JEFFERSON — Jefferson’s Main Street could get a big makeover, courtesy of “Home Town Takeover.”
Jefferson is the only community in the county applying for a makeover contest that could land the city on a new six-episode television series coordinated by HGTV “Home Town” hosts Ben and Erin Napier.
The guidelines are simple. All applicants must have a historical downtown district and spots of architectural interest, and they must have a population of 40,000 or less.
The planned six-episode series is expected to air in 2021.
All submissions now are in, and contest coordinators currently are mulling the entries.
There’s no word on when exactly the winner will be announced, but it is likely coordinators will narrow the initial field of applications to the top candidates, then proceed to on-site visits to determine the suitability of the remaining candidates.
Ellen Waldmer, a local Rotarian and founding member of the Arts Alliance of Greater Jefferson, spearheaded the drive to prepare an application for her home community after an artist she had worked with in the Plein Air painting demonstrations the city has hosted alerted her of the opportunity.
By the time Waldmer heard about the contest, however, there only was a little over a week left before the deadline. Immediately she reached out to city officials and the local chamber of commerce to get their backing for the application process.
Jen Pinnow, executive director of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, thought it was a great idea but was swamped at the time preparing for the chamber’s annual dinner and awards ceremony.
Mayor Dale Oppermann and City Administrator Tim Freitag agreed to assist with the process, and local businesses quickly stepped up to offer their endorsement and expertise.
The application entailed not only a written essay sharing highlights about the city, but also five still photos and a video.
Waldmer reached out to Jefferson’s RE/MAX SHINE real estate office, ReMax, which regularly produces video of the community as part of its business, and RE/MAX officials said they absolutely would oversee the video process.
Meanwhile, the chamber submitted some still photos of the community.
Also assisting with the process was Steve Lewis of the Jefferson Woolen Mills/Jefferson Area Business Center, located in the downtown right across the walkbridge from city hall, and Julia Chady, who recently has remodeled one of the historic downtown storefronts for her interior design business.
“We have a lot going on in our community that could make it a real tourist destination with just a little boost,” Waldmer said.
“’The Hometown Takeover’ could help us get there faster,” the community leader said.
Waldmer said she believes Jefferson has what it takes to be a featured community for the “Home Town Takeover.” It has a beautiful historic downtown, the stunning pedestrian walkbridge, and a lively entertainment scene, much of it centered right in the downtown.
However, the community was hit hard by the Great Flood of 2008, which flooded entire neighborhoods, damaging many homes and businesses, and forcing them to relocate outside the floodplain.
Locals will remember a period of time in the summer of 2008 when the north side of the city was entirely unaccessible from the south side and vice-versa, as a 500-year flood had submerged major roads and bridges.
Many businesses had a lot of rebuilding to do after that, the impacts of which still are being felt today.
Then, following the Great Flood of 2008 came the recession of 2009 which hit the already injured city hard.
“That really hurt our downtown,” Waldmer stated. “A lot of business owners are hanging on and making a living but they can’t afford to invest in the kind of historic makeover that ‘Home Town Takeover’ is offering.”
The following information is taken from Jefferson’s written application for the “Home Town Takeover,” which included an essay on why the community would be a great candidate.
“The city of Jefferson, Wis., with a population of 7,997 combines the ease of urban living with the beauty and freshness of a rural environment. It is conveniently located five miles south of Interstate-94, between Madison and Milwaukee, and is intersected by Wisconsin state highways 18 and 26.
“Main Street shows off its vintage buildings and steepled churches built by German craftsmen. Two picturesque rivers flow through the middle of town. Our rivers are a focal point for visitors and residents, so they can float up and catch a concert or meal or even camp along the riverbank.
“We know what we have is special, because people from big cities keep moving here.
“Jefferson was founded in 1836. In its infancy, it was described as a ‘city in a woods,’ as the area was covered with maple, oak, white ash and elm along with some walnut, cherry, butternut and basswood groves,” the application reads. “Very early settlers from New England arrived by canoe and boat, and settled in shanties along the river. The first Germans traveled from Milwaukee in 1842.
“That marked the start of a strong heritage that remains today not only in our buildings throughout town, but also in the people who celebrate our German heritage during Gemuetlichkeit Days.
“In fact, this year marks the 50th annual Gemuetlichkeit celebration, which begins with crowning a king and queen at the May Ball and ends with a three-day German heritage festival over in September including the tapping of the first keg, a sauerkraut-eating contest, polka dancing all weekend, a huge parade on Main Street and many more activities.
“Some of the major personality traits and values attributed to Jefferson’s German settlers, including hard work, discipline, organization and love of tradition, still are apparent in the community today.
The application stated that residents of Jefferson often describe their community and its residents as friendly and family-oriented.
“As you drive or stroll through the streets of Jefferson, you will see many of Jefferson’s beautiful homes dating back to the mid-1800s. Many are well maintained and restored back to near-original condition. Jefferson’s residential streets in the older sections of town are lined with mature trees that provide a breathtaking show of colors as the seasons change,” the application essay stated.
“New homes and subdivisions have developed on the northwest, northeast and southeast sides of Jefferson to accommodate the city’s growing population. Although Jefferson has grown and prospered, it still has the serene and tranquil atmosphere of a small country town.
The Crawfish and Rock rivers offer boating, canoeing and fishing. We have one of only a few constructed fish ladders in the state by the Rock River Dam. The Rock River provides excellent fishing and attracts anglers from all over the area. A new walkway on the west bank was completed in 2013, with a great viewing area of the dam.
“Jefferson County has miles of paved bike paths. The 52-mile Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail, located just north of the city, runs from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. The trail is open to bikers, hikers and joggers during the summer, and to snowmobilers and skiers during the winter.”
The application noted that those with a taste for nostalgia can visit the Highway 18 Outdoor Theater, one of the few remaining outdoor theaters in the country. Open from late April through September, it shows current movies for all ages.
Jefferson residents, the application said, have a strong sense of service to the community. The essay cited the many service clubs at Jefferson High School as well as the adult services clubs including Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Optimists and Tomorrow’s Hope.
“Why should Jefferson be chosen for a ‘Hometown Takeover’?” the application asks.
“In the spring of 2008, Wisconsin experienced widespread record-setting floods. Jefferson was not spared. Residents and business owners watched floodwaters overtake their homes and businesses. Local, state and federal money was used to remove 50 properties from flood zones in Jefferson County and Rivers Edge Meat Market was moved to South Main Street in Jefferson from its former site just feet from the Rock River.
“The following year the community suffered the loss of numerous jobs when manufacturing plants closed during the 2009 economic downturn. This led more residents to find employment in other cities and, in turn, caused a decline for local downtown businesses.
“Therefore, a limited amount of retail is left on Main Street. Jefferson does not have as many open storefronts as some small communities. Our Main Street area includes a library, title office, city hall, county courthouse, antique store, consignment shop, two restaurants, a coffee shop, a jewelry store, an interior design company, law offices, a credit union, a bank, real estate offices and accountants’ offices, the application said.
“Within a couple-block radius can be found the city’s post office, a five-generation bakery, a couple more restaurants, hair salons, insurance offices, and a new winery and distillery opening in June in a historic livery stable being beautifully rehabilitated.
“Given the impact of the Great Flood of 2008, followed by the economic downturn, while we have many beautiful homes and buildings on and around Main Street, we also have our share of those in need of tender-loving care. These building owners love their buildings, homes and businesses but, in many cases, don’t have the financial ability to invest in needed updates.”
“Hometown Take Over” can bring the vision, expertise and talent to “bring love back to these buildings,” the application said.