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Port Washington 1835 to 1985

A community is founded,   pp. 4-21

Page 13

Surviving the financial crash of 1893, the Chair
Company suffered its severest blow in 1899 when
it was totally leveled by fire. The company showed
its resiliency by immediately rebuilding, and for
many years remained the backbone of Port
Washington's economy. The incredible success
story eventually ended as sales and profits
became smaller and production slowed down,
prompting eventual closure in the 1950s.
The beginning of the 20th century saw the start
of many companies which are familiar to the
residents of Port Washington today. The Gilson
Manufacturing Company, originally a small foun-
dry, has evolved into the Bolens Corporation, pro-
ducers of internationally marketed lawn and
garden equipment.
Other firms which have substantially con-
tributed to the city's economy were established in
the 1920s. Simplicity Manufacturing Company,
the highly successful enterprise founded by one
of Port Washington's native sons, William J.
Niederkorn, produces a well-known line of lawn
and garden equipment. The Kwik-Mix Concrete
Mixer Company, is known today as the CED Divi-
sion of the Koehring Company, manufacturers of
heavy construction equipment. Modern Equip-
ment, founded in 1921, produces hot metal pour-
ing devices and other foundry equipment.
In the 1930s Port Washington's commercial
fishing reached its peak. In the early days, small
row boats or sailboats took the rugged fishermen
two or three miles off shore to set their handmade
nets. It took two days to set six miles of gill nets,
and three hours to remove the trapped fish. The
men were at the mercy of the unpredictable lake
in their small craft; the waters being successfully
navigated only with the great skill and experience
of the captain. Development of larger, power-
driven vessels and the net machine, an adaptation
of the winch, enabled commercial fishermen to
range farther into Lake Michigan's waters, in-
crease the size of their catch through use of more
nets, and reduced some of the dangers faced in
earlier times. In 1935 eight major fishing tugs sail-
ed from Port's harbor, making Port Washington
one of the most renowned fishing ports on the
Great Lakes, and the names Smith, Ewig and
Bussler well known in the fishing industry.
The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Com-
pany, the forerunner of the Wisconsin Electric
Power Company, opened its imposing power
generating plant at the base of the city's south
bluff in 1935. For 14 years it was considered the
most efficient steam power plant in the world. It
has remained a dominating structure on Port
Washington's skyline, its smoke stacks being
visable for miles over land and on the waters of
Lake Michigan. On a clear day, the stacks can be
distinctly seen from the Milwaukee shoreline, 35
miles away.
The years following did not produce significant
new industrial growth. Existing industries grew
and evolved to meet the needs of the changing
Citizens of the community gathered the morning after the Wiscon.
sin Chair Company fire to view the still smoldering remains of the
devastated downtown area.  Photo courtesy ofAmbrose Mayer
times; a few closed their doors, and some moved
from the city. Commercial fishing suffered a
number of reversals with new conservation laws,
the arrival of the lamprey eel, overpopulation of
the alewife, and identification of rising PCB levels
which diminshed the catches and restricted the
sale of many types of lake fish. The local mer-
chants carried on a comfortable trade primarily
with residents of the area; one of the most well-
known Port Washington enterprises being the
Smith Brother's Fish Shanty Restaurant, which
has attracted visitors to the city for many years.
The 1980s have generated new enthusiasm for
development and expansion of Port Washington's
commercial interests. Complacency has given
way to increasing recognition of potential new
avenues of economic growth.
After years of debate, the construction of the
180 slip small boat marina was approved, and the
project completed in 1982. Port's new image as a
recreational center offering excellent sport
fishing, charter services, public boat launching
ramps, and fish derbies in addition to the already
well-established Fish Day celebration, is making
Port Washington a favorite stop for an increasing
number of tourists who arrive both by land and by
Additional noteworthy events include the re-
cent completion of Freeman Chemical's
multimillion dollar world headquarters located on
the west side, which incorporates the company's
research and testing laboratories, and the deci-
sion of the Allen-Edmonds Shoe Company to per-
manently relocate in Port Washington following a
fire which totally destroyed their main plant in
These, and other proposals currently under con-
sideration seem to demonstrate that fresh winds
are blowing through Wooster Harrison's little city.
A spirit of renewed enthusiasm, evolving con-
cepts, and a new sense of direction hold promise
for Port Washington's continued growth and
development in the years ahead.

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