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Our History -


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Cambridge was established in 1847 by settling
Scottish and Norwegian farmers. Within the first few years, a small village began to take
grist mill shape with various businesses opening up including: a grist mill, general store, hotel, saloon, a cabinet shop, and a  milliner all lining Main Street. One of the hotels, a stage coach stop, still stands on Main Street today.
For more on the Norwegian settlement, Koshkonong Prairie, click here.

By the 1860s, Cambridge had grown to a population of 250 residents, mostly retired farmers and shopkeepers. In addition to the stores listed above, the village also boasted a blacksmith and repair shop, a hardware store a post office and a doctor’s office. Many of the village’s young men enlisted to serve in the Civil War. A statue in the Village Square today honors the veterans of that war.

Two prominent inventors came to be residents in Cambridge in the late 1880's.  Ole Evenrude, inventor of the outboard motor,  became a resident at age 16 where he became a machine apprentice and by 1906 married and had one son.  In 1909 he founded Evenrude Motors in Milwaukee and after his first patent was issued in 1911 started producing outboard motors. Our second well know inventor was Arthur Davidson, one of the founding members of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Arthur moved to Cambridge in 1888 where he finished out his childhood before inventing the first practical motorcycle in 1903.
In 1890 a fire broke out that destroyed much of the business district, as well as, some of the homes on upper Main Street. However, by the 1910s Cambridge had rebuilt, including a new school house which is currently listed on the Wisconsin Register of Historical Places, and the population had grown to 700. The 1920s brought the automobile and it had a profound impact on Cambridge, spurring its growth as a tourist town. Vacationers particularly from Chicago, started coming to Cambridge and Lake Ripley. ( click here to watch 1946 video courtesty of Gary Zibell)
historical society logo So  to promote Cambridge as a tourist attraction, the village adopted the symbol of a blue and yellow umbrella, and dubbed itself the “Umbrella City”. This symbol  (based off umbrellas used at the beach on Lake Ripley) is still used by the village in some of its promotions today. 
The in the late 1980's and 1990's Cambridge became known has the "salt glaze pottery capital of the world" and hometown talent  Matt Kenseth, was rising to be a NASCAR Champion. This time was also a prosperous one for the Village and set the stage for what you see today with quaint shops and restaurants, a beautiful public beach on Lake Ripley, and a wonderful 400 acre Cam Rock park system.  Festivals, Bed & Breakfast getaways, and the talent of local artisans bring vacationers to our small village.
historic downtown 
The Village of Cambridge was voted one of the "Top 100 Small Getaways in the Midwest" by Midwest Magazine and "Best Small Town for Shopping" by readers of Today's Wisconsin Woman Magazine during these years as well.
The twentieth century saw a major change happen to its downtown district with two years of state road construction and closer to hwy 12 & 18, our main street.
This had a profound impact on how the Village dealt with its revitalization efforts and today we are on the road to great growth in the community with nine new businesses opening within the last year.
pottery studio 
 As we look toward the future an artist cooperative, historic preservation, community development, new or improved festivals in addition to new recreational opportunities by enhancing the Glacial Heritage Area Trail system, are all in the works to continue our founders goals of a wonderful Village to live, work and play.
For more on the history of Cambridge please visit:

Cambridge Historic School Museum
located in the 1906 school house - self walking tour flyers available

213 South Street, Cambridge

1906 Historic School Museum open for summer tours May - October
Wed. & Sat. from noon to 3pm

Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society
213 South Street Cambridge

You Tube video on Cambridge in 1946 by Gary Zibell.
click here to watch - 11 minutes in length.


prairie map

For over 150 years, the Koshkonong prairie of Wisconsin has been home to both Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans. Koshkonong is considered by historians to be the sixth Norwegian settlement founded in the United States and the largest Norwegian settlement in America. In 1840, pioneers from Jefferson Prairie and Fox River moved to this area, which is close to present-day Madison, Wisconsin. By 1850, over half of the 5,000 Norwegians in Wisconsin lived in the Koshkonong settlement. As more Norwegian immigrants came to Wisconsin, Koshkonong became large enough so that it was split into an East and a West church community.  Over the years Koshkonong became the parent of key settlements in Minnesota, Iowa, and elsewhere in the Midwest.

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