Playing with our Past

Founded in 1847 with saw, feed and flour mills, Cambridge was legendarily named by one of our founding fathers, Alvin B. Carpenter, after the hometown of his sweetheart. Cambridge’s past is filled with bustling 19th century commerce, crop and tobacco farming and Lake Ripley recreation. Visitors today can tour the Cambridge 1906 Historic School to learn about our past with museum displays reflecting our interesting history.

Uniquely located on the Dane and Jefferson County line next to beautiful Lake Ripley, Cambridge remained an “inland” town, untouched by railroad development. Despite lacking local rail access, Cambridge thrived and even became a birthplace of innovation as Cambridge resident Ole Evinrude developed the outboard motor inspired by Lake Ripley. Arthur Davidson, founding partner in Harley-Davidson, was a Cambridge resident and personally delivered one of his new motorbikes to replace the mail delivery bicycle at our post office. NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth is a recent local celebrity and visitors can check out the Matt Kenseth Fan Club in downtown Cambridge featuring memorabilia and racing cars from his wins.

At a slower pace, the peaceful tides of Lake Ripley have long been a popular getaway for Chicago and Milwaukee vacationers and favorite relaxation spot for locals. Our parks, public beach and playgrounds give easy access to sparkling waters for swimming, boating, kayaking and canoeing. Lake Ripley Country Club, established in 1915 by Cambridge icon A.R. Amundson, is a local gem celebrating over a century of golf in our community.

From our roots in grist and grit, Cambridge has evolved into an artist’s hotspot. We’re a haven for potters, artisans and creatives of all types. We boast a healthy Cambridge Arts Council, hosting the annual Midwest Fire Fest each July, along with summertime concerts in our downtown Veteran’s Park (combined with an open-air market). Handcrafted artisan goods are available for shoppers any day of the week in our Main Street shops including Rowe Pottery, which has stood on the same Cambridge corner for over 40 years. Each piece of Rowe Pottery is one-of-a-kind, bearing the signature stamp of both the artisan and the decorator.

Since the 1990s, the development and expansion of the CamRock trail system has energized Cambridge into an active place to play. These trails continue to expand and connect for hikers and bikers. The trailhead for CamRock 1 is just steps outside the back door of CamRock Café for year-round adventure. Rent bikes, skis or bring your own for a trail adventure. And, when you’re done, we’ve got a spot to relax, refuel and reflect at any of our unique eateries.

So, why the umbrella? In 1938, local candy maker Arthur Melster led local businesspeople to brand Cambridge “the umbrella vacation spot” with our beautiful lake and bustling area amenities. Umbrellas were placed on our light poles downtown and Cambridge became known as the “Umbrella City.” Today, we like to think of the umbrella as a sign to slow down, enjoy and “Do a Day of Play.”