Downtown 1958

Downtown 1958

Friday, April 24, 2015

Happy Anniversary

Today marks three years since the advent of this blog, originally designed to augment the photos and stories in the Menasha book that was published in June, 2012.  In those three years, we have not only seen the publication of the Menasha book but also, through no efforts (or fault?!) of my own, companion volumes published about the surrounding communities of Appleton, Kaukauna, and a little place to our south called Neenah. Did the book or maybe even my blog inspire those writers to do what they did?  I'm not that vain to think it did!  But I am proud that Menasha's book was the first of its kind in the Fox Valley, for whatever that's worth.

For what was designed initially as a simple means to generate interest in the book and to last for just a "little while,"...well, I guess I've just quite never figured out how little of a while it should be.  To be honest, some topics are definitely more detailed than others; some subjects get re-opened and embellished from time to time, while many others bear the stamp of "history lite."  Some would say how "historical" is it to obsess on an old matchbook or postcard?  And I'd reply that my intention has always been that history needn't be boring to be meaningful.  Facts and figures are fine as they go, but more importantly, if I can generate a feeling inside the reader and something clicks- nostalgia, a memory, an anecdote...then I've done my job.  So what if it takes an old grocery store ad or other cultural detritus to do that.  As I state in the Facebook summaries each day, it's an eclectic mix. 

I have you all to thank for keeping up with me these past three years.  Without your input and support, I doubt I'd have kept this going this long...not that I'm ready to stop any time soon.  But, to paraphrase the popular children's book's title, I like to think that it's "the little blog that could."   Thanks again.  See you Monday as we embark on a fourth year. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

3rd and DePere

The house I grew up was built by my grandfather in 1903 and my Mom lived there until 1986, so my family had many, many photos of my aunts and uncles and cousins taken over some 80+ years.   

Going through some of them the other day, I found this snapshot of my Aunt Esther and her son, my cousin Dick, visiting from Milwaukee and posing in my back yard.  I lived at the corner of 2nd and DePere Streets, so all too often, that 3rd Street intersection would appear in our family photos' background. 

This one was taken in the late 1930s/early 1940s, well before my time, but as I've said, I've gotten used to seeing time go by at that corner.  As a result, I've seen the evolution of the old Coonen's gas station in all its iterations over the years.  Gotta love those old cars. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Old Depot

It's been a while since we've featured a photo of the old C&NW depot.  This one's from 1980, nine years after passenger service to Neenah-Menasha was suspended.  Below is a view of the repurposed building from more recent times.  Aside from the enlarged windows, it's largely kept its character from the outside.

Google image date, October 2013

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

La Fontaine Railroad and Winnebago City

Menasha might never have been founded if Governor Doty had had his way during the early years of the Wisconsin Territory.  In the late 1830's, Doty eagerly eyed the upcoming railroad charters and coveted one for the Fox Valley to encourage development and economic growth.  His idea was to link the village of La Fontaine near Kaukauna with the projected village of Winnebago City, on the north shore of Lake Winnebago.  This railroad of 16 miles would eliminate the need to navigate through the Winnebago Rapids (today's Neenah) and Little Lake Butte des Morts and the extra mileage encountered on the Fox River up to La Fontaine.  Eventually, the whole scheme fizzled as a result of the Panic of 1837.  It was also said that Doty's partner, Morgan Martin (who also happened to be his cousin), had a falling out with the bankers in Green Bay who were nervous about his speculative enterprises.   

March 17, 1837 Wisconsin Democrat (Green Bay)
A curious footnote is that my research about the village of La Fontaine begins and ends with the connection to this proposed railroad. I've never seen other mentions of this place.  Kakalin, as mentioned on the map, is a former name for Kaukauna, so I at least thought I'd find La Fontaine mentioned in the same breath as Kaukauna, or in connection with the Kakalin Rapids.  Any thoughts, readers?
maps courtesy: Wisconsin Historical Society, viewed online at on 15 Apr 15

Monday, April 20, 2015

Service Stations vs. Taverns


In our blog post of last Friday about Deep Rock and the Badger Oil Company, reader Dave Gehrke, asked in the comments section if we had had more taverns than service stations back in the '60s.  I didn't know the answer so I'll let the above extracts from the 1967 Neenah-Menasha City Directory tell the tale.  My count was- Taverns: Menasha 29, Neenah 19.  Service Stations: Menasha 18, Neenah 32.  No judgment, no editorial commentary here; it was what it was.  Now, how many do you remember?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Deep Rock

Let's end the week with this colorful Deep Rock/Badger Oil matchbook. It never occurred to me until today, as I wrote this, as to what exactly the "Deep Rock" name meant.  I suspect it alludes to the "deep rock" drilled through to find the oil for the products this gas station chain peddled.  As far back as 1924, Deep Rock had been a fixture at the corner of 4th and DePere Street; see the 1924 City Directory extract below:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sanborn Insurance Maps/Menasha Boat Company Cont'd

In past blog posts, I have alluded to Sanborn Maps but have neglected to discuss them in detail.  Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are meticulously detailed, large-scale lithographed, color-keyed street maps that helped insurance agents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries determine the degree of fire hazard associated with a particular property. These maps typically focus on the business districts within communities, and as such, prove time and again, to be invaluable tools of history and a record of their time. Features include street names, street and sidewalk widths, property boundaries, locations of fire hydrants, locations of water and gas mains, and the names of most public buildings, churches and companies. The maps also document the strength of the local fire department and the presence of fire hazards such as blacksmith forges, large baker's ovens or stored kerosene, and the existence of firefighting equipment, cisterns or community water works. Rivers, canals, railroad corridors and similar features are also noted. Each map provides a detailed assessment of the buildings within a district. Assessments include an outline of each building and outbuilding, the size and number of stories of every building, the location of windows and doors, fire walls, and indications of sprinkler systems. They note the nature of the business or businesses which occupied individual buildings, sometimes even particular room uses. They list the type of construction and the composition of building materials including the framing, flooring, and roofing materials.

So, it comes as a bit of a surprise to see our very own Little Lake Butte des Morts listed as Lake Winnebago, as shown above in this 1900 version of our fair town.  One hopes the meticulousness of the preparers in detailing construction of the town's buildings would have carried over to the geography of the area.  But considering that these were published out of a Chicago regional office for an upstate New York publisher, one suspects that their overworked surveyors were entitled to a mistake once in a while. 

Yesterday's post about the Menasha Boat Company also continues here.  The large master map, located above, shows that map sheet no. 9 is required to view the Menasha Boat Company.  The first illustration is an extract from map sheet no. 9 showing that company's location on the no longer existent Prospect Street, just north of Third.

Sanborn Maps are available for your review via the Wisconsin Historical Society's web site as well as the Library of Congress.  They are well worth your time.