Port Washington is the seat of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. Port Washington is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it is part of the Lake Michigan and Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway waterway systems. The Port Washington Marina is about 24 nautical miles (41 kilometers or 25 miles) north of the Port of Milwaukee. The 2010 US Census reported a population of over 11 thousand people in Port Washington.
One of the Great Lakes' biggest charter fishing fleets is located in Port Washington. The city is also home to shoe maker Allen Edmonds and Simplicity Manufacturing Company (bought by Briggs & Stratton in 2004 and closed in 2008).
The Sauks (or Sacs) people are part of the Eastern Woodlands culture in North America. The Sauks originally inhabited the area along the St. Lawrence River, but they were driven to the Saginaw Bay area by other tribes. They were then pushed to modern northern Illinois and Wisconsin, including the area that would become Port Washington, by the Huron.
The Sauks were closed related to the Fox (or Meskwaki) people who took shelter with the Sauks after being defeated in their second war with the French in the early 18th Century. Keokuk, or Black Hawk, was an important leader of the Sauks who attempted to hold tribal lands. In 1832, their Blackhawk War with the United States culminated in defeat by General Edmund P. Gaines.
In 1869, most of the Sauks moved onto reservations in the Oklahoma Territory, merging with the Fox into today's Sac and Fox Nation. Some of the people remained in or returned to Iowa as the Mesquakie Tribe. Today, the federally recognized Sac and Fox Nation headquarters are located in Stroud, Oklahoma. Also recognized by the federal government, the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi is headquartered in Tama, Iowa, and the Sac and Fox Nation of Kansas and Missouri is headquartered in Reserve, Kansas.
General Wooster Harrison was the first permanent white settler in Port Washington, which he named Wisconsin City in 1835. In the early 1840s, the town was renamed Sauk Washington, and it was named Port Washington in 1882.
Blessed with a natural harbor, Port Washington became a Great Lakes port, exporting many products that included cord wood, rye and wheat flour, fish, hides, and bricks. By the 1850s, Port Washington was home to some 2500 people, and immigrants from Luxembourg and Germany continued to arrive into the mid-1860s. The railroad came to Port Washington and Ozaukee County in 1870, and major improvements were made to the harbor. Dredging created the first man-made harbor in North America.
In 1888, the Wisconsin Chair Factory opened in Port Washington and brought an era of rapid growth. Gilson Manufacturing Company started manufacturing tractor lawn mowers and garden tractors in 1894, quickly becoming Port Washington's second biggest business. Port Washington's first commercial fishing business, owned by Delos and Herbert Smith, was opened in 1896. The Smith Brothers grew to a fleet of fishing tugs that produced wholesale fish, burbot oil, whitefish caviar, retail fish markets, and finally a hotel and restaurants. Paramount Records was located in Port Washington from 1910 until 1935.
In 1943, Wisconsin Electric Power (today's We Energies) announced that their Port Washington power plant was the "most efficient steam power plant in the world." From the time its beginnings in 1935 until 2004, the plant received coal shipments by lake boat. It has since been converted to natural gas to produce electricity. When the coal shipments ended in 2004, Port Washington's life as a commercial port ended. Today, the harbor is used by recreational boaters, and the Port Washington Marina is the major commercial enterprise in the port.
Port Washington has Wisconsin's biggest collection of pre-Civil War buildings, many on the National Register of Historic Places. One of these is the 1854 three-story courthouse, and the Port Washington Visitor Center is located in the historic "Pebble House" (Edward Dodge House).