East Main Street

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The Evolution of Waterford’s East Side

The Village of Waterford was originally surveyed into streets and lots in 1842 with a fairly balanced design on both sides of the Fox River. (See EARLY HISTORY and WEST SIDE for further information.) However, business development on the east side didn’t flourish until the 1860s and early ’70s – some 30 years after settlement.

An 1858 map sets the base for the development of Waterford’s east side. At that time, relatively few businesses were located on the east side of the Fox River . As the relocation of the west side plank road shifted traffic through the east side of town, business development was primed to grow, not only on Main Street, but also on the cross streets of First, Second and Third.

1858 Waterford Village Map cropped

1858 Map of Waterford with Business Directory.1

It has not been determined when or if the plank road was shifted to run through the village, however, if it did, there were more available lots to develop springing up a number of support businesses. Mercantile stores, barbershops, shoe repair, a cooper shop (barrels), a jewelry store, saloons, harness and livery stables, hotels, among others, would populate the east side, rather than the west side, which had become mostly residential in expansion. All schools were on the west side and the churches were mixed on both sides.

A wooden bridge spanned the river but was easily damaged or destroyed with the spring runoff or flooding rainfalls. It frequently had to be repaired or replaced. After a major flooding incident in the Spring of 1881, which washed away the bridge, a lattice-style iron bridge took its place for many years. It had a lattice tower built on top that held the fire bell which would be rung to alert the village’s volunteer firefighters in the event of a fire. It lasted until a concrete bridge was built in the early 1930s. A new bridge was constructed during 2019 and 2020.

1876 Rac Advocate Waterford Directory1

1876 Rac Advocate Waterford Directory2

1876 Business Directory, Published by Racine Advocate.

It was on Friday evening, July 2, 1898 that a catastrophic fire destroyed most of the businesses on the east side. (See 1898 FIRE for more details) Rebuilding allowed officials to raise the level of Main Street near the bridge which was a marshy area and had been subject to periodic flooding.2 Many of the businesses were rebuilt from the ruins shortly thereafter. Others sold their burned lots for redevelopment. A revived business district rose out of the ashes to create even more opportunities to grow the village.

Except for a few buildings that were torn down or destroyed by fire, much of Main Street’s east side business district looks the same as it did in 1900. Main Street and the underground utilities have been upgraded during 2018 and 2020. Building facades have been remodeled with grants from the Village of Waterford to freshen the look of the Heritage District. Individual building histories can be found at the COMMERCIAL SITES menu tab.

Photo Slideshow of Early Waterford

The following slide show starts from early photographic images3 and proceeds through time to show how the East Side evolved through nearly 180 years to what it is today – a quiet, caring, yet vibrant small town in southeast Wisconsin.

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Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.

NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through director@ExploreWaterford.com.  We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared.  Credit will be given.


  1. 1858 Map from Racine Historical Society.
  2. Waterford: Stories of Our Village and It’s Busy Life, Waterford Post,1923.
  3. Wisconsin Digital Collections: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.WaterfordLocHist

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