Fox Cities: A history in the making

As generations continue, putting aside more trivial matters, one difference starkly contrasts the two newest generations – Millennials and Generation Z – with past populations: living through a world-wide crisis. However, in the past few weeks, this difference disappeared with the outbreak of COVID-19. Though this experience was not one we desperately wanted to share, we are now all developing an understanding of the traumas of our past, whether for the first time or as a previous witness. 

Not only have the traumas of history become more immediate, but also the impact of history overall, especially in the Fox Cities, has become more important to us than ever before. 

In this blog series, I want to shed light on the areas in the Fox Cities, whether small or large, that have had a lasting impact on all generations. Many of us see our present situation as a monumental time that will surely make it to the history books. However, many of us overlook how our everyday lives in the Fox Cities can also leave a permanent mark on history. 

By discovering our past through the landmarks around us, we can better appreciate and acknowledge the people that laid the foundation for us, and the impact we have and will have on that same foundation. These areas have built the community we all cherish and uphold, and I hope that featuring specific locations we may pass by or utilize on a daily basis will not only advance our overall knowledge but also heighten our appreciation of the place we call home.

Photo from Neenah Historical Society as part of their “If These Walls Could Talk” project with Neenah High School students.

Starting small and right at home (literally), we’ll discover the family and architectural history behind a few of the uniquely innate homes of East Wisconsin Avenue in Neenah. Delving into the street’s past, we’ll watch how it transformed throughout the generations, remaining a proud focal point for Neenah and all the Fox Cities. An example of this focal point lies within Franklyn C. Shattuck’s home (pictured above), which he rebuilt and allowed not only his name but also his home to place him in Neenah’s history books. Even our family homes can influence the growth of our community, both in connection and significance. 

Photo from The Paine

Moving farther from home, we’ll explore Oshkosh’s Paine Art Center and Gardens, Grand Opera House, and Oshkosh Public Library: the places that were and remain a part of our daily lifestyles and sources of entertainment. Back when it was first designed in 1925, the Paine was intended to be the residence of Mr. Paine, yet due to delayed construction, it became the prominent museum we know today. Whether their uses were preserved or converted, these locations stayed the blazing hot spots in Oshkosh’s past and present for their stunning display of architectural history. 

Photo from Downtown Appleton

Entering the heart of the city, we’ll look into the lens of our past as we drive down Appleton’s most proudly preserved location: College Avenue Historic District. Bustling with life during any moment in its existence, downtown Appleton perfectly blends the old with the new and allows us to see how our ever-advancing community was built off of the societal advances years ago. Connecting lifestyle into business, William Waters, the same architect of Oshkosh’s Grand Opera House and the Oshkosh Public Library, designed several downtown buildings, joining both cities and their histories. 

Mirroring our current situation of self-isolation, next we will escape the city and head to our roots: nature, or more specifically, High Cliff State Park, as seen above. Long before any building sprouted onto the soil of the Fox Cities, High Cliff was already teeming with life and the footprints of the past. Possibly over a thousand years ago, Indian tribes first graced the land and left mound remnants, called Effigy mounds, and they have been preserved until today. These details act as the basis for High Cliff, yet we’re only just getting started; tune in for more in the following weeks! As we zoom our lens out, we can witness how the natural world can be respected and honored, yet still bare the marks of a community’s past. 

Possibly you noticed the crescendo of historical significance in the locations covered. In this series, I want to build not only on the architectural advancement and size of each area but also on their ability to shape our lives in the present. Whether through our personal lives, shared lifestyles, advancing commerce, or our treatment of nature, our decisions directly influence the world to come, and it is necessary to appreciate those who did it before us and the marks we have and will make in the never-ending flow of history. 

 By recognizing and admiring each step taken to craft the thriving community of the Fox Cities, we can discover that more connects generations than merely the trials they face. We are connected through families, memorable traditions, and shared work that makes our Fox Cities a foundation of love and relationships throughout every passing generation. 

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