March 16, 2019

5 Fun Facts about Sparta, Wisconsin

Posted by: Jennifer

Sparta is a small town with a fascinating history. From its days as a pioneer settlement to its current status as the Bicycling Capital of America, Sparta has grown, changed, and thrived. Sparta is home to a famous feminist leader, a revered astronaut, and the largest bicycle statue in the world. Read on for this and other fun facts about our favorite little Wisconsin town.   

1. It All Started with the Pettit Family

In the mid-19th century, the Pettit family became the first group to make a land claim in Sparta. Frank Pettit built a log cabin near Castle Rock in 1849/1950 but was forced to relocate after the original Native American tribes forced him from the land (Sparta was originally inhabited by the Winnebago, Fox, and Sauk tribes.) Soon after, Frank’s brother arrived with their father and mother and the family built another cabin on the west bank of Beaver Creek, near what is now the corner of North Court and West Main Streets. Currently, the Sparta Free Library stands in its place. Grandma Petitt even gave Sparta its name. Though her exact reasoning is unknown, it is believed that Grandma Petitt was an avid reader who thought the pioneers who settled this new land were as brave and strong as the ancient Spartans.

2. Sparta Owes Its Growth to Nearby Mineral Waters

In the 1860s, mineral rich waters were discovered in and around Sparta. Several Spartans claimed that the waters had cured them of ailments such as rheumatism, dyspepsia, and chronic diarrhea. By 1869, locals started distributing pamphlets on the medicinal value of the artisanal springs. In 1871, the Mineral Spring Water Cure and Hotel Association was formed to promote the healing effects of the mineral waters along with the local hotels, baths, and spas. This led to a tourist boom as people from all over the country flocked to Sparta hoping the waters held a magic cure. Whether or not these mystical waters actually worked, they helped make Sparta the thriving town it is today.  

3. One of the Mothers of Modern Feminism is From Sparta

Kathryn “Kay” Dorothy Frederik was born in Spartan on October 7th, 1920. Kathryn later married and changed her name to Clarenbach, but this native Spartan would go on to become one of the founding mothers of modern feminism. In 1966, Clarenbach founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) alongside Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique. Clarenbach was the first chair of NOW and spearheaded their campaigns against sexual discrimination in the workplace.

4. A Famous Astronaut is From Here Too

While Kathryn Clarenbach was fighting injustice on planet earth, Deke Slayton was exploring the stars. Slayton, who was born in Sparta in 1924, served as a WWII pilot and aeronautical engineer before becoming an astronaut. He was selected as one of seven NASA Project Mercury astronauts and became NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office, the most senior leadership position for active astronauts. His life and career is memorialized at the Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bike Museum.

5. Sparta is Home to the World’s Largest Bicycle

At a whopping 32-feet tall, Sparta’s iconic Ben Bikin’ statue is considered the Largest Bicycling Statue in the World. This quirky local treasure depicts a mustached man in a red jacket and bright yellow pants riding an old-fashioned bicycle. It is the perfect landmark for the Bicycling Capital of America. With 100 miles of connected trails, Sparta is truly a cyclists dream. For more information, read our exclusive Cyclist’s Guide to Sparta. Ben Bikin’ was constructed by the FAST Corp (Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Structures) right here in Sparta, which specializes in a variety of fiberglass items and structures that ship all around the world. Consider a self-guided tour of their “graveyard” where you can stroll about their eerie and fun collection of out-of-use structures.


Planning a trip to Sparta, Wisconsin this spring? Book a stay at the charming and historic Franklin Victorian Inn!



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