Once covered by a glacier, the town of Delavan was first inhabited by Native Americans around 1000 B.C. Over time, Mound Builders moved into the Delavan Lake area, building over 200 effigy mounds along the north shore. Potawotomi Indians were also settled in the area, and burial mounds can still be seen in Assembly Park. The Delavan region saw territorial changes from 1800 through 1848, when Statehood was granted. The first white settlers came to Delavan in 1836, and one of the first was named Allen Perkins from Rockford, Illinois. He was quickly joined by two men: Samuel and Henry Phoenix. Samuel was responsible for naming the town Delavan after E.C.Delavan. Delavan was born in 1793 and was a temperance leader from New York.
The first settlers were successful farmers and businessmen who had the money to settle in a new area. Most of the land was used for agriculture. Settlers arrived on steamers traveling the Great Lakes, while those that came from the west traveled by wagon. The first church built in the town was the Baptist church, built in 1839. The church opposed slavery and believed strongly in temperance. As the town developed, Samuel Phoenix and his brother Henry were responsible for building the first general store and the first grist mill in 1839. Both Phoenix brothers were buried in the Old Settler’s Cemetery after they died: Samuel in 1840 and Henry in 1842.
Delavan saw a large increase in their deaf population when the Wisconsin School for the Deaf was founded on April 19, 1852. The first residence built on Delavan Lake was by Dr. Fredrick L. VonSuessmilch in 1875. Over the next 20 years, more houses, hotels and resorts popped up on the lakeshore. From the early 1900s onward, Delavan became a place recognized for art, as the first major manufacturer in town was the Bradley Knitting Company, opening their doors in 1904. Running for 30 years, Bradley was responsible for much of the growth in this time as employees came to the area and built homes for their families.
During WWI and WWII and the following Great Depression, the town of Delavan saw less devastation than other areas. The resorts that had built up around the lake helped to keep the economy going. By the 1940s and 1950s, the town continued to prosper. The Delavan-Darien High School was built, a new water town was erected and Borg and Ajay Industries built plants in the town. Swiss Tech and Andes Candies joined the area in the 1980s. Today, Delavan is one of the major manufacturing and industrial centers in Walworth County and is home to over 230 businesses. It has a population of over 8,000 people and has many events, activities and sights to offer – not to mention a great deal of character.