Stevens Point Celebrates 160th Birthday
By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — When George Stevens roamed the Wisconsin River in search of opportunities for the then blossoming lumber industry, little did he know that his main stop along the way would one day become the largest city in Portage County.
Named after George Stevens, the area would serve as a pathway for transportation down the river, leaving Stevens Point with the moniker “Gateway to the Pineries.” On June 7, 1858, the city was officially incorporated, only a year younger than Stevens Point Brewery, who started bottling suds in 1857. The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point opened in 1894, and keeping with its “pinery” nickname, was the only university at the time to offer a major in conservation.
Stevens Point has made quite the history in its 160 year span, from birthing the largest annual trivia contest in the universe, hosted by WWSP-FM, to proudly hosting an award-winning community theater in the Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater. (cwACT) Stevens Point can also boast about having the country’s greatest curling squad, as UWSP took home the NCAA National Curling Championship this year. If that wasn’t enough, the city has its own symphony orchestra, with the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra.
From the famous 27-mile Green Circle Trail, the Schmeeckle Reserve, and a wide-range of summer activities at the downtown square, to prominent businesses calling Stevens Point their home such as Skyward and Sentry Insurance, it’s not a stretch to see why Stevens Point continues to make the top 50 in best cities to live in Wisconsin year after year.
“One of the things that impresses me about Stevens Point, and sometimes we take it for granted, is the amount of people that are willing to step up and help,” said Mayor Mike Wiza. “…and it’s not like that in other places.”
Aside from the people, all in all, Stevens Point holds two fine arts theaters, three hospitals, a skateboard and sculpture park, various nature trails, and a mix of technology firms and industrial businesses, a public university and tech college, multiple parks that feature live entertainment, and miles and miles of boating and fishing on the Wisconsin River.
“Because of those things, people want to move here, and live here, and work here,” said Wiza. “It starts with our residents — if we didn’t have good people, none of those other things would happen.”
As fate would have it, the city’s birthday falls on a live music event which will feature hip-hop artist, and former UWSP graduate, Emmitt James. As mayor, Wiza oversees the city’s major departments, and serves as chief executive officer of the city — however, he will undoubtedly serve in one of his most important roles on Thursday, as he will provide cake to the many in attendance following the concert.
However, this isn’t just any cake — as between five sections of sheet cake, each section will represent a time in Stevens Point’s unique history. When asked if he could pinpoint only one thing about Stevens Point that he loves the most, it was a question nearly impossible to answer.
“If there’s one thing that is probably the most exciting thing that I love about Stevens Point the most is that they have an awesome mayor,” kidded Wiza. “…there is no one thing about Stevens Point that makes me want to live here. I love absolutely everything about it.”
You can join in the celebration at Pfiffner Park for the city’s 160th anniversary on Thursday, June 7 at 6PM.
Notable Stevens Point-Born People
-Joel Hodgson, writer – Mystery Science Theater 3000
-Kathy Kinney, actress and comedian – known for her role on the Drew Carey Show
-Peter Francis Weller, actor and writer – known for Robocop, Star Trek: Into Darkness
Stevens Point Facts
-Stevens Point is home to the oldest downtown farmer’s market in the state
-Stevens Point Brewery once provided beer to Union soldiers during the Civil War
-Ranked #6 in Forbes “Best Small Cities to Raise a Family” in 2010
-Stevens Point ancestry is approximately 40 percent German
-Was host to the Disney Channel’s short-lived series “Liv and Maddie”