Above: The Octagon House in Watertown. Built in 1854 the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The building that housed the nation's first kindergarten is on these grounds.
Watertown, Wisconsin - Where the nation's first kindergarten was established in 1856.
Watertown is a city in both Dodge and Jefferson counties Wisconsin along the Rock River halfway between Milwaukee and Madison.
Watertown was first settled by Timothy Johnson, who built a cabin on the west side of the Rock River in 1836. A park on the west side of the city is named in his honor. The area was settled to utilize the power of the Rock River, which falls 20 feet in two miles. In contrast, the Rock River falls only 34 feet in 58 miles upstream from Watertown. The water power was first used for sawmills, and later prompted the construction of two hydroelectric dams, one downtown (where the river flows south) and one on the eastern edge of the city (where the river flows north).
The Nation's First Kindergarten Was Established in Watertown
There was an influx of German immigrants into Watertown in the late 19th century. Among them was Margarethe Meyer Schurz the founder of the nation's first kindergarten.
The kindergarten was started in 1856 by Margarethe Schurz, the wife of Carl Schurz who later became a lawyer, a Republican, a key supporter of Lincoln among German-Americans, a Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War, and United States Secretary of the Interior.
Margarethe Meyer Schurz was born in Hamburg, Germany, and at age sixteen listened to a series of lectures from the German educator Friedrich Froebel. In that time and place, young children were often viewed as little beasts to be tamed so that they could become productive workers. Froebel instead saw natural curiosity in children, which he encouraged with play, carefully chosen toys, music, stories, and nature study. He compared children to plants and a teacher to the gardener who helps them grow and bloom - hence the "garden of children."
Margarethe's family was prosperous and socially progressive, favoring the unification of the many small German states into one democratic nation. After losing in the revolutions of 1848-49, some of the family left Germany. In London, Margarethe's sister started a kindergarten (child garden), and Margarethe helped, gaining experience. There she married Carl Schurz, a fellow exile who fled Germany after serving as an officer on the losing side in the revolutions. They immigrated to the U.S. in 1852, and in 1856 moved to Watertown, Wisconsin.
In 1856, Margarethe had a three-year-old daughter, Agathe, and she started a kindergarten in her home for her daughter and four cousins, conducting classes in German. Soon, others wanted the same for their children, so she expanded and moved her kindergarten to a small building in town on North Second Steet. The building that housed this kindergarten was moved in 1956 from its original location to its current site alongside the Octagon House where it was restored and eventually listed on U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Half Way Between Milwaukee and Madison
In 1853, a plank road was completed from Milwaukee to Watertown. A street named "Watertown Plank Road" survives in Milwaukee. It is referred to in the "Plank Road Brewery" family of beers, produced by Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee.
The Rock River flows through Watertown in a horseshoe bend before heading south and west on its way to the Mississippi River. The city originally developed inside the horseshoe, though it has long since grown beyond. Silver Creek adjoins the river in the city, as does a short creek on the west side.
The most notable geographical feature is a high density of drumlins, long hills formed by the glaciers of the Wisconsin glaciation as they retreated northwards. Hills in the area are elongated in the north-south direction.
For more information on Waterton, Wisconsin, visit Wikipedia.
Or, visit the City of Watertown website at www.ci.watertown.wi.us.
Or, visit the Watertown Chamber of Commerce website at www.watertownchamber.com.
For more information on the Octagon House, visit Wikipedia.
Buy kindergarten supplies at Amazon (Click on image below).
Jefferson and Dodge Counties
Above: Watertown, Wisconsin. Coordinates: 43°12′N 88°43′W
Home of Nations First Kindergarten
Above: The first kindergarten in the nation located in Watertown, Wisconsin. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported: Sa magnuson33.
Above: Octagon House circa 1928.
Above: The downstream of Watertown's two dams, with a portion of downtown in the background.