As a new Lawrentian arriving on campus three years ago knowing I wanted to major in history, I must admit I severely underestimated the historical sites and opportunities to explore history here in the Fox Valley. This region of Wisconsin is steeped in fascinating history. Marking 175 years of Lawrence is no small occasion; we’ve been celebrating the 1847 founding of Lawrence in big and small ways throughout 2022. With that as the backdrop, I’d like to take a moment to highlight other local avenues into history you should explore during your time at Lawrence.
Lawrence houses vast troves of information beyond the standard shelves of its Seeley G. Mudd Library. Thousands of papers, photos, scrapbooks, and other materials are stored safely away from the elements, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be accessed. The library staff is happy to assist any student interested in archival research. The archives aren’t just for physical material, for Lawrence has thousands of digitized resources accessible via online catalogs such as Artstor. Pick a subject and learn to your heart’s content.
Apart from campus but still easily accessible, this gorgeous building on the corner of College Avenue and Drew Street in downtown Appleton is well worth a historian’s time for its own artifacts, archives, and even a Harry Houdini collection. The world-famous escape artist lived in Appleton for a time, and the collection holds a variety of artifacts connected or associated with his exploits. The museum also hosts events and classes encouraging the public to visit and explore their historic interests. Walkable from campus (as it is practically on campus).
This museum in Oshkosh filled to the brim with aircraft is an aviation enthusiast’s dream-come-true. The museum’s goal is to showcase aviation’s entire history, but not just in the standard old-to-new format: the museum was originally founded to support the homebuilt aircraft scene, and it exhibits homemade flying machines alongside professionally made aircraft. With events such as children’s story time and other opportunities to get involved, the EAA Aviation Museum shows aviation is for anyone with an interest. Miles from campus: 20.
In nearby Little Chute, learn about Wisconsin’s Dutch heritage by visiting this authentic Dutch windmill built using 1850s designs, disassembled, transported, and reassembled all the way from the Dutch region of North Brabant. The windmill is fully functional and grinds grains for demonstrations. The 100-foot windmill also houses the Little Chute Historical Society, which includes a genealogy database for thousands of Dutch Wisconsinites. For those interested in Dutch history or historical technology, this place is sure to be a fun and informative visit. Miles from campus: 4.
Did you know Appleton holds some firsts in electricity records? The Hearthstone Historic House Museum was the first private residence lit by hydroelectric power using Thomas Edison’s famous technology, all the way back in 1882. Located at 625 W. Prospect Ave., the house today remains a beautiful museum and a window into the past easily accessible by Lawrence students. Walkable from campus.
Related: The Vulcan Street Power Plant is another piece of Appleton’s hydroelectric past easily accessible from campus, located just off S. Lawe Street. Built in 1882, this quaint wooden building is a replica of a local businessman’s own hydroelectric plant inspired by Edison’s designs. Although neither in the plant’s original location nor operational, the Vulcan Street Power Plant replica is a fascinating reminder of Appleton’s industrial growth via the paper mill industry, and now serves as a pleasant place to sit as the Fox River flows by, much as it did in 1882. Walkable from campus.
The historic Grignon (pronounced “GREEN-oh”) mansion in nearby Kaukauna was one of the most opulent homes in the area when it was built in the 1830s, and it served as the site of multiple meetings and treaties between settlers and the Native Americans already living in the Fox Valley. The builder and owner, Charles A. Grignon, often served as an interpreter during these meetings because he had Menominee heritage—the people whose traditional lands Appleton and Lawrence University lie on today. Now a museum, the mansion is filled with a mix of original and period-accurate furniture and amenities to describe the Grignon family’s life on the American frontier. Miles from campus: 8.
7. Treaty of the Cedars Historical Landmark
This monument in Little Chute marks the site of an 1836 treaty between the United States and Menominee people; the aforementioned Charles A. Grignon was present as an interpreter, and the Menominee representative was Chief Oshkosh, for whom the city of Oshkosh is named. The treaty ceded 4 million acres of Menominee land for outside settlement. Although the signing itself was peaceful, the historic mistreatment of Native Americans and treaties by outside settlers makes the monument particularly significant. Miles from campus: 4.
Located at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, this museum exhibits the proud history of the storied Green Bay Packers. With trophies, FAQs, and all sorts of memorabilia, the museum uses a variety of exhibits and technologies to teach fans about the team. The museum is open for all with an admission fee and is right across from the 1919 Kitchen & Tap, where hungry guests can enjoy a meal. If you’re a sports fan, this is a must-see spot. Miles from campus: 23.
Heritage Hill is an open-air museum in the town of Allouez teaching visitors about the history of Wisconsin through architecture. Heritage Hill has 26 buildings to explore, with a mix of originals, reconstructions, and buildings moved from other locations to the safety of the park. Its sites include Fort Howard, a reconstruction of an actual fort built to protect the Fox River during the War of 1812; multiple utilitarian structures from 1800s homesteader days; and Tank Cottage, which is possibly the oldest standing house in Wisconsin. Miles from campus: 23.
10. Neenah (Kimberly Point) Lighthouse
Standing proudly where the Fox River enters Lake Winnebago is this pleasant lighthouse originally built in 1945 and renovated in years since. The lighthouse is the second to be built on the site since the 1800s, reflecting the history when Lake Winnebago and the Fox River were used for shipping. The area surrounding the lighthouse is called Kimberly Point and has a beautiful, green park to complement the white lighthouse and blue lake. From Neenah to Green Bay (which has its own historic lighthouse, albeit with limited public access), the Fox River and Great Lakes have borne their own fascinating maritime history, right in the center of the continent. Miles from campus: 6.
There are plenty more historical or fascinating sites in general to check out in the Fox Valley, but these locations will give you places to start. Whether your fascinations lie with history or elsewhere, this list will hopefully show there’s a little something for everybody if one searches hard enough. Of course, this isn’t to say one can’t make their own history here as well.