It might be the easiest choice for No. 1 story of the year in the 125-year history of the Watertown Daily Times, other than perhaps either the start of World War I or II.
Yes, the No. 1 story of the year was, without a doubt, COVID-19. Honestly, it could have been all of the Top 10 stories, if we so chose. It dominated every aspect of the year and what it did not overwhelm it influenced.
But we chose to feature some of the other big stories for our area to round out the Top 10, because there was a lot going on beyond the novel coronavirus, a pandemic, masks or virtual just about anything.
So here is a look at the Top 10 stories of the year. Inside of today’s edition, look for a month-by-month breakdown of the stories that made 2020.
COVID-19: In retrospect, probably the most interesting aspect of the year was how COVID-19 cascaded like a wave across the nation, state and Watertown. First, there were initial messages to be prepared. Then came the closings, virtual education, shortages, business shutdowns, fundraiser and event cancellations, packed county board meetings and demonstrations by crowds upset with government sanctions. Graduations moved to late in summer and were done in phases or other unusual ways. Riverfest and the county fairs were called off. School resumed in fall in hybrid or on-again, off-again fashion. As the year came to an end, we had nearly 17,000 cases of COVID and nearly 180 deaths in our counties, but there was good news. The first versions of the vaccines against COVID-19 were coming out and health-care providers were some of the first to get them. It’s hard to imagine how the affects of this pandemic did not touch everyone in some way or the other this past year.
Watertown Public Library expansion. On a more positive front, fundraising for the $10 million Watertown library expansion went over the top. Properties were acquired. Plans were finalized. Ground was broken. And the exterior of the new annex is taking shape on Main Street. It’s hard not to be excited for the 2021 opening.
Town Square advances: The public got its first look at the plans for the Town Square, just east of the library. Plans envisioned public performance areas, a pedestrian walkway and potential food truck venue connecting it to the library, a kayak landing area, and many other amenities along the Rock River. The Watertown Redevelopment Authority later in the year announces a new multifamily project that was going to be built adjacent to the park.
Fatal shooting: The state Department of Justice stepped in and investigated the fatal shooting of a Watertown man in a car that was in the parking lot at the Kwik Trip on Church Street May 31. The investigation later determined that, although a Watertown police officer was involved, the man was killed by his own gun.
Main Street demolition: In order to make way for the new Town Square and the new library expansion, some old buildings had to come down. The old Watertown Daily Times was one of the last ones to be razed, ending nearly a century at that location.
Natural gas storage: We Energies got approval from the town and the county to build a massive natural gas storage tank with related buildings on 100 acres in the Town of Ixonia. Although neighbors had not given up the fight as the year drew to a close, the project continued to advance. On another Jefferson County energy note, Crawfish River Solar’s proposed 75-megawatt solar photovoltaic generation facility planned for a location west of Jefferson, received conditional use approval from the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee. The project is set for construction in 2021.
Closing business: Although some of it was related to COVID-19, undoubtedly there ere other factors involved, too, as some stalwart businesses announced they were closing their doors in Watertown. They include U.S Bank, Family Video and Breselow’s Market.
Bethesda changes: After evolving past large institutions years ago and moving to smaller group homes, Bethesda in Watertown announced it was changing again, shifting to in-home care and closing most of its local facilities.
Lebanon School reinvention: It was only a couple of years ago that Watertown Unified School District was looking at closing Lebanon Elementary School. But after public outcry and an in-depth study, the school board decided to reinvent the small school with a focus on environmental and agricultural education.
The elections: Local officials made a number of radical changes to adjust for COVID-19 to get the spring election done, but that gave way to a series of court battles that turned the fall election into a seesaw of rule changes that carried right through Election Day. Although Donald Trump carried the local area, he did not win the state or national vote. But during the campaign, his daughter Ivanka Trump made an appearance at Milford Hills Hunt Club and Second Lady Karen Pence visited Waterloo in an effort to court votes in this swing state.
And some others
There were other big stories that made news this year, but did not quite make the cut. They include the opening of new Dodge County Highway garage in Reeseville, news that a new as-yet-unnamed hotel was being planned in Watertown, a high-speed chase that started just south of Watertown that ended in a fatal officer-involved shooting off Highway 26 in Fort Atkinson in December. Sharp Corner Park was created an what was once an abandoned gas station and dangerous intersection off Main Street. In Juneau, a new city hall was created at in a former bank and the old building was put up for sale in September. And there are plenty more. Many of them are mentioned in the month-by-month rundown that is part of the year-in-review section inside today’s paper.