Elkhorn Prairie in the early 1800's must have seemed a natural paradise to three young land speculators who came looking for a likely site on which to found a village. Its rolling contours were thickly covered with oaks and its rich, black loam underlain with clay promised fertile farm acreage. It was crossed by an army trail and had been surveyed a year earlier. Its name already had been given by Col. Samuel F. Phoenix who had spied an elk's antlers in a tree, perhaps placed there by earlier travelers.
The three men, LeGrand Rockwell, Hollis Latham and Horace Coleman, searched for and located the stake which denoted the center of the four central townships.
Although seen at its worst in winter being in the middle of a slough - the land in all directions was eminently desirable. It was located on a natural watershed and seemed an ideal location for a village, hopefully a county seat.
Mr. Rockwell's brother, John Starr Rockwell, was an enterprising young government clerk in Milwaukee. Through John's knowledge of available land claims, LeGrand Rockwell and several friends organized a syndicate for the purpose of land speculation. Consequently, in February of 1837, Rockwell, Daniel E. and Milo E. Bradley, came to Elkhorn Prairie and set up housekeeping in a tent in a poplar grove erected about a mile east from the center stake. They immediately filed claims and set about clearing the land for the future village.
The first house was a crude log shanty, completed in two weeks, into which they all moved along with their store of provisions. It was decided to set aside land for a dairy farm to comprise one square mile, so Rockwell left on foot for Indiana to purchase cows and other livestock for the venture. Meanwhile, settlers Albert Ogden and Hollis Latham arrived and took up independent claims.
While Mr. Rockwell is away prospecting for cows, let us look into the background of the territory which is now Elkhorn. The original town was one of five organized by an act of the territorial legislature in January, 1838, and included the four towns in the northwestern quarter of the county. These are now known as Whitewater, LaGrange, Richmond and Sugar Creek - an area of 144 square miles.
The first 'town' meeting was held at the home of Asa Blood who lived on the bank of Silver Lake in Sugar Creek. In 1846 another act of the legislature established Elkhorn as a separate town. The act stated: 'All that part of Walworth County comprised in Section 6 in the town of Elkhorn, Section 1 in the town of Delavan, Section 6 in the town of Geneva and section 31 in the town of LaFayette is hereby set off and organized into a separate town in the name of Elkhorn.' Except for Section 36, the remaining part of Elkhorn was organized into a new section called Sugar Creek. This legislative act designated Elkhorn as a square of two miles embracing the geographical center of the county and as the county seat. The hopes of its three earliest speculators were realized!
Christmas Card Town
What thoughts come to mind when you think of Christmas activities? Is it the hustle and bustle of shopping in a big city- where everyone is crowded and rushing from here to there, a holiday gathering with relatives, or maybe a sleigh ride in the country... What about a quiet little town where it is said that nowhere else in all the land is the spirit of Christmas as celebrated as it is in Elkhorn Wisconsin.
Elkhorn, you see, enjoys the honor of being known as 'Christmas Card Town', a reputation that has not only spread from coast to coast, but is responsible for bringing in growing numbers of visitors every Yuletide season
According to the Chamber of Commerce office, the whole thing probably started back in World War II days when a program of festive holiday decorations was initiated which transformed the downtown area into a Christmas card cover scene.
National recognition came about in 1952 when the old March of Time television series chose Elkhorn as the setting for one of its shows, a program which depicted a small American town during the Christmas season. The show was seen by millions of viewers nationwide and was rerun for several years.
Then, in 1958, New York artist Cecile Johnson was commissioned by the Ford Motor Company to create a series of six watercolor paintings to illustrate an article for their magazine, the 'Ford Times'. Again, Elkhorn was chosen as the locale. Five of the six paintings were later used by a major publisher as artwork for Christmas cards - cards which were subsequently printed and reprinted into the hundreds of thousands, which found their way into virtually every corner of the world.
For countless numbers of people, all over the globe, that small community in southeastern Wisconsin became the symbol of Christmas.
After the article appeared in the December, 1958, 'Ford Times', the Ford Motor Company presented one of the paintings to the city of Elkhorn. Then, over the years, four more of the works were located and purchased; the five are now displayed in the Elkhorn City Hall for all to view. One however, remains missing.. It was traced as far as the Hartford, Connecticut school system, but there the trail ended. There is still hope that it will return home one day...
Local artist, Jan Castle-Reed, was then commissioned by the Elkhorn Chamber to continue the tradition each year with another oil painting that depicts the spirit of Elkhorn. Jan Castle-Reed completed her series of fifteen paintings in 2011. In 2012 a new artist, T. James Carson, stepped up to carry on the tradition of our Christmas card paintings with his rendition of the 1887 Building. The original paintings from all of the artists are on display at the Matheson Memorial Library for all to see and enjoy. The Christmas cards are available throughout the year at the Chamber office and area retail stores.
For the past three decades, one of the holiday season's highlights has been the Christmas Parade held the first Saturday of December every year, which is perhaps the largest such event for any community of Elkhorn's size in America.