Birge Watching

Committee maintains historic local landmark


Evan Halpop

The Birge Fountain, located at 402 W. Main St., is a City of Whitewater landmark maintained by a subcommittee of the Landmarks Commission. The historic fountain is named after one of Whitewater’s first settlers, Julius Birge, and has since been dedicated to former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater art professor James M. Wenkle for his work restoring the landmark in 1983 after bouts of vandalism.

Sutton Rettig, Staff Reporter

Throughout the past several years, the Birge Fountain Committee has been putting in efforts to restore the beauty of Birge Fountain, a local landmark.

This committee consists of seven members, including a Common Council representative, a Public Works representative, a Landmarks Commission representative and four citizen members.

Ald. Jim Allen (At-large), founding member of the Birge Fountain Committee, is one of several city council members who works to preserve the fountain’s beauty.

“During my time in office, I have developed an understanding of why the Birge Fountain is such a significant landmark,” Allen said.

Established as a landmark in 1903, Birge Fountain was one of the largest of its kind across the United States.

Donated to the community by Whitewater native Julius Birge, many students and community members alike have become familiar with this landmark.

Named after Birge, one of the first settlers of Whitewater, city officials later opted to have the fountain encapsulate two outstanding Whitewater figures.

In 1983, then-professor of art James M. Wenkle restored portions of the foundation after a destruction of property case occurred. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor, who passed away in 2002, is meant to be honored by the fountain through his efforts to have it be as majestic and marvelous as possible.

Allen articulated the pride he feels from serving on such a noteworthy committee.

“This fountain is a truly historic treasure, and all we’ve done to restore her to glory is remarkable,” Allen said. “Given the significance of it, I am all the more prouder of the work this committee has put in.”

UW-Whitewater junior Jeff Lemenager said he’s found himself marveling at the fountain quite often while embarking on routine jogs across town.

“It’s a really cool piece of scenery,” Lemenager said. “Seeing it makes me feel very centered and balanced in a sense. I feel a certain ‘zen-mode’ come over me in the moments when I pass by it.”

City officials put in several hours of work each year to protect and rejuvenate the fountain. At their Sept. 5, 2017 meeting, Common Council amended the ordinance to address a conflict between the city’s Landmark Commission and Birge Fountain Committee as a subcommittee.

Whitewater’s Landmarks Commission now oversees 22 designated landmarks in the area. Committee meetings are held twice each year in the spring and fall.