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Chain O'Lakes history, too!
History of Waupaca and the Chain O'Lakes
“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.
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
Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin
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
Some Events in the History of the Waupaca Foundry, compiled by Gerald E. Chappell, 2014
City of Waupaca
Cannons in Waupaca by J.J. Johnson, 2018
Charming Waupaca, Waupaca Republican, 1882
Citizens of Waupaca, Waupaca Post, 1885
City Band by J.J. Johnson, 2018
Description of the City of Waupaca, Waupaca Republican, 1884
Early Automobiles in Waupaca by Dick Goldsmith
Early Waupaca in Waupaca Republican, January 16, 1885
First Automobiles in Waupaca by J.J. Johnson, 2009
Historic Site Markers in City by Junior Historians, Waupaca County Post, 1953
Historic Walking Tour Booklet, 2002
Lakeside Cemetery Names, by Wayne Guyant, Waupaca County Post, 1975
Main Street Waupaca Design Guidelines, 1998
Memories of Waupaca, by Charles Brainard,Waupaca County Post, April 26, 1894
Memories of Waupaca, by P.J. Nordeen, 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
Sewers in 1909, by J.J. Johnson
Trip to Waupaca, Oshkosh Northwestern, August 27 1868
Waupaca in 1875, Waupaca Republican, April 1, 1875
Waupaca in 1884, Waupaca Republican, May 9, 1884
Waupaca in August 1884, featuring Dr. George Calkins, Waupaca Republican, August 8, 1884
Waupaca in 1913, Milwaukee Free Press, January 21, 1913
Waupaca in 1963, Waupaca County Post and The Wisconsin Motor Carrier, July 1963
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
"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
Churches and Schools
Blessed Sacrament Seminary (from History Files, Holly Center)
Medical, Doctors and Hospitals
Medical Doctors in Waupaca 1851-2014
Medical Doctor Timeline for Waupaca
Military and National Guard
Dawn of the Red Arrow documentary, produced by the Wisconsin National Guard
Bendixen Memories of City History, Waupaca County Post, 1928
E.E. Browne, profile, in Waupaca County Post, April 19, 2007
Early Waupaca Memories by Charles Brainard, Waupaca Post, 1894
Early Waupaca Memories by P.J. Nordeen, Waupaca Republican Post, 1913
Early Waupaca Memories by Ripley Hudson, Waupaca County Post, 1930
Early Waupaca Memories by Truman Rich, Waupaca Record-Leader, 1916
George McGill Memories in Waupaca County Post, 1975
Claims League--Organizations by J.J. Johnson, 2018
"The Early Foundation and Development of Waupaca County, Wisconsin" by Paul D. Plowman
Waupaca County Fair
Waupaca County Fair in 1856, published in Waupaca County Post, November 26, 1926
Thank you for donating to the Waupaca Historical Society and helping us preserve Waupaca and Chain O'Lakes history!
What's Happening at the Waupaca Historical Society!
(all programs are at the Holly History and Genealogy Center unless otherwise noted)
- Wed., March 15: Lost Arts Folk School-Garden Basket (FULL)
- Thurs., March 16: Lost Arts Folk School--Garden Basket (FULL)
- Thurs., March 30, 6 p.m.: "A Creative Place: The History of Wisconsin Art" with Annemarie Sawkins (sponsored by Dennis W. Rocheleau)
- Mon., April 17, 6:30 p.m.: Program with Winchester Academy at the Waupaca Area Public Library--"Ancient Canoes Discovered in Lake Mendota" with James Skibo, PhD
- Thurs., April 20, 6:30 p.m.: "A Tale of Two Companies: The Building of Seagrave and Four Wheel Drive in Clintonville" with Barbara Koster
- Sat., May 20, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.: Family Fun Day at the Depot with the Waupaca Area Public Library (DEPOT)
WHS COVID POLICY
Masks are not required in our buildings at this time. We encourage visitors to wear masks if they feel more comfortable. We also encourage all visitors to remain at home if exposed to COVID-19 or feeling unwell.
Appointments outside of open hours at any WHS buildings can be made at least two weeks in advance by calling the Holly History and Genealogy Center at (715) 256-9980 or emailing
Tracy Behrendt at