█ Discover Stoughton, Wisconsin
Everyone was Norwegian on Syttende Mai
If you’re looking to buy a home somewhere in the greater Madison area, Stoughton may not initially come to mind. It might not qualify as a true suburb of the Capitol City, but then again, that might not be such a bad thing. After all, Stoughton’s 15-mile drive into Madison is certainly close enough to commute to work or to the UW campus. Stoughton is the best of both worlds — close to all the big city amenities while still maintaining a small town vibe and an identity all its own.
And Stoughton definitely has its own identity — with a Norwegian heritage and traditions that date back to the mid 1800s. The city was founded by Luke Stoughton, who, impressed with the trees, river and prairie in the area, bought land and built a sawmill and gristmill. He then encouraged others — shopkeepers, tradesmen, teachers, farmers, and physicians to follow his lead. The railroad was soon rerouted through town. And Lake Kegonsa, just north of the city, initially attracted summer tourists. Later, local resident began to settle along those shores as well.
But it was a change in local farming practices from wheat to tobacco — a much more labor-intensive crop — that ultimately contributed to the large influx of immigrants from Norway, resulting in a community with rich traditions deeply rooted in their Scandinavian heritage. In fact, there was a time when as many as 75 percent of Stoughton’s residents spoke Norwegian.
That tradition, of course is continued throughout the year in many places. The city’s gift shops boast Norwegian merchandise, local churches and service organizations hold lutefisk and lefse dinners, and Stoughton High School’s Norwegian Dancers entertain local, regional and occasionally even national and international audiences with their traditional costumes and Norwegian folk dancing and acrobatics.
But if you know anything about Stoughton, it’s probably that each year the city goes all out in its celebration of the anniversary of Norway’s Constitution-signing. Named for that date in history, “Syttende Mai” has evolved into a weekend-long festival complete with parades, food, entertainment, and athletic events — all hosted by a Syttende King and Queen.
Today, Stoughton offers just about everything you may need right at your fingertips. There are several churches (many reflecting the Lutheran heritage of their founding fathers) and many restaurants. Three elementary schools feed into two middle school and one high school. With an enrollment of just over 1,000, Stoughton High School not only meets the needs of the students but opens their Performing Arts Center and updated Aquatic Center (featuring 8 lanes and 2 diving boards) to the community as well.
Stoughton continues to be a growing city. Its population of 13,058 is up 3.64 percent from 2010. The median selling price of homes here is $218,000, with prices increasing by 13 percent over the last decade. And the median age of residents is a young 39.5, with a median income of $57,813.
Stoughton Hospital prides itself on offering “Trusted care. Close to Home.” In fact, that’s their slogan! The state-of-the art facilities provide outstanding care for residents of Stoughton as well as surrounding communities. And you’ll find that many Madison doctors have medical privileges at Stoughton Hospital, allowing for treatment closer to home.
The Dane County Regional Airport is just a hop skip and a jump away from Stoughton, up Hwy 51. This route also provides a connection to the Beltline with quick access to the east and west sides of Madison. And if the Stoughton Walmart doesn’t fulfill your shopping needs, East Towne Mall is a short distance away on Madison’s east side.
If you’re more into exercise than shopping, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of other things to do here. There are 15 city parks — with three trails and six shelters. You’ll even find a bike park, a skate park and several gardens
Stoughton also has two golf courses within range. Coachman’s Golf Resort, just off Hwy I90/94, is a 27-hole course open to the public. It has a clubhouse for dining and events. And Stoughton Country Club is a private 18-hole golf course on the south shore of Lake Kegonsa. The Club also offers dining to members and opens their facilities to the public for weddings and banquets.
Music lovers from all around the area have attended performances at the historic Stoughton Opera House, one of the few remaining second story theaters in the Midwest.
And there’s no doubt that Stoughton residents can appreciate a little rest and relaxation as well. In fact, it’s said that it was the hardworking early Norwegian settlers that were responsible for the invention of the mid-day “coffee-break.”
Now isn’t that the kind of place you’d like to call home?
█ GETTING TO KNOW STOUGHTON NEIGHBORHOODS
You might say Stoughton, Wisconsin offers residents the best of both worlds. With a population of just over 13,000 people it has that small town feel — all just a stone’s throw from the amenities of nearby Madison.
Located just south of Lake Kegonsa, the housing market here covers a wide range of architectural styles. Stoughton’s history dates back to the mid-1800s yet the city continues to grow today. So, there are neighborhoods that appeal to a vast range of tastes and preferences — from historical homes to lake homes, and new construction to fixer-uppers. And all of them are conveniently-located, making a trip up to Madison, down to Janesville, or simply to Main Street Stoughton all within easy access.
Students in the city’s 3 elementary schools funnel into 1 middle school and then on to Stoughton High School. So where you choose to live often depends more on your choice of housing style and neighborhood atmosphere than school boundaries.
Stoughton residents seem to be a mix of blue collar and white-collar workers, with a higher-than average (35%) of adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher. But no matter their education or ethnicity (not everyone is Norwegian!), they have one thing in common. They appreciate Stoughton’s mix of quaint coziness and convenient location.
Like many small communities, Stoughton is surrounded by rural farmland, homes “in the country,” and small developments within the nearby towns such as Dunn, Dunkirk, Rutland and Pleasant Springs. Depending on specific location homes here, of course, often tend to offer homeowners greater privacy and larger lots (or farmland).
While many Lake Kegonsa residents consider themselves a part of the Stoughton community, those living on the southern portion of the lake are also part of the Stoughton School District — making families they’re feel even more connected to the community. This is an area that was once primarily cottages and small homes. Many of the homeowners were summer residents in town to get away from the bigger cities and take advantage of all the lake had to offer. Today, the majority of these have been replaced with larger year-round homes — that often appeal to families.
Door Creek/Hope is a large rural area that includes the shores of Lake Kegonsa. The pricier lake homes in this area may be one reason the median real estate price is $364,099 here. The average rental cost is $1,461. Medium-sized 3- and 4-bedroom homes and large 4- and 5-bedroom single-family homes are the norm. Most were built between 1970 and 1999, although there are some older homes in this area as well. A whopping 98.2% of the houses here are detached single-family homes — a percentage that ranks it in the top 2.6% of neighborhoods with this make-up in the country. Door Creek/Hope is home to many families — so there’s always something going on.
The City Center is a suburban neighborhood with a mix of smaller 2-bedroom and slightly larger 3- and 4-bedroom single-family homes. This is an area of town featuring many historic homes built well before 1939, and another group of homes that went up much later between 1970 and 1999. This neighborhood appeals to small families and singles, but according to neighborhoodscout.com, it’s especially attractive to Stoughton retirees. Close to the Senior Center and downtown restaurants and shops, it’s considered “more retiree-friendly than 97.6% of neighborhoods in Wisconsin.”
Lincoln Avenue/Roby Road is bordered by Page street on the east, Hwy 51 to the west and south and County Road B on the north. Homes here are generally in the $236,000 range, with rents at $1,169. It’s a suburban neighborhood, featuring mostly small and medium-sized single-family homes with between 1- and 4- bedrooms. There are also some apartments in the neighborhood. Many were built in the two decades prior to 1999, although a significant number were also built between 2000 and today. Fun fact: this neighborhood has a greater number of people with Norwegian and German heritage living there than almost any other city in America.
Adjacent to the Lincoln Avenue neighborhood, just to the south, is Route 51/Main Street. It too, is a suburban neighborhood, with the average home here selling for $243,440 and the average rent coming in at $1,193. Again, small and medium-sized homes with between 1 and 4 bedrooms is the norm. There are also apartments in this area and the residents are a mix of homeowners and renters. Like much of Stoughton, many of the homes were built between 1970 and 1999, but this is also an area of older homes dating back to before 1940.
Whichever neighborhood you may choose, you’ll find that Stoughton’s mix of big city amenities with the welcoming atmosphere of Small Town America is a place where you’re sure to feel right at home.
CITY OF STOUGHTON
STOUGHTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
STOUGHTON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT
STOUGHTON SENIOR CENTER
█ Things To Do in Stoughton
When someone mentions Stoughton, Wisconsin, you may think of Syttende Mai. That’s OK. It’s only natural — most people do! But in case you don’t know, Syttende Mai is the weekend-long festival in the middle of May held to celebrate the city’s Norwegian heritage.
With 3 days full of food, fun, parades, performances and athletics what’s not to love? It’s definitely memorable. Many festival-goers of Norwegian heritage can be seen strolling the streets in Norwegian garb, but on Syttende Mai, well, everyone is Norwegian!
But you may be surprised to know that there are plenty of other things to do in Stoughton — all year long.
Here’s a look at a few of them.
Eugster’s Farm Market and Petting Zoo
Just a few miles west of Stoughton on Hwy 138, Eugster’s has attracted people to the farm for decades. Bring the kids, come for the fresh produce — and stay to pet the animals!
Livsreise Museum (a/k/a Norwegian Heritage Center)
This Main Street Museum is fascinating to anyone who enjoys a look back in history — but especially those with any Norwegian ancestry in their blood. Learn the story of Norwegians coming to America and the life they led upon arriving here. In this city of such strong Norwegian heritage, many of the items on display were heirlooms passed down and donated by local families.
Stoughton Opera House
One of the last 2-story auditoriums in the U.S., this restored historic building is a treasure. Stop by for a tour of the building’s history — or come out for one of the many performances (in a wide variety of genres) that are scheduled throughout the year. Beware — the wooden seats aren’t the most comfortable, but they do offer free cushions!
Troll Beach at Mandt Park
The kids will love this man-made swimming hole, complete with sandy beaches. A water slide and water toys add to the fun. You can get a summer family pass or pay per visit. Great family fun for all ages.
Stoughton Village Players
The group has been entertaining Stoughton-ites and friends for decades. The Players put on talented performances, from dramas to musicals. But it’s the original plays created for Syttende Mai that have Norwegians and visitors alike rolling in the floor at the antics of the infamous Ole and Lena.
From Cheesers (you guessed it — cheese, condiments, gifts and more), to All Through the House (gifts and gadgets for your kitchen and bath) and the Nordic Nook (Norwegian gifts and clothing), Stoughton has many stores and items sure to fit your fancy. For the more practical, visit Stoughton’s Walmart Supercenter on the west die of town or check out the bargains at the St. Vincent de Paul Resale Shop or Goodwill Store, both on Main St.
Lake Kegonsa State Park
You may think of the lake as strictly summer fun, but Lake Kegonsa State Park is actually open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Located on the northeast side of the lake, you’ll find plenty to do here in through every season. There’s the obvious — swimming, hiking, picnicking, concessions, fishing, camping and much more to do on your own. But in addition, the park hosts classes such as kickboxing and events like Midwest Heritage Education Expo, Beach Bonfire, Birding tours, Nature Storytime sessions, guided hikes and more. Visitors can pay buy a day pass or get an annual State Park sticker at a greatly reduced price.
Stoughton is also home to many city parks, a local movie theater, and a large selection of restaurants, from hometown favorites to regional and national chains. You’ll definitely want to stop by in May for Syttende Mai — but be sure to come back again to explore all the other treats Stoughton has to offer. You’ll be glad you did!
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Updated: 1st December, 2022 5:28 PM (UTC).