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History of Delafield, WI
Delafield derives its distinctive character from the land on which it was built as well as from the people who helped shape it as a community.
Glacial forces laid the groundwork for its gorgeous landscape, forming the gentle hills, sparkling lakes, and clear river streams that continue to captivate visitors to this day. It was this same stunning backdrop that drew Native American fishing and hunting camps and later European settlers to the area. By the mid 19th century, herds of sheep could be found grazing the hills and grist and saw mills began to appear along the streams as more settlers discovered its quiet beauty.
It was during this period that Delafield's most famous settler, Nelson Hawks moved here from New York with his family. In 1846, Mr. Hawks built his now iconic three-story inn as a stagecoach stop. Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Hawks Inn still stands today as an educational museum. It was also Hawks who named the settlement after his friend Charles Delafield, a fellow pioneer. This little settlement, once populated by just a handful of farmers and merchants, is now a thriving community of over six thousand residents. Its scenic beauty and enduring style continue to capture the attention of visitors and residents alike, thanks in part to the vision of Bob Lang. The founder of Lang Companies has built over 200 homes and several retail and commercial spaces in Waukesha County, specifically Delafield. Including the Delafield Hotel and Wells St. Tavern.
1837 Delafield Established - Delafield was established among the gently rolling hills of western Waukesha County, on the cusp of the Ice Age Trail and the Kettle Moraine State Forest and at the center of the city, beautiful Nagawicka Lake. The first settler to the present city of Delafield was Deacon Schuyler. Within the year, there were 25 additional settlers in Delafield.
1843 The Naming of Delafield - Early documents show the name as “Hayopolis” which was shortly changed to the Indian name, “Nemahbin. ” It was in 1843 that the name was changed to “Delafield” in honor of early settler, Dr. Charles Delafield of Milwaukee.
1851 Church Erected - St. John’s Chrysostom Church or “Little Red Church on the Hill,” was erected in Gothic Revival architecture. In 1972, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1863 Cushing & the Civil War - At the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War in 1863, Delafield native First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing fell at the young age of 22. It was in on Memorial Day in 1915, Cushing Memorial Park was dedicated and monument erected to honor Alonzo as well as his two heroic brothers, William and Howard Cushing. Today, almost 150 years later, the U.S. Army approved the nomination to consider a Metal of Honor award for Alonzo Cushing in response his actions on the battlefield that fateful day. With congressional approval, Cushing would become the 22nd person to receive the Metal of Honor from the Civil War.
1841 Nashotah House – A seminary of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion of Churches is established, becoming Wisconsin’s oldest degree-granting institution.
1846 Hawks Inn - In 1846, Nelson Hawks settled in Delafield and built Hawks Inn, a bustling stagecoach inn and city center. Hawks Inn became one of the most popular stops for travelers between Waukesha and Madison. It was due to this popularity that Hawks Inn became not only a place where travelers stayed, but also where they ate, drank, played games, shared stories and pick-up their mail. Hawks Inn became Delafield’s first Post Office with Hawks serving as the first Postmaster. Nelson Hawks also became a justice of the Peace, Town Chairman, and local Sawmill owner.
1848 Part of the Union - Wisconsin became the 30th state on May 29, 1848.
1870 Lapham Peak - Lapham Peak was one of the original National Weather Service signal stations, known at the time as Stoney Hill, then Government Hill and finally Lapham Peak. Lapham Peak, the highest point in Waukesha County, was named after a man named, Increase A. Lapham. Lapham spent extensive time atop the tower to record local weather observations, which he then relayed to the U.S. Weather Bureau in Chicago. Lapham made weather observations dating from 1836, however he recorded the first published national weather forecast on November 8th, 1870.
1884 St. John’s Military Academy - In 1884, the oldest military academy in Wisconsin was founded in Delafield. St. John’s Military Academy first took roots from an old abandoned schoolhouse by Rev. Sidney Smythe. The concluding buildings at St. John’s are reminiscent of English Gothic design with stone towers and battlements, much like European castles. Today, as St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy (circa 1995), the school attracts students from all over the world.
1907 The Fish Hatchery - In the early 1900’s, Wisconsin had growing concern over the residing fish, particularly largemouth bass and walleye populations. In response, the Wisconsin DNR built the Fish Hatchery Building of native fieldstone, along with 6 outdoor ponds, to raise and deliver “fingerlings” to lakes throughout Wisconsin. Today, all but 2 of the ponds survive and the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is available for meeting and event rental through the city.
1940 Chamber Established – The Delafield Chamber of Commerce is established.
1959 Incorporated - In 1959, the City of Delafield was incorporated.
1988 City Renaissance - Lang Homes begins historic downtown renaissance of the buildings to a historic Colonial Williamsburg architecture style.