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Aerial view of Portage, Wisconsin
Downtown Portage
Portage is a city in and the county seat of Columbia Countymarker, Wisconsinmarker, United Statesmarker. The population was 9,728 at the 2000 census and was estimated at 9,802 in 2007, making it the largest city in Columbia County. The city is part of the Madison Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Portage was named for the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway, a portage between the Fox River and the Wisconsin River, which was recognized by Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet during their discovery of a route to the Mississippi River in 1673. The city's slogan is "Where the North Begins".


Portage is located at (43.545704, -89.463199) .Portage lies in the Wisconsin River valley. The city is surrounded by prairies and grasslands. Approximately three miles (5 km) west of the city are the Baraboo bluffs.According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.0 square miles (23.4 km²), of which, 8.3 square miles (21.5 km²) of it is land and 0.7 square miles (1.9 km²) of it (8.09%) is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 9,728 people, 3,770 households, and 2,228 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,172.9 people per square mile (453.1/km²). There were 3,970 housing units at an average density of 478.7/sq mi (184.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.76% White, 3.90% African American, 0.51% Native American, 0.71% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 0.85% from other races, and 1.21% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.39% of the population.

There were 3,770 households out of which 30.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.5% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.9% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.96.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.3% under the age of 18, 10.6% from 18 to 24, 31.7% from 25 to 44, 19.3% from 45 to 64, and 15.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 106.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 108.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $35,815, and the median income for a family was $44,804. Males had a median income of $33,158 versus $23,478 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,039. About 4.6% of families and 7.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.5% of those under age 18 and 7.8% of those age 65 or over.


The Native American tribes that once lived here, and later the European traders and settlers, took advantage of the lowlands between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers as a natural "portage". The Frenchmarker fur traders described the place as "le portage", which eventually lent itself to the name of the community. As a portage, this community developed as a center of commerce and trade; later, a canal was constructed to facilitate this trade. When the railroads came through, the community continued in this role.

Portage emerged at this place because of its unique position along the one and a half mile strip of marshy floodplain between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers. By the end of the 17th century, the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, linked at The Portage, served as the major fur trade thoroughfare between Green Baymarker and Prairie du Chienmarker. It was not until the 1780s and 1790s that traders built their posts and warehouses at each end of The Portage. In 1828, the federal government recognized the strategic economic importance of The Portage and built Fort Winnebago at the Fox River end. After 15 years of controversy, Winnebago settlement (now Portage) won the county seat in 1851. The community incorporated as Portage City in 1854.

The Portage business district lies along a hill that overlooks the Portage Canalmarker. The buildings now in the city's downtown were once part of a bustling, urban commercial center serving a large region across north central Wisconsin. The building of the city paralleled its commercial prominence between the end of the American Civil War and the second decade of the 20th century.


When Portage was first established, the streets were laid out on a traditional grid system. Today, the streets of the outlying city are contorted as a result of the many marshes and lowlands that run through much of Columbia County. The northern side of the city thus looks different than the central city, with the organized grid street system giving way to a more suburban streetscape with a lower housing density.

The city has two commercial areas. One is the downtown historic district, which features several small boutique shops and restaurants; and the other is the Northridge commercial area that features big box stores. In the summer of 2007, the Portage canal was cleaned out and beautified and now features a bike path that runs alongside it. In the summer of 2008, main street was redone, giving downtown a more attractive appearance. Historical landmarks of the city include the Museum at the Portage, the Indian Agency house, the Surgeons Quarters, and the Children's Museum, which is scheduled for completion by summer of 2009.


Three interstate highways, Interstate 94,Interstate 90, and Interstate 39 run past Portage, giving the city a 30-minute commute to Madisonmarker and 15-minute commute to Wisconsin Dellsmarker. The city also lies only a few hours from Milwaukeemarker, Chicagomarker, and Minneapolismarker/ Saint Paul, MNmarker.


Portage High School, 1911
Portage High School was recently upgraded to a larger building, with the older high school building now housing the Portage Junior High. Portage has three elementary schools: John Muir, Woodridge, and Rusch elementary. There are also two private schools: St. John's Lutheran and St. Mary's Catholic Schools. The Madison Area Technical College, also has a small campus located in Portage.

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