Check out our Chain O'Lakes History Website!
Love old photographs and postcards of the Chain O'Lakes? Interested in the history of the lakes and the tourism that has made the Waupaca area so popular? Check out our NEW Chain O'Lakes website (click on the photo above)! We will continue to add more photographs, postcards and historical articles in the future. A big thank you to Mark Polebitski for all of his work!
Keeping History Alive
Waupaca and the Chain O'Lakes
About 100,000 years ago, much of North America was covered in glaciers. As these glaciers moved, they carved hills, bluffs, lakes and rivers into the landscape. By 10,000 BCE, the first people—ancestors of the Menominee—had reached Wisconsin, with some settling around Waupaca and the Chain O’Lakes.
The Waupaca area, along with the Chain O'Lakes, were long home to the Menominee Indian tribe. The Waupaca River's falls and the nearby lakes provided an abundance of water, vegetation and wildlife. For many years, the Menominee moved around the area as the seasons changed, traveling from their villages, likely on Taylor and Otter Lakes, to camps on the Waupaca River.
By the 1830s, the largely uncharted lands in Wisconsin had attracted the interest of white settlers. In a series of seven treaties, the Menominee ceded their lands to the United States. The final treaty, in 1848, relinquished the last of the Menominee’s land, which included Waupaca.
In June 1849, the first white settlers--five men from Vermont--traveled from Plymouth, Wis., to Waupaca, looking for "the falls." The men claimed land along the Waupaca River at what is now North Main Street in the city of Waupaca. These early settlers came to Waupaca looking for the "The Falls" that they'd heard so much about. Eventually the settlement took its name from a Menominee word “Wāpahkoh” meaning, “Place of Tomorrow Seen Clearly.” The word also denotes a place in the Menominee language, not a person’s name or title.
Waupaca steadily grew around the water, harnessing the power of the falls and welcoming many more settlers, including many Danish and Scandinavian immigrants. At the same time, settlement on the Chain O'Lakes--in the townships of Dayton and Farmington--began, largely first as a farming community. Before long, residents and visitors alike discovered the beauty of the 22 interconnected spring-fed lakes, and tourism took off on the Chain O'Lakes.
The Waupaca Historical Society, located in downtown Waupaca on Main Street, strives to preserve the rich history of both Waupaca and the Chain O'Lakes while educating and informing the public.
Visit one of our four historic buildings today and let us help you discover Waupaca's past today!
Upcoming Programs at the Waupaca Historical Society!
- Thurs., October 21, 6 p.m.:
"150 Years of the Railroad in Waupaca" with Mike Kirk at the Depot
- Fri., October 29, 4-6 p.m.:
Brat fry at Halloween on Main (find us in front of the library/City Hall on South Main Street!). Children can trick-or-treat at local businesses downtown and enjoy Halloween activities!
- Thurs., November 11, 6 p.m.:
"The Legend of Chief Waupaca" with Ray Reser at Danes Hall (301 N. Main Street)
- Sat., Dec. 4: Yuletide Trail
Help us preserve your story!
We are collecting memories and stories from the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021. These collections will be preserved at the Holly History and Genealogy Center to help future generations understand this time in Waupaca, our state, and our country. Please consider filling out our survey here!
Surveys can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
or mailed to WHS, 321 S. Main Street, Waupaca, WI 54981.
2021 Summer Hours (UPDATE!)
Starting June 10, the Holly Center will be open to the public on
Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
WHS COVID POLICY
Following CDC guidelines, masks are appreciated in all of our buildings. We encourage all visitors to maintain a 6-foot distance from others and remain at home if exposed to COVID-19 or feeling unwell.
Appointments outside of open hours at any WHS buildings can be made by calling the Holly History and Genealogy Center at (715) 256-9980 or emailing
Tracy Behrendt at