CUBA CITY (WKOW) -- When people drive down Main Street here and pass the rows of presidential silhouettes, Donna Rogers says it always leads to visitors asking the same question.
"People often said 'Well what president came from your town?'" Rogers noted. "None."
Indeed, this town of 2,000 in the southwest corner of Wisconsin has no discernable ties to the White House or any other aspect of American presidential history.
Rogers, who serves as president of the "City of Presidents" committee, notes Cuba City adopted that nickname in 1983, seven years after the bicentennial celebration that forever changed the community's image.
To celebrate the United States' 200th birthday in 1976, Cuba City launched the "Parade of Presidents;" shields featuring a silhouette of each American president were affixed to light poles along Main Street.
The shields were a hit and remained a permanent fixture. Leaning into the "City of Presidents" theme, the city filled a caboose with presidential and municipal artifacts.
In the caboose Monday, Rogers points to the original shield for George W. Bush. The 43rd president stopped in Cuba City during his 2004 re-election campaign and signed that first shield just days before winning a second term.
"It's something you can kind of hang your hat on," said Mayor John Van De Wiel. "If you want to say it that way."
Over time, the presidential attractions have evolved to the point where they are now the city's core.
"It did create an identity for the city, something for us to seize on and something the city was known for," said the city's economic development director, Bob Jones.
Jones said the city knew it could only go so far using the "City of Presidents" theme to honor its past. Leaders wanted that identity to shape its future too, so they enlisted high school students to give their suggestions for new developments.
The students surveyed more than 200 other youths in the small town and Jones said they returned a consensus response: a gathering place, which the city had been lacking.
"These are 17, 18-year-old young folks and their ideas were outstanding," Jones said. "The community really got behind it all."
The end result was the city converting the area behind the presidential caboose from a gravel parking lot to a greenspace with picnic tables, hopscotch and other murals.
The phone company provided free Wi-Fi; the students let Jones know that would be essential for the space to truly be a gathering spot.
The committee gathered once again on Monday for a tradition that takes place every four or eight years.
Cuba City unveiled the silhouette for President Joe Biden. It's one pole further south on Main than the one holding the shields for the previous two presidents, Donald Trump and Barack Obama.
While presidential politics have devolved to the point where some friends and relatives simply don't discuss it, Rogers said she was determined to make sure the tradition of presidential shields remained apolitical.
"This is our history and it doesn't matter what party we are," Rogers said. "This is our history of our country and so that's why I want to preserve it"
Jones said the next priority for the city is raising money to build a new community center. Replacing the caboose, it would also double as a year-round presidential and municipal museum (the caboose isn't the most pleasant place on days with extreme cold or heat.)
"We've actually been looking at it for about four or five years because it is something rather unique and patriotic," Jones said. "It fits with what we're doing here anyway."