Happy 150 Years, Menasha!

Posted on May 1, 2024 by Grace Olson

“Your Place on the Water” Celebrates Its Past, Present and Future

While Menasha was incorporated as a city in 1874 for which the community celebrates their Sesquicentennial this year, their rich history begins far earlier.

Native Americans—beginning with the Winnebago tribe—were the first settlers on Doty Island in the 1630s, giving way to the Fox (Outagamie) and eventually the Menominee tribe. Rightly so, Menasha translates to “the settlement on the island.”

Today, 150 years later, the waterfront is still a point of pride for the city of Menasha, even having coined the tagline “Your Place on the Water.”

“Menasha has been the home to energetic and inventive people. There’s been a lot of innovation that has happened in Menasha over the years,” Don Merkes, Menasha’s 40th mayor, having served from 2008 to 2024, says.

“If you think about it, Menasha has always kind of been a hub, even for indigenous people. This was the waterway, this was where the transportation occurred, where the food source was. This was a very important part of the Fox-Winnebago system.”

It then became important for flour milling when area farmers would bring their grain to Neenah Menasha to be milled into flour. When that was transferred to Minneapolis, paper started becoming the main industry, even at one time housing Gilbert Paper that made paper for U.S. Currency.

“European immigration helped to build the industrial base of the city. Waves of Irish, waves of Scandinavian, waves of German and Polish,” Walt Ulbricht, member of the Menasha Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, says.

“We also developed a lot of innovations in packaging,” Merkes explains. “We still make plastic flexible packaging, and we still do some container type packaging through Menasha Corp.: the boxes, the displays. We’re always innovating and learning about new things here. And that’s kind of what made this, the whole Fox Cities including Menasha, an important hub in the region.”

The Four Pillars, displayed prominently in downtown Menasha are a tribute to the sources that created this area’s space in history: the woodenware pails, the paper, the flour and printing.

“It’s a great way to sum up the history and heritage of the town,” Ulbricht says.

Today, Menasha has a population of 18,000, and not only offers a multitude of businesses, waterfront access and events, but a welcoming spirit that allows community members of all ages to feel included.

Today, Menasha has a population over 18,000 and is home to a myriad of local shops, cafes, and boutiques. Recent developments have occurred in the downtown, including an eight story commercial high rise completed in 2017, numerous townhome and condo style residential units along the riverfront, and the redevelopment of the City’s former City Hall. In addition, two large developments are underway. The Brin and Banta, two mixed use commercial/residential developments, will bookend Menasha’s west and southeast portions of the downtown; bringing over 70 high end residential units and over 10,000 square feet of new commercial space to the downtown.

In addition, substantial investments have been made in recreation opportunities in the City and throughout the region. In recent years the City partnered in two large trail projects. The first being a tri-community endeavor to provide a continuance trail around Little Lake Butte Des Morts was completed in 2018. Nicknamed “Loop the Little Lake,” the 3.5 mile long trail system is a series of boardwalks, trestle trails, and paved footpaths that encompasses Little Lake Butte Des Morts and links the City of Neenah, Village of Fox Crossing and the City of Menasha. The second being a roughly 1,300 foot long board walk through the Menasha Conservancy.

“We want Menasha to be a place that you stop and enjoy and engage,” Sarah Bauer, Chair of the Menasha Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, says. “It’s not just the really rich history and who we are today, but it’s our future.”

“It’s a community of tremendous potential,” Ulbricht adds. “And that’s what I tell everybody!”

Celebrate Throughout 2024!

Starting with a birthday party for the city on March 5, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of its incorporation as a city is still going strong, and will be celebrated all year long! Join community members in celebrating Your Place on the Water with ongoing games, collections and monthly events.

Ongoing: Monthly Puzzle

Complete monthly Menasha-themed puzzle for prizes from local Menasha businesses. Sponsored by Thrivent Financial.
Visit for games.

Ongoing: Button Hunt

The hunt is on! Individuals, businesses, nonprofits and more have created buttons to commemorate the Sesquicentennial, from historic to lighthearted.

“Our Button Hunt, which goes on throughout the whole year, has really brought people together. I’m very excited by the enthusiasm and the spirit of the citizens of Menasha and surrounding communities that we’ve seen so far,” Bauer says. “People are talking to each other, they’re sharing stories.

“We want folks to take part in this all across Menasha. We have lanyards, courtesy of Gunderson, that they can put the buttons on. So there’s a lot of bling! If you can’t make some of our major events, this keeps you engaged and it feels like you’re still doing something.”

“One of the neat things about the button hunt is that it’s getting people to explore the community and go places they’ve never been before,” Merkes adds. “They’re finding out about businesses and offerings that they didn’t know existed.”
To start, Button Hunters can purchase a Sesquicentennial lanyard from Menasha City Hall (or at city-sponsored events) and collect the buttons at various businesses, organizations and nonprofits in the city.

To see available buttons, visit

150 Trees for Arbor Day

Designated as a Tree City and Tree Campus, and also holding the distinction as a Tree Line Utility—one of few communities in the state that have all three statuses—Arbor Day always holds a significant celebration in Menasha. But this year offers a meaningful twist. On April 26, the public was invited to celebrate Arbor Day at Menasha’s Smith Park with a special, meaningful twist celebrating both the city’s Sesquicentennial and Menasha Corporation’s 175th anniversary.

“We’re going to be planting two Oak trees,” Merkes says. “A Burr Oak for the city and a White Oak for Menasha Corp at Smith Park. Smith Park was donated to the city by E. Smith, who founded Menasha Corp. The White Oak is the type of oak they used when they made their buckets. Menasha Corp. was originally Menasha Wooden Ware. They made buckets to put butter and jelly and other things in. It’s coming full circle.”

Historic House Hunt: May

The Sesquicentennial Committee partners with the Menasha Historical Society to highlight not only historic homes, but those with stories to tell.
“There are more hidden gems than there are signs, but we chose some of the most captivating houses that were once owned by prominent citizens or have interesting features.”

​Downtown History Walk: May 11

“The history walk right along the canal not only involves a walk with some commentary but also prizes,” Bauer says. “If you participate, you get a button and a coupon for an ice cream cone. It’s fun!”

Menasha Saves Lives Blood Drives

June 14 (National Blood Donor Day) – 8-11 a.m. @ Menasha Senior Center
June 17 – 2-5 p.m. @ Menasha Library
August 19 – 2-5 p.m. @ Menasha Library
October 21 – 2-5 p.m. @ Menasha Library

In honor of Menasha’s Sesquicentennial, the committee is attempting to collect 150 pints of blood at various blood drives throughout the year.

“Our committee decided it wasn’t all fun and games and we wanted to give back to the community,” Bauer says.

Celebrate Menasha 150 Weekend: June 21-22

The Menasha Sesquicentennial Committee partners with Menasha Corp for a once-in-a-lifetime-event as a tribute to the city’s past.

“We’re doing a Dazzling Drones Light Show—one of the first in Wisconsin and definitely in the Fox Cities—above the marina both Friday and Saturday nights,” Merkes says.

“Drone shows are somewhat like fireworks. You kind of think of each drone as a pixel in a picture. You can do pictures of all kinds of different things. It will be partnered with a band each night. Friday is Hot Rod Huey & the B-Sides and Saturday is Project Pink.”

The event will take place downtown Menasha between Curtis Reed Square and Menasha City Center and will include a kids’ area, food court, small carnival rides, games and more.

June 28: Open House @ UW-Oshkosh Fox Cities Campus

“It will be an opportunity to bring the community onto the campus and to discover what resources they have for traditional-aged students, for young professionals, for seniors,” Ulbricht explains.

“They’re home to the Barlow Planetarium, and they’ll be having light shows that day. The Weis Earth Science Museum is there. There will be presentations and screenings, for example, that day.”

“People think of the UWO Fox Cities campus of being a school, a college, but we also want to showcase that there are other things going on there. It’s a resource for the entire community—whether you’re going to college or not,” Merkes adds.

June through August

Visual Perspectives of Menasha @ Aylward Gallery
The UWO Fox Cities Aylward Gallery and the City of Menasha honors Menasha’s past, present and/or future art using various mediums.

“It features art by Menasha artists, art about Menasha, from Menasha. It’s really going to be a cool exhibit,” Bauer says.

Stay tuned! For specifics and finalized details about upcoming events, visit

As Midwesterners, sports often reign supreme, and Northeast Wisconsin has its fair share of glory. Menasha is no exception. The Sesquicentennial Committee recognizes the significance and pride in the following hometown sports history:

1920: Gus Rosenow is a standout running back and receiver for the Acme Packers (a year later the Green Bay Packers) and had only one functional arm.
1951: Pitcher Dave Koslo of the New York Giants wins the opening game of the World Series.
1953: Menasha High School (public) and St. Mary’s High School (Catholic) both win their respective state basketball championships.
1956: St. Mary’s basketball star Ron Dibelius scores 76 points in one game.
1956: The Green Bay Packers play their annual inter-squad game in Butte des Morts field.
1961: St. Mary’s basketball team goes 2-1 in a National Catholic Basketball Tournament in Newport, Rhode Island.
1987: Bob Erickson is ranked in the top ten tennis players in the United States in his age group.
2002: Eric Hinske of the Toronto Blue Jays is the American League Rookie of the Year.
2014: Menasha High wins the WIAA State Football Championship.
2024: Menasha High’s Lillie Banks winks the WIAA Girls Wrestling crown at 132 pounds.

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