Delavan, Wisconsin

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This article is about the city. For the adjacent town, see Delavan (town), Wisconsin.
Looking west at downtown Delavan
Looking west at downtown Delavan
Motto: 19th Century Circus Capital of America
Location of Delavan, Wisconsin
Location of Delavan, Wisconsin
Coordinates: 42°37′59″N 88°38′37″W / 42.63306°N 88.64361°W / 42.63306; -88.64361Coordinates: 42°37′59″N 88°38′37″W / 42.63306°N 88.64361°W / 42.63306; -88.64361
Country United States Flag of the United States.svg
State Wisconsin Flag of Wisconsin.svg
County Walworth County
 • Total 7.22 sq mi (18.70 km2)
 • Land 6.76 sq mi (17.51 km2)
 • Water 0.46 sq mi (1.19 km2)  6.37%
Elevation 925 ft (282 m)
Population (2010)[2]
 • Total 8,463
 • Estimate (2012[3]) 8,481
 • Density 1,251.9/sq mi (483.4/km2)
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
Area code(s) 262

Delavan is a city in Walworth County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 8,463 at the 2010 census. The city is located partially within the Town of Delavan but the two entities are politically independent. City events include the Delavan Train Show in March, Cinco de Mayo in May, Heritage Fest in August, and Scarecrow Fest in September.



Delavan sits in the middle of what was at one time an inland sea. During the last Ice Age, many glaciers, the last of which was known as the Michigan tongue, covered this area. The Michigan tongue descended down what is now known as Lake Michigan. A large section of this glacier broke off, pushing southwest into the area now known as Walworth County. Geologists have called this section of the glacier "the Delavan lobe".

The first humans known to inhabit the Delavan area were Native Americans around the era of 1000 BC. Later, between 500-1000 AD, Mound Builders lived in what is now the Delavan Lake area. Mound Builders were of the Woodland culture. The effigy mounds they erected along the shores of Delavan Lake numbered well over 200, according to an archeological survey done in the late 19th century by Beloit College. Many were along the north shore of the lake where Lake Lawn Resort now stands. The Potawotomi Indians also settled around the lake in the late 18th century, although there were only an estimated 240 in the county. Some of their burial mounds are preserved in what is now Assembly Park.

From the mid-17th century through the mid-18th century, this area was part of what was known as "New France" and was under the French flag. It came under British rule and a part of the Province of Quebec following the French and Indian War. In accordance with the Treaty of Paris (1783), it was turned over to the United States and a part of the newly established Northwest Territory.

American era[edit]

Between 1800 and 1836, the Delavan area was part of the Indiana Territory, followed by the Illinois Territory, finally becoming part of the Wisconsin Territory in 1836. Statehood was granted to Wisconsin in 1848.

Delavan was a New England settlement. The original founders of Delavan consisted entirely of settlers from New England. These people were "Yankee's", that is to say they were descended from the English Puritans who settled New England in the 1600s. They were part of a wave of New England farmers who headed west into what was then the wilds of the Northwest Territory during the early 1800s. Most of them arrived as a result of the completion of the Erie Canal and the end of the Black Hawk War. Delavan's first white settlers arrived in 1836, finding the area to be dense forests with prairies on both the east and west sides with plenty of game available for hunting.[4] When they arrived in what is now Delavan there was nothing but dense virgin forest and wild prairie, the "Yankee" New Englanders laid out farms, constructed roads, erected government buildings and established post routes. They brought with them many of their Yankee New England values, such as a passion for education, establishing many schools as well as staunch support for abolitionism. They were mostly members of the Congregationalist Church though some were Episcopalian. Due to the second Great Awakening some of them had converted to Methodism and some became Baptist before moving to what is now Delavan. Delavan, like much of Wisconsin, would be culturally very continuous with early New England culture for most of its early history.[5][6] It was named after Edward C. Delavan, temperance leader in Albany, New York.[7] In the late 1880s, German immigrants began to settle in Delavan, making up less than one in thirty settlers in the town before this date. Generally there was little conflict between them and the "Yankee" settlers, however when conflict did arise it focused around the issue of prohibition of alcohol. On this issue the Yankees were divided and the Germans almost unanimously were opposed to it, tipping the balance in favor of opposition to prohibition.[8] Later the two communities would be divided on the issue of World War I in which, once again, the Yankee community would be divided and the Germans were unanimously opposed to American entry into the war. The Yankee community was generally pro-British, however many of the Yankees also did not want America to enter the war themselves. The Germans were sympathetic to Germany and did not want the United States to enter into a war against Germany, but the Germans were not anti-British. Prior to World War I, many German community leaders in Wisconsin spoke openly and enthusiastically about how much better America was than Germany, due primarily (in their eyes) to the presence of English law and the English political culture the Americans had inherited from the colonial era, which they contrasted with the turmoil and oppression in Germany which they had so recently fled.[9]

Between 1847 and 1894, Delavan was home to 26 circus companies.[10] The Mabie Brothers U.S. Olympic Circus, then the largest in America, arrived in 1847, to become the first circus to quarter in the territory of Wisconsin. Its famous rogue elephant, "Romeo", stood 19 12 feet (5.94 m) high, and 10,500 pounds (4,800 kg). The original P. T. Barnum Circus was organized here in 1871 by William C. Coup and Dan Costello. Over 130 members of Delavan's 19th century circus colony are buried in Spring Grove and St. Andrew cemeteries.

On July 21, 1948, Delavan was the site of Wisconsin’s Circus Centennial as part of the state's celebration of 100 years of statehood.[11] On May 2, 1966, Delavan was selected by the U.S. Post Office to issue on a first day cover basis, the five-cent American Circus commemorative postage stamp.


Delavan is located at 42°39′N 88°38′W / 42.650°N 88.633°W / 42.650; -88.633 (42.630689, -88.638108).[12]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.22 square miles (18.70 km2), of which 6.76 square miles (17.51 km2) is land (94%) and 0.46 square miles (1.19 km2) is water (6%).[1]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,549
1870 1,688 9.0%
1880 1,798 6.5%
1890 2,038 13.3%
1900 2,244 10.1%
1910 2,450 9.2%
1920 3,016 23.1%
1930 3,301 9.4%
1940 3,444 4.3%
1950 4,007 16.3%
1960 4,846 20.9%
1970 5,526 14.0%
1980 5,684 2.9%
1990 6,073 6.8%
2000 7,956 31.0%
2010 8,463 6.4%
Est. 2014 8,443 [13] −0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[14]

2010 census[edit]

Art students at the State School for the Deaf, Delavan, Wisconsin

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 8,463 people, 3,189 households, and 2,079 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,251.9 inhabitants per square mile (483.4/km2). There were 3,500 housing units at an average density of 517.8 per square mile (199.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 81.2% White, 1.7% African American, 0.7% Native American, 1.0% Asian, 12.7% from other races, and 2.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 29.4% of the population.

There were 3,189 households of which 36.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.9% were married couples living together, 14.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 6.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 34.8% were non-families. 28.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.25.

The median age in the city was 33.5 years. 28.1% of residents were under the age of 18; 9% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 26.8% were from 25 to 44; 23.5% were from 45 to 64; and 12.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.3% male and 50.7% female.


One of the major manufacturing and industrial centers of Walworth County, Delavan is home to over 230 businesses including such companies as Borg Indak, Pentair, Andes Candies, Waukesha Cherry-Burrell, Ajay Leisure Products and Outboard Marine Corp.[15]


The local school district has three elementary schools, Phoenix Middle School and Delavan Darien high school. There are also several private schools. The Wisconsin School for the Deaf is located in Delavan.


Delavan was a stop on the Racine & Southwestern branch line of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, better known as the Milwaukee Road. In its 1980 bankruptcy, the Milwaukee Road disposed of the Southwestern Line. The Wisconsin and Southern Railroad continues to service Delavan from a connection at Bardwell to the west.[16]

Notable people[edit]



  1. ^ a b "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  2. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  3. ^ "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-06-24. 
  4. ^ History
  5. ^ The History of Wisconsin by William Fletcher Thompson State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Dec 1, 1998 ISBN 0870203037, 9780870203039
  6. ^ Southeastern Wisconsin: a history of Old Milwaukee County, Volume 3 John Goadby Gregory S.J. Clarke, 1932
  7. ^ "Profile for Delavan, Wisconsin". ePodunk. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  8. ^ Wisconsin Then and Now, Volumes 21-24 State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1974 pages 102-103, page 138
  9. ^ The German Historians and England: A Study in Nineteenth-century Views By Charles E. McClelland pages 19, 136, 138. 176, 196
  10. ^ Ginny Hall, "Delavan once home to 26 different circus families," Walworth County Today.
  11. ^ Ruth-Marsicano, Patricia (2004). Delavan. Charleston, SC: Arcadia. p. 71. ISBN 9780738533117. 
  12. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  13. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Delavan Railroad History and Photos
  17. ^
  18. ^

External links[edit]