Revitalizing Markesan

Markesan,Wisconsin is quaint little town in central Green Lake County. This past year I had the pleasure of working with the Markesan Historical Society to put a book together, Images of America:Markesan, to depict the history of our town through pictures. The reader can travel back in time to see what Markesan looked like in its younger years and what made it prosper.

While conducting my research and putting my book together, two things became apparent to me. The first was there were a plethora of businesses and jobs in the area. Canning factories, hemp mills, movie theater, jewelers, restaurants, car dealerships, and even a cigar factory! Our town had about anything you could think of. The second was that where are all of these things now? Obviously times change and things close or move out, but why hasn’t Markesan moved with the times?! We lack industry, we are lacking retail and the city is not doing anything to bring people in. These are major barriers that are not allowing our town to thrive like it once did.

Here is an overall map and shaded areas that I would like to address as possible solutions to Markesan’s troubles.

The areas shaded are as follows:

Dark Blue– Hein Park

Light Blue– Bridge Street Business District

Yellow– Industrial Park

EVENTS

The first area of concern, which is correlated with Hein Park in the dark blue, is how Markesan can utilize space to create events to draw in visitors. What does Markesan have that brings in people? Well, we do have some celebrations that bring in large crowds. June Dairy Days is for sure an important event that gets some area attention and some people making their way into town for the tractor pulls, street dances and the parade, but that is 3 days out of the year! There are a couple other celebrations throughout the year, but June Dairy Days is an important one because it does celebrate of community’s strong history in agriculture. What else can we, as a community, do to bring people in and get them into our great city. Surrounding communities have some great things going for them. Princeton has a flea market every Saturday from April to October.Green Lake has a farmers market and Ripon has various things planned all throughout the year too. Why can’t Markesan tap into these kinds of ideas to get people moving through town? Why couldn’t we have a farmers market during the summer to sell produce, or fall harvest fairs to sell pumpkins, gourds and other products? A park would also be a good place to host summer night dances. The possibilities are endless really! It just takes some planning. I found another page that gave some tips for organizing events and step by step process. Check by clicking HERE. It’s about making something that sets Markesan out from other places and attracting people in.

Downtown

Downtown Markesan 1940s
(wiroots.com)

The next area of inquiry is our downtown business district on Bridge Street. When you look through my book at Markesan’s downtown, it is long gone from its glory days. A few buildings are vacant and no businesses occupy them. Another shame is that siding and other cheap looking building materials have been cobbled onto the buildings taking away from their late 19th & early 20th century charm. This is the gem of our city, and it is looking a little tired. A few of those buildings are pictured in my book are from 1897! The nearby city of Ripon, Wisconsin is undergoing a revitalization of their downtown. Building codes have been put in place to bring back the nostalgic look from yesteryear and to make the town look more historic and appealing. These are the goals of that revitalization:

Goals:

  1. Market and promote downtown Ripon as a clean, safe and friendly destination.
  2. Position Ripon Main Street, Inc. to provide leadership for collaborative efforts to significantly improve the quality of life and eliminate blighted property.
  3. Provide a positive, productive and nurturing environment that will attract new business and retain existing business downtown.
  4. Promote physical changes to make downtown a more comfortable and exciting place.

If Ripon can do it, why can’t Markesan? With that being said, it is also important to have businesses in town for people to shop in so that a revitalization project would be worth the time and financial input. I wonder if people knew that Markesan once had a movie theater, ice cream store, a jeweler, meat market, bakery and lots of other places on Bridge Street. How can Markesan get some more specialty stores in our downtown?  I found this link which talks about small towns in Pennsylvania, and how they are able to revitalize business downtown. I think we need to ask ourselves what kind of businesses would strive and attract local and visiting patrons. Art, bridal, unique dining and other specialty stores help attract people. Something unique that can set our city apart from others is key and getting businesses to move in to suit those needs is also important. We have a lot of Amish stores in the area! Has anyone ever thought of encouraging the amish communuty to open up an Amish bakery downtown, or a woodworkers shop or something?!

Industry

Industry is an important factor in any city, big or small. This is where people work and make their living. This is also what brings people to our city to live. We have a couple in town that helps sustain the community. The Markesan School District is a big employer in town. When a referendum vote was held a few years back the argument was that the city’s survival was dependent on the schools survival. If you look on the map I provided above you will see the yellow shaded area as our industrial park. Once you zoom in on it you will notice something else….it is virtually empty. An automotive shop, medical clinic and snowmobile club garage occupy lots in our industrial park. Where is the industry at?! What are we offering industry as an incentive to set up shop in Markesan? I am not talking big dirty factories either. We are in the 21st century with new high-tech industry and manufacturing. We need to bring them in if we can. We have the farming heritage going for us, but is there a way we can base more industry off of that? The canning factory is a start, but a lot of the workers are migrant and don’t stick around year round.

Final Thoughts

While going through my book, readers will see that it was hard work and toil that built Markesan from the ground up. It took tough decisions and sometimes chances to improve and build Markesan. The people who accomplished it with hard work and determination. Sadly, that evidence of hard work is slowly fading away as time goes on. Markesan is nothing like it used to be. Markesan is standing still watching everyone else propel into the future. City leaders, citizens and business owners need to come together and need to make a plan of action. Younger people are not moving in and the ones that are already here are moving out because the town has nothing to offer for them in terms of jobs or a future. Markesan is not attracting industry that brings jobs which then brings people to make business possible. It might hit a nerve to say this, but some people in the community just flat-out hate change and refuse to take action. Well, sooner or later standing still is going to cause more harm to the community than progression would and the younger generation will be left to pick up the pieces. My biggest hope is that my book will fuel the flames for change in Markesan, so people will want to change the direction of our city. The time is now or never to put aside petty excuses for change saying “we don’t need change, things are fine” or “things will never change”. Change starts with a positive and can do attitude for the future. It’s time for Markesan to live up to its words on the chamber of commerce website that says “Markesan, a great place to visit and even a better place to live!” Get involved in the community, make suggestions and make change!

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” ~Walt Disney~
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