Burlington Downtown Historic District

Roughly bounded by E. Jefferson, N. Pine, E. Washington, E. Chestnut, N. Dodge, Commerce, Mill, and W. Chestnut Sts., Burlington, Wisconsin

Known as Chocolate City, USA and the Town with Tall Tales


Photo taken by J.R. Manning in December 2015




Downtown Burlington follows an odd street grid layout, based on the flow of the Fox River. The downtown district is comprised of a wide variety of architectural styles with using several builidng materials including brick, wood, cast iron, copper, galvanized steel, tin and zinc. Several bartizans overlook intersections. The district is comprised of 80 contributing buildings and 17 that are not qualified.

Burlington was not settled until after the Blackhawk War of 1832. In December of 1835, four men staked a claim here. Two of the four, as partners, began to build a dam and a lumber mill on the Fox River. The community was known as Foxville.

The partnership was dissoved before the dam and mill was finished and in 1837, Ephraim Perkins and his son, Pliny, purchased the mill. They completed the dam and mill and added a flour mill. The town was officially named Burlington in 1839. A road was staked out to Southport (the original name of Racine) along the route that it today's highway 11. (Interestingly enough, as important as the road was to the development of Burlington, it was not made a part of the state trunk system when it was set in 1918.)

Burlington is also famous for two more things. Home of a Nestlé Chocolate facotry built in 1966, Burlington bills itself as Chocolate City, in deference to Hershey, PA. A giant Chcolate Fest is held on Memorial Day Weekend each year, drawing 35,000 participants from around the world.

It is also home to the Burlington Liars' Club, known for its annual liars' contest. It all started in 1929 the newspaper sent out a story - a tall tale - about a liars contest between the fire and police departments. The Chief of Police won for saying he never told a lie. Winning lies from over the years can be found in the downtown HD, forever preserved on bronze plaques.

The annual liars contest is open to anyone except politicians, as the club considers them to be professionals.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on June 2, 2000
Reference number
Architectural styles
Mid 19th Century Revival: Exotic Revival; Victorian: Italianate; et.al.
Areas of significance
Architecture; Commerce
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic functions
Hotel; Financial institution; Specialty store; Department store; City hall
Current functions
Financial institution; Restaurant; Specialty store; City hall; Park
Periods of significance
1825-1849; 1850-1874; 1875-1899; 1900-1924; 1925-1949; 1950-1974
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 80
Non-contributing buildings: 17
Non-contributing sites: 1

Update Log 

  • December 20, 2015: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status, Added Description and Added Photos