From "Yuba" to "Cuba" to "The City of Presidents"
Today, Cuba City is a stable community that continues to grow each year; however, that wasn't always the case. One-hundred-seventy years ago, John Amie Merle and Mathais Comstock bought 160 acres of southwest Wisconsin land, now recognized as Cuba City, from the American Government on June 14, 1836.
In 1846, a lone man named Jack Deboard erected the first building and is considered to be the first settler in Cuba City. Later, Issac Nicholas began farming on the same land. The land was ideal for farming in the late 1800's. The two men were settled before Wisconsin even became a state.
In 1853, Stedman Davis bought the 160 acres from Merle and Comstock and then built a roadside inn called "The Western" on what is now North Main Street. The Western was the first business in Cuba City and served many travelers as a food and rest stop.
The glory days of The Western were short lived. In 1869, the traffic slowed considerable as the popularity of railroads grew. The Western was closed and it was documented by J.W. Murphy that "there was little foundation for the hope that a town would ever occupy this site." Just as hope was wearing thin, William Stephens, a man with a vision, reopened The Western in 1870 and bought the 160 acres of land originally bought by Merle and Comstock from the government. When John Stephens caught word about little brother Will buying the plot of land, he also traveled to Cuba City and opened a general store called "J. Stephens Store."
In 1874, the proud community was eager to lend a hand to progress and collectively contributed $60,000 in order to build a railroad station in town. The railroad establishment allowed John Stephens, Solomon Craiglow, and Madison Y. Johnson to declare the 160 acres of land as a town site in 1875. Naming the new town posed a problem for the three men. Craiglow was intent on naming the town "Yuba" because he had acquired his wealth from mining the Yuba River in California. J. Stephens, on the other hand, thought it should simply be called Stephensville because it was he and his brother who rediscovered the area. Johnson was indifferent. The conversation is said to run something like the following: M.Y. Johnson began by asking the others what they each thought the new name should be. J. Stephens replied "We will call it Stephensville!" At this, Craiglow retorted, "You b' damned we won't!" J. Stephen responded quickly, "That's it. We'll call it Yuba!"
According to the 1880 U. S. Census the 'Village of Cuba' had a population of 48 people. There were two people who were 'hunters'; a wheelright; a blacksmith; a stage drive; two dry goods merchants; six farmworkers; two dressmakers; a grain dealer and one teacher. The name Yuba remained for a while until it was discovered that another Yuba already existed in the state. Yuba then changed to Cuba. The Post Office address had always read "Cuba, Wisconsin" but the sign on the railroad station had always read "Cuba City." Because of this contradiction, Postmaster W.H. Goldthorpe formally asked the Post Office Department to change the name officially to Cuba City in the mid-20's. To convince the Department that this change was necessary, Goldthorpe pointed out that there were 15 other Cubas in the United States, which caused too much confusion in handling the mail. The Department agreed with his valid point and officially designated the town Cuba City. Today, Cuba City also is referred to as the City of Presidents. A theme which stems from the presidential plaques on Main Street.
Cuba City - City of Presidents - 1975 - 2008
Originally Cuba City was known for it's "Parade of Presidents." This was in reference to a bicentennial community project commemorating our nation's 200th birthday in the year 1976. The idea for a "Parade of Presidents" came in a dream for elementary principal, Joe Goeman. The colorful red, white, and blue shields include all U.S. Presidents, beginning with George Washington, and line Cuba City's Main Street. Each shield displays a President's name, silhouette, term in office and birth state. The shields are accented by U.S. flags provided by the Cuba City V.F.W. Post #8318. The flags fly high over each shield from Memorial Day through Veteran's Day. During the holiday season the flags are replaced by Christmas decorations. The original shields, made of plywood, were refurbished several times during the past 30 years and were replaced with a durable plastic in 1989. On Sunday, October 17, 1993, a proclamation from the Cuba City Council was read to officially change the motto from "Parade of Presidents" to the new motto of "City of Presidents." The project was made possible by cooperation and participation of students, citizens, business people, and organizations from the community. The "Parade of Presidents" is one of the longest lasting remaining bicentennial projects still going on in the U.S. and has been featured in many newspaper and magazine articles.
The presidential shields are greatly admired by many visitors and travelers passing through the community.
- Written by Joe Goeman