Waupaca Historical Society
Waupaca Historical Society
321 S. Main St., Waupaca, WI 54981

History of Waupaca and the Chain O'Lakes

View of the north end of Main Street, Waupaca, in 1870.

  “Waupaca” is an Menominee word, Wāpahkoh, which means "Place of Tomorrow Seen Clearly." For more than 10,000 years, the Menominee occupied about 10 million acres, including Waupaca and the Chain O’Lakes area. The Menominee in the Waupaca area moved between large villages on Taylor and Otter Lakes and camps along the falls on the Waupaca River.


  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 of 1849, the first white settlers--five men from Vermont--came looking for "the falls" and what was later named the Waupaca River. This group started out on foot from Sheboygan and included E.C. Sessions, Martin Burnham, William and Joseph Hibbard, and William Pratt. The Vermonters traveled along Lake Winnebago and then onto the current location of the village of Weyauwega. The settlers made camp near the end of what is now North Main Street with plans to harness the power of the falls and establish a community.   Following trails used for hundreds of years by the Menominee, the men traveled to "the falls," claiming land in the area now known as North Main Street.

  In the spring of 1849, Capt. Augustus Hill Chandler Sr., along with his wife Polly and their son Col. John Wilkes Chandler and his family from New Hampshire, arrived in Waupaca County in search of land to claim. They settled along the Waupaca River in what became the Towns of Waupaca and Lind. Their settlement became known as the "Chandler Settlement" and today is near the Waupaca Municipal Airport.

  Other settlers soon followed, and the growth of the young village was steady.  Mills were built along the Waupaca and Crystal Rivers as early as 1850.  In 1851, a Post Office was established and the settlement at "The Falls" was officially named Waupaca after the Menominee word, Wāpahkoh. The first businesses were flour mills, lumber mills and general stores. Voters decided to establish Waupaca as the county seat and a courthouse was built. The village of Waupaca was incorporated on May 4, 1857. Many new businesses started, and many new settlers came, all contributing to the growth of the city.

  Railroad tracks were laid, and the first train arrived in Waupaca on Sept. 28, 1871. The railroad brought new opportunities for commerce and growth. In the early 1900s, tourism began to grow in the area, and many hotels and lodges were established in the city of Waupaca and along the Chain O' Lakes. An electric trolley line was completed to transport tourists from the city of Waupaca out to the Chain O' Lakes resorts in the early 1900s and helped to grow the tourism industry on the lakes. In the mid-1900s, industry in Waupaca grew, with companies such as the Madison Silo Company, Cary Manufacturing and the Waupaca Foundry being established. 

  Waupaca has changed through the years, but the community continues to grow and prosper around the river and lakes that initially drew its first settlers.

More Waupaca and Chain O'Lakes History

For more information on the Menominee, the first people in the Waupaca area, and other American Indian tribes of Wisconsin, visit these links below:

Effigy Mounds Culture in Wisconsin from the Wisconsin Historical Society

First Peoples from the Wisconsin Historical Society

Ho-Chunk Nation

Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Menominee Origins Story

Menominee Place Names in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Indian Research Project through the Milwaukee Public Museum

Click on the topics below to read more on Waupaca and Chain O'Lakes history!


Drive-In Theater on Hwy 10 by Jack Gill

City of Waupaca

Cannons in Waupaca by J.J. Johnson, 2018

City Band by J.J. Johnson, 2018

Early Automobiles in Waupaca by Dick Goldsmith

Early Waupaca in Waupaca Republican, January 16, 1885

First Automobiles in Waupaca by J.J. Johnson, 2009

Memories of Waupaca, by Charles Brainard, in Waupaca County Post, April 26, 1894

Memories of Waupaca, by P.J. Nordeen, in Waupaca County Post, June 5, 1913

Rotary Riverview Park History by J.J. Johnson, 2019

South Park History by J.J. Johnson, 2016

Streets of Waupaca, by Waupaca High School World History class of 1960-61 seniors

Waupaca in 1884, Waupaca Republican, May 9, 1884

Waupaca Businesses in 1884, Waupaca Republican, January 16, 1885

Waupaca in 1963, Waupaca County Post, July 18, 1963

Yellowstone Trail Handout-Page 1

Yellowstone Trail Handout-Page 2

Chain O'Lakes

"Charming Waupaca," Waupaca Republican, June 2, 1882

Chain O'Lakes Recreation and Newspapers, Waupaca County Post, May 23, 2008

Waupaca Chain O'Lakes Indian History Survey: The Lakes, Indian Archaeology and History, Myths and Legends by Charles E. Brown, 1931


E.E. Browne, profile, in Waupaca County Post, April 19, 2007

Waupaca County

Claims League--Organizations by J.J. Johnson, 2018

Waupaca County Fair

Waupaca County Fair in 1856, published in Waupaca County Post November 26, 1926