Historical Society Highlight

Posted on July 31, 2023 by Grace Olson

Area Stories Brought to Life

“If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday.” —Pearl S. Buck

Whether it’s worldly, national or local history, stories of the past provide innumerable benefits for our future. It’s a source of life lessons, lost lives and conflict, but also innovation, creativity and times of great triumph.

“When I was studying history and sociology in college a quote by C.Wright Mills was always in the back of my mind: ‘Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both,’” Erica Suchyta, Assistant Director of the Neenah Historical Society, says. “When we learn about the history of our ancestors or a specific place, you cannot get the full story unless you look at the context in which it was occurring.”

“It is important to teach each generation about their heritage. Everyone should be aware of who and where they came from,” Mary Lou Schroeder, President of the Winneconne Historical Society, adds. “They need to know what their ancestors had to go through and endure to make sure the next generation and the next and the next had a place to call ‘home.’”

It’s precisely why historical societies, defined as “an organization dedicated to preserving, collecting, researching and interpreting historical information or items,” are so vital to our communities.

You might be surprised by all our local historical societies offer:

Appleton Historical Society

Gwen Sargeant, Vice President 

Appleton Historical Society’s purpose is found in its mission to preserve and share the history of Appleton. We do this through monthly free presentations on Appleton history topics, history fairs, Riverside Cemetery Walks, a facebook discussion group, and in our museum at 128 N Durkee Street. We also curate the Vulcan Replica in partnership with the City of Appleton, preserving the history of hydroelectric power in Appleton.

Why explore the community’s history? The history of Appleton’s people, places, and events are a time capsule of experiences. It is important to learn about those experiences and it brings back so many memories for many people. The stories of everyday Appletonians are the fabric of our city.

Appleton Historical Society exhibits: Current exhibits at Appleton Historical Society include the History of Air Wisconsin on display through 2024 and the history of the Andy Jimos Hat Shop on display through 2023. The permanent collection includes a historical map room, and a historical photo collection. Appleton Historical Society Museum also hosts a research area where people can sift through directories and yearbooks. We host an online gallery of photos, videos, and displays at

Neenah Historical Society

Erica Suchyta, Assistant Director

The Neenah Historical Society was founded in 1948 and our mission is to collect, preserve and share the history of our community. At our core, we are a group of members who do just that. For a city of our size, it is fairly uncommon to have such a robust historical society. I am incredibly grateful for the citizens who had the foresight to establish our organization 75 years ago and everyone who has worked hard towards its mission. The Ward House was constructed around 1912 and served as a neighborhood polling place. It was moved to its current location and serves as our office and research space. The Octagon House was purchased and restored by the Neenah Historical Society in 1993. It dates back to the 1850’s and houses our exhibit and archival storage. I think a lot of people picture historical societies as dark storage rooms and outdated exhibits. We pride ourselves in offering exhibits featuring local history and an accessible team of individuals who will research your home, ancestor, suggest a book to read and a plethora of other resources.

Neenah Historical Society exhibits: As Neenah and Menasha are celebrating their Sesquicentennials, we have partnered with the Menasha Historical Society for our current exhibit. Neenah and Menasha Sesquicentennials: Two Cities, One Community is free and open to the public until October 2024. The exhibit highlights the people, places and products that make our cities special. Additionally we offer programs and presentations at the Neenah Public Library, walking tours at CommunityFest every Fourth of July, a Cemetery Walk at Oak Hill Cemetery in which costumed actors tell the story of influential citizens. We also host an intertribal pow wow at Shattuck Park in September. Details will be posted to our website and social media as they become available. Our events are free and open to the public, we encourage you to visit and can’t wait to see you!

Menasha Historical Society

Shirley J. Heinz, Secretary

A historical society is the grassroots keeper of a community’s archives. Its purpose becomes urgent with the decline of the printed word, increased mobility of populations and the loss of local identities. Just like nature reclaims unkempt properties, memories can be forgotten in less than a decade.

There are so many facets of history that it is impossible for it to be boring but some people need convincing—and it is a historical society’s mission to prove it! Least of all, recalling history is an entertaining way to measure today against where we have been. And, wouldn’t it be pointless to reinvent the wheel?

Why explore the community’s history? Who, what, where, why and when? Everyone innately has questions, but who has the answers? Whether you are born to a place or settled there in later life is inconsequential. You won’t get through the morning without wondering who did something, what used to be there or why something happened. The best research is your own.  Be a history hunter.  Look to your local information centers, historical societies and libraries for answers rooted in research.  The added benefits of a historical society are speaking to others who share your interests.

Menasha Historical Society exhibits: Plans for Menasha’s 150th Anniversary as a city in 2024 are still in the early stages, but thanks to the Neenah Historical Society’s invitation, we have a head start by displaying some of our history and artifacts at the Hiram Smith Octagon House.  These displays include: the Menasha Wooden Ware (Menasha Corporation), the George Banta Publishing Company, and the high school sports rivalry between Menasha and Neenah.

The Menasha Historical Society Museum is located in the modest-sized, east wing of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building on Doty Island across from Smith Park. Open by appointment or Mondays from 10am-1pm. We maintain an active Facebook, YouTube and Website presence. We hope to be offering a tour of the St. Mary’s High School in the coming months.

Waupaca Historical Society

Tracy Behrendt, Director

A historical society preserves the objects and stories of a town or area and tells these stories to their communities and visitors through programs, events, exhibits and outreach. Historical societies not only preserve the past but also the present for today’s community and also future generations.

Why explore the community’s history? Preserved, active, and inviting historical sites are a foundational attraction in any community. Large events can bring visitors and tourists to a town for a specific date, but the ever-present attractions and amenities extend visitors’ stays or bring them back for another visit. But they are also important to those people who live in a community—arts and culture provide opportunities to learn, connect with one’s town or area and actively participate in its history. Historical societies offer communities the opportunity to understand the past and apply it to our present and future. It’s also important for us as historical societies to actively collect and connect with our community today to continue to tell these stories into the future.

Waupaca Historical Society exhibits: We open a new exhibit on the Chain O’Lakes at the King Cottage this summer, which is located on the same property as the Hutchinson House Museum. We also offer changing exhibits on Waupaca and Chain O’Lakes history at the Holly History and Genealogy Center year-round. The Holly Center is open Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Winneconne Historical Society

Mary Lou Schroeder, President

The Winneconne Historical Society is a privately funded, non-profit organization dedicated to educating, researching, and preserving Winneconne history. The society was chartered in 1962 by a group of residents who shared an interest in preserving and sharing the history of the surrounding area and collecting and exhibiting objects and documents from its past.

Why explore the community’s history? It is important to teach each generation about their heritage. Everyone should be aware of who and where they came from. They need to know what their ancestors had to go through and endure to make sure the next generation and the next and the next had a place to call “home”.  Home can be the city where you grew up or the city you are now residing in.  It’s our responsibility, as a historical society, to continue this tradition of teaching through photos,  artifacts and documents.

In Winneconne, we are fortunate to have six museums in our complex. There is the 1876 Railroad Depot, a Country home furnished to resemble a turn of the 19th century home with a country kitchen and a small parlor setting, a one-room schoolhouse, The Kay Wilde Doll Cottage which is home to one of the largest collection of dolls in Wisconsin, a steamboat house which contains cabins salvaged from the Leander Choate II. It’s the largest remnant of steamboat days in this area. The latest project and sixth museum for the complex is the Bridgetender House replica.

Our museums are open in the summer every Sunday noon until 4 pm between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. We also give private tours to groups on any other day. They need to call me at 920-420-0463 for more information on those tours.  We also are sponsoring a craft fair on Saturday, August 5th 9 am until 2 pm in Marble Park at the museum complex. This will coincide with the Winneconne Roadrunner’s annual car show in the same park.

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