street program in Wausau.

But wait, there’s more!

Local History

Visit the Woodson History Center & tour the Yawkey House Museum!

Your Town: Wausau

Get to know “Your Town: Wausau” – from Athletic Park to WSAW.

Wausau’s Name

What’s in a name? From “Far Away Place” to “Big Bull Falls” to “Wausau”.

Keeping you connected to the Wausau Area!

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