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Kenosha, Wisconsin A Good Life in K-Town

 Nestled halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, Kenosha, Wisconsin is a historic  quaint community and the fourth largest city on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Kenosha is bordered by the lake to the east and is bordered by the Town of  Somers to the north, Bristol to the west and the village of Pleasant Prairie to  the south.  

 Easily accessible by major highways and Union Pacific's Metra system, 90 minutes  from Chicago, Kenosha continues to see population growth of 10 percent every five years; in  fact since 1940 Kenosha has seen its population grow by more than 150 percent.  In spite of the recent real estate downturn, sales of homes continue to be  well-above the national average, with the average median sale price down less  than 5 percent in the past year, as opposed to Chicago and Milwaukee where the  median prices have dropped by more than 10 percent in the same period. Kenosha  has a rich and vibrant history that illustrates the rich tapestry of American  history. Though overshadowed by Chicago to the south and Milwaukee to the  north, Kenosha boasts a thriving cultural scene as well as a vibrant economy.  

 From Fisheries to Automobiles

 Prehistoric settlements unearthed by archeologists in the 20th century date back  to the era of Wisconsin glaciation and show that the area was populated by  Paleo-indians as far back as 13,500 years ago. The early name of the are by the Ojibwa Indians is reported as Masu-kinoja. This describes the  place of spawning trout. There were thousands of fish entering the rivers from  Lake Michigan during spawning season. Harvesting these fish provided food for  the coming months.  

 In the 1830's, the first white settlers came as part of the Western Emigration  Company. These settlers came primarily from Hannibal and Troy, New York, led by  John Bullen, Jr. who sought land to purchase for a town. Originally, Bullen had  sought to buy land in Milwaukee and Racine but was unable. Bullen found the  land he was searching for along the Pike Creek in 1835. The settlement was  first named Pike. In the mid 19th century, when the area had become a thriving port on Lake Michigan it was  renamed Southport. (The lovely park on the southeast side of town is still  named Southport, so is the elementary school, as well as several businesses.)  In 1850 the residents decided to name the town Kenosha, as well as the county.  The name is an anglicized version of the Native-American name for the town,  Kinoja. Kenoshans refer to their town affectionately as “K-Town” and Keno.  

 In the 1900s, Kenosha grew rapidly as mass emigration from Europe continued.  Irish, Italian, Polish and German immigrants settled in Kenosha due to the  abundance of manufacturing jobs. (Particularly jobs in what would then have  been considered high-tech industries.) Many of these immigrants were skilled  craftsmen who left their indelible imprint on Kenosha's architecture, culture  and history.  

 During this period, at the dawn of 20th century, Kenosha was a center of modern  technology and became a major producer of automobiles and trucks. In 1900 the  firm of Sullivan-Becker engineering built a prototype steam car. In 1916,  Charles W. Nash established Nash motors in Kenosha which, after the purchase of  the Detroit-based Hudson Motors Company in 1954, became American Motors  Corporation (AMC). AMC constructed a large manufacturing facility and many of  their most famous vehicles were assembled there. In 1960, AMC built a smaller  facility, named AMC Lakeshore Plant, on the shores of Lake Michigan. This  facility remained active until 1988 following the sale of AMC to Chrysler  Motors.  

 In 1990, 10,000 spectators assembled to witness the demolition of the shuttered  AMC Lakeshore Plant. The former industrial property was redeveloped into the  upscale HarborPark. A rambling lakeside community of waterfront condominiums, a recreational marina, water-park, and promenades respite with artwork,  sculptures and fountains.  

 Kenosha Today

 Like many other cities in the Midwest, Kenosha has seen the majority of its  manufacturing industries close or move, but unlike cities such as Detroit,  Kenosha has adapted to these changes and has continued to thrive. Considered a “bedroom” community within the boundary of the Chicago-Milwaukee megalopolis, Kenosha is  attracting so many new residents from Illinois that it is now often referred to  as “Chicago's Northernmost Suburb.” Given the many transportation options available, as well as the overall charm  of the community, Kenosha is very appealing to commuters. According to data  provided by Kenosha County, 49 percent of Kenosha County's residents commute  outside of the county to their jobs.  

 That's not to say that there aren't employment opportunities for residents. The  Milken Institute reported in a June, 2009 study that Kenosha is still on the  cutting edge of technology. The institute reported that Kenosha ranks in the  national top-fifty high tech economies, in fact—high-tech industries inject nearly $3.5 billion into the local economy. The  majority of this revenue is generated by pharmaceutical industries. Abbot  Pharmaceuticals is the largest private employer in Kenosha, and continues to  grow. The pharmaceutical giant recently purchased nearly 400 acres where the  company plans to develop a new corporate campus.  

 Kenosha's economy has not been affected as severely as other cities across the  nation and because of this Kenosha offers a wealth of educational, consumer,  cultural, lifestyle and recreational options.  

 The city is home to six accredited universities and colleges. The local public  school system boasts 24 elementary, six middle schools, seven charter schools,  and six major high schools. According to the State of Wisconsin Department of  Education, Kenosha's public school graduation rate is 84.1 percent, well-above  the national average. The city also is home to several private schools as well.  

 Kenosha is also replete with parks and recreational facilities. The city is  ringed by an emerald necklace of recreational city and county parks, and has eight miles of Lake Michigan  shoreline frontage, nearly all of which is public. The city has 74 municipal  parks, some of the more notable parks include: Petrifying Springs Park, which  flanks the Pike River and was developed in the 1930s on the northwestern edge  of the city, and is named for its artesian mineral water. The park features  more than ten miles of trails which wind through the wooded park. Petrifying  Springs Park also also features an 18-hole golf course. Another beautiful park  is Hawthorn Hollow Nature Sanctuary and Arboretum which has three historic  buildings and several trails for hiking. Many of the parks contain wonderful  sculptures and works of art. Liberty Park has a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln by  artist Charles Henry Niehaus as well as a sculpture by Daniel Burnham entitled  Winged Victory. Perhaps the most well known park is Washington Park which  features the oldest operating velodrome, an arena for bicycle racing, in the US. In the summertime, Kenosha's eight miles of beaches are a welcome  relief from the summer heat.  

 Getting around Kenosha is quite easy. The city has a system of well maintained  streets; an excellent bus service; and a classic electric streetcar system that was introduced in 2000. If your preferred mode of transportation is green, Kenosha is an  exceptionally bike-friendly community. In addition to the extensive park system  Kenosha has several museums including two outposts of the Smithsonian  Institution. The Dinosaur Discovery Museum, a federal repository of fossils, is  located at the Old Post Office on 56th Street; and the Civil War Museum offers  an interactive experience detailing the role that Midwestern states played  during and after the Civil War. The Kenosha Public Museum, on Lake Michigan,  boasts a fossilized Wooly Mammoth discovered in 1992 in western Kenosha, and  the museum also possesses an extensive fine art collection.  

 Throughout the year Kenosha hosts a thriving music scene. The Kenosha Pops  Orchestra give free concerts at the Pennoyer Park Bandshell every Wednesday  from mid-June through early August. The Kenosha Symphony Orchestra gives  concerts at the historic Reuther Central Auditorium. Throughout the summer  months there are numerous music festivals including the Peanut Butter and Jam  Concert Series and the Lincoln Park Live! music series. On the way to these  outdoor festivals stop by the farmer's market and pick up some of the local  bounty.  

 Kenosha, and it's surrounding areas are also an oasis for true shop-a-holics.  Downtown Kenosha is a reminder of days past with many small independently owned  stores lining the streets, easily accessible by the electric street car. The  town of Pleasant Prairie, just to the east of Kenosha, is a bargain-hunters  paradise and home to the Pleasant Prairie Prime Outlet Mall.  

 Housing

 For those thinking about moving to Kenosha they will be delighted with the  housing choices available. The Kenosha area is about as diverse as they come.  From condominiums and townhouses to established homes; from existing units to  new construction; from lakefront living to more secluded rural properties; a  new Kenoshan will find just the right surroundings. The new HarborPark  neighborhood offers waterfront condo living, offering spectacular views of Lake  Michigan, with all the modern amenities expected. Others may choose a more  classically urban setting and settle into one of the many urban neighborhoods  which are close to transportation, shopping, schools and recreation. Others  still may opt for the rural countryside, communities surrounding inland lakes,  farmland, woodlands and plenty of room to roam.  

 The types of units and buildings range from the modest to the luxurious, and the  neighborhoods reflect the diversity of the residents. Like everywhere else in  the nation Kenosha was hit by the recent recession, but not as hard as other  communities in the Chicagoland area. Kenosha has certainly fared much better  than Chicago or Milwaukee. While industry professionals are predicting  declining prices approaching 10 percent or higher, for the upcoming year, in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, in Kenosha however, housing prices are  expected to decline less than 5 percent. These predictions seem to be  on-target. A condo in the popular Harbor Place building located in the  HarborPark neighborhood is presently selling for $399,000. The price of this  unit, three bedrooms with views of Lake Michigan, is atypical for the  HarborPark neighborhood, the median price for a unit is at $148,000, up 1.3  percent from last month. While a two bedroom condo, closer to Kenosha city  center, is selling for around $132,000 or about 12 percent below the median  price.  

 Looking Ahead

 Buyers and sellers are still extremely nervous, but real estate professionals  are beginning to feel a bit more confident. Most brokers in the Kenosha area  believe that the market has bottomed out and the number of sales will begin to  increase. The relative affordability of homes, the proximity to Chicago, and  the fact that businesses and industries continue to grow in Kenosha, will  continue to draw in new residents which will keep Kenosha the little evergreen  jewel that it is right in the middle of Chicago and Milwaukee.      n

 

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