Although officially part of Racine County, much of the Burlington area also lies within Walworth County.
Burlington is situated at the confluence of the White and Fox Rivers, where Honey Creek also joins the White River. Like many early settlements, the availability of water power to run saw and grist mills determined its location.
The first "jack-knife" claim was made about December 15, 1835, when Moses Smith and William Whiting carved their names and date on trees near the present Standard-Press building on Commerce Street. They then left the area, later returning with Lemuel Smith and Benjamin Perce a week or so later. The four built a shanty on the east side of the Fox River in what is now Wehmhoff-Jucker Park, while they explored the area looking for water-power sites and farming land.
In 1836 Daniel Rork made a claim to land on which much of the early settlement was built, selling the claim later to Silas Peck. In 1837 Moses Smith was appointed postmaster of the settlement, then called Foxville.
In early 1837, Pliny Perkins and his father, Ephraim, moved to Foxville and bought the unfinished dam and "up and down" sawmill that Moses Smith and Samuel Vaughn had begun. They soon completed the dam and sawmill and also built a small, frame, grist mill, which ground the first flour shipped from Wisconsin to New York.
Also in 1837 the townsmen built a wooden bridge, the first bridge to span the Fox River, to enable grain and other products to be hauled to Southport (now Kenosha).
The name was changed from Foxville to Burlington on July 15, 1839.
In 1843 Pliny Perkins built a woolen mill, which made the first roll of cloth turned out in Wisconsin and later made cloth for Civil War uniforms.
The first German inhabitants, Francis and Joseph Wackerman, arrived from New York in 1848, and by 1876 Burlington had nearly 2,000 residents. Incorporated as a village in 1886 and moving to city status in 1900, Burlington has continued to grow to the community of over 10,000 that it is today.
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