A Small Town With a Big Heart   « Back

Source: Shepherd Express

Jan. 7, 2020

Located on Lake Michigan, Port Washington—a city 30 miles north of Milwaukee with a population of approximately 11,500 and spanning just under eight square miles—is quickly becoming one of Southeastern Wisconsin’s most attractive destinations.

It was incorporated in 1882, and the Wisconsin Chair Company, established six years later, became one of Port Washington’s major economic institutions, employing 30% of county residents and causing the city’s population to increase dramatically. The Wisconsin Chair Company, which closed its doors in 1954, also launched Paramount Records, making Port Washington the unlikely location for one of the first record labels devoted to African American music.

Fifth Ward Alderman Jonathan Pleitner, who has lived in Port Washington for seven years, says the city has experienced “a great resurgence” in the last decade. “Until the recent past, Port Washington was a hidden gem. What were once vacant storefronts are now shopping, dining and entertainment options for all of Southeastern Wisconsin,” he says.

Port Washington boasts a variety of restaurants, several of which have recently opened. Farm-to-table establishment Twisted Willow and Hundred Mile House—the latter a restaurant with supper-club ambience that serves dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, such as seared sea scallops with sage pesto and Uphoff Family Farms pork belly—are both local favorites. Owner and chef Douglas Stringer opened Hundred Mile House in July, and business has been going strong ever since.

“Port Washington is a small town with a big heart,” Stringer says. “The surrounding area provides a great wealth of agriculture, with farmers and CSA groups working hard to support each other. The town itself has spectacular views and a truly inspiring shoreline.”

In August, Fork & Tap, a restaurant featuring shareable appetizers and sandwiches with 50 Wisconsin beers on tap, opened at 203 E. Main St. Also, Port Washington visitors and residents can shop several boutiques, including Zing Boutique and Moda Bella, a women’s clothing and accessories boutique. Owner Nikki Dudei, who has lived in Port Washington for five years, opened her business on New Year’s Day. “My love of this community is what drove me to open my downtown business,” she says.

According to Port Washington Recreation Director Kiley Schulte, the city’s parks, particularly Upper Lake Park, have seen many improvements over the past several years. The park’s Possibility Playground, considered one of the top-10 playgrounds in the country for children with disabilities, underwent $500,000 in renovations and expansion efforts in September. The Upper Lake Park Beer Garden has expanded from a small area to a larger pavilion, complete with concrete pads. “New in 2019 [was] a stage for all the great entertainment that plays for the beer gardens,” Schulte says.

Annual summer festivals, including Fish Day and the Paramount Blues Festival, draw many out-of-towners to Port Washington, and the community offers plenty of family friendly activities, such as the three summer Friday Night Flicks and Food Truck Festivals at Veteran’s Park (430 N. Lake St.) This August, the first Great Port Washington Camp Out—a two-day event organized in Upper Lake Park by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department—featured stargazing, s’mores, tie-dying and a glow-in-the-dark hike.

Port Washington’s more than half-dozen parks and nature preserves, among them Upper Lake Park Valley, Harborview Park, Guenther Park and the nearby Sauk Creek Nature Preserve, provide the city with much natural beauty and plenty of opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities. Schulte noted that Birchwood Hills Nature Preserve recently received a minor facelift. New drainage tiles have been installed, and new pathways and signage are under development.

Pleitner and Schulte believe that Port Washington’s highly rated school district, commitment to safety and new residential developments are steadily attracting residents, especially younger families, to the area.

“The population has certainly increased, and many new, young families are making Port Washington their home. I hope to see a continuation in this trend, with more growth in the community,” says Schulte. Proximity to Milwaukee, about a 30-minute commute by freeway, is also attractive to Port Washington residents.

‘Port Washington Is a Special Place That Deserves to Be Treasured’

According to Scott Janeshek, a realtor with Beattie Janeshek Realty Group-BHHS Metro Realty, Port Washington’s housing market is “very active. Houses under $300,000 will often sell quickly. There is a variety of housing, where you can buy a single-family house in the $160ks all the way up to million-dollar lakefront condos.”

To Pleitner, it’s the residents that make Port Washington a desirable place to live. “Everyone I’ve met has been extremely proud of our city, and there is a high level of involvement in improving the quality of life in Port Washington,” he says. Schulte agrees. “In just my short time here, there have been so many positive changes made to the community,” she said.

Pleitner noted that future plans for the city include possible new subdivision development along the lakefront and the “Heart of the Harbor”—a gathering space for both residents and tourists located on the east end of Main Street, near the city’s marina and harbor. Seafood restaurant Newport Shores (407 E. Jackson St.) will be replaced by a mixed-use development, which includes at least 25 condominiums, a business incubator space and restaurants. This summer, an Airstream travel trailer will serve ice cream and other food items from a downtown city lot.

“Port Washington is a special place that deserves to be treasured,” Pleitner concludes. “There is something for everyone. It is a great time to discover ‘Your Home Port.”’