Sleuthing Brown County’s Historical Markers

The following article appears in the September 2014 edition of the Brown County Historical Society The Historical Bulletin, and is one of a series of articles on Brown County's historical markers placed in the early 1900s:

Sleuthing Brown County's Historical Markers: The Early Years
by Melinda Roberts

Do you recognize this marker?
Hint: That building in the background
is today on the National Register
of Historic Places and known as
"Titletown Brewery".
In its September, 1913 Bulletin of Information No. 70: A Record of Landmarks in Wisconsin, The State Historical Society endeavored to posit an enthusiasm for identifying, preserving and marking Wisconsin’s historic sites, and for documenting those sites already so marked.

Communities were especially encouraged to preserve their Indian mounds, and all “old Indian sites . . . where practicable”. Further, tablets should be placed to mark the locations of fur-trading posts, military stations, first permanent buildings of each community, and new streets, bridges and parks should be named “after old settlers or other historical characters.”

Children and adults were inspired to make annual historic pilgrimages to interesting objects . . . “such visitations being accompanied with popular lectures and other educational exercises.”

Libraries were challenged to cooperate with other agencies to collect local archaeological and historical materials” and to maintain “a natural history museum.”

Brown County is home to one of the “earliest and most important events” in the history of historical markers. On September 6, 1899, a “striking and beautiful monument” was unveiled at De Pere, commemorating the 1671-72 erection of Father Claude Allouez’s Jesuit mission along the Fox River.

Green Bay Historical Society president Arthur C. Neville and society member Miss Deborah B. Martin, daughter of Morgan L. and Elizabeth Martin of Hazelwood (current home to Brown County Historical Society), among others, responded by making plans for “the biggest celebration and program along historical lines ever attempted in this state.” A celebration was planned for August 10-12, 1909, the 275th anniversary of the discovery of Wisconsin by Jean Nicolet. In addition to exhibits at the Kellogg Public Library and a series of lectures on Green Bay (“Wisconsin’s oldest town”), the Tank cottage would be dedicated at its new location in Union Park and two tablets would be unveiled.

On August 6, 1909, the front page of the Brown County Democrat announced the event with alacrity and served as an invitation to “the public” and “especially [to] the members of historical and archaeological societies within the State”:

Nicolet Landing Anniversary to Be
Observed Next Week.

At the library, at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 10th, Green Bay mayor Winford Abrams and Arthur C. Neville, offered addresses of welcome. Speeches followed: “The Old Fort at Green Bay”, presented by Frederick Jackson Turner, LL.D.; and “Mr. and Mrs. Nils Otto Tank,” presented by “Hjalmar Rued Holland [sic], Esq.”

Hjalmar Rued Höland (circa 1900)
I pause here to report that Hjalmar Rued Höland is my great uncle. Emigrated from Norway to Wautoma as a teen, he made his way through Green Bay and finally settled in Ephraim. I never met Uncle Hjalmar; he died when I was six years old. Until I read this Brown County Democrat article, I had no idea of his involvement with the Green Bay Historical Society.

Hjalmar Höland was a founding member and long-time president of the Door County Historical Society. An avid historian and prolific writer, his two-volume, 1054-page History of Door County, The County Beautiful, published in 1917, is to this day deemed the starting point for Door County historical research. But, back to the Brown County event . . .

The morning of Wednesday, August 11th, representatives of several historical societies participated in round-table discussions. At 2:30, a bronze tablet, secured to a seven-foot-high stone weighing nearly 12 tons, was unveiled at the Chicago & Northwestern station. The tablet marked the site of French Fort St. Francis, British Ford Edward Augustus, and American Fort Howard.

Next, ceremonies commenced at Union Park, at the recently-relocated Tank cottage. Speeches were given, including one by Miss Deborah B. Martin, by whose efforts the cottage had been preserved, restored and removed to its new location.

Festivities resumed that evening at the library. Reuben Gold Thwaites, LL.D. presented “The French Discovery of Wisconsin”; a reception followed, hosted by the Green Bay Historical Society, the Woman’s Club, the Marquette Club, and the Catholic Woman’s Club.

Thursday morning, August 12th, an “historical pilgrimage” was made to Red Banks for several brief speeches and the unveiling of a marble tablet, “Commemorating the discovery of Wisconsin in 1634 by Jean Nicolet, emissary of Governor Champlain of New France”.

Where are the aforementioned tablets today? 

The more-than-100-pound Jesuit mission bronze tablet is housed at White Pillars / De Pere Historical Society. 

Wisconsin Registered Landmark No. 30: St. Francis Xavier Mission

The “Site of Fort of Three Nations” bronze tablet is on Dousman Street, at the entrance to Leicht Memorial Park. But, don’t look for a 7-foot tall stone! During the last 105 years, it has settled to half its original height! 

Fort Howard Stockade

The Nicolet Landing marble tablet is at Nicolet Landing, on Benderville Road. 

Wisconsin Registered Landmark No. 11: 1634 - 1909 (Nicolet Landing)

In 1975 the Tank Cottage was loaded on a barge and brought down the Fox River to Heritage Hill State Historical Park. 

An interest in historical markers is resurgent. During the past several years, historical markers nationwide have been actively sleuthed, their locations documented, photographed and recorded in myriad website and social media posts. To date, this author has identified 154 locations in Brown County alone; in total, links to more than 2,400 Wisconsin historical markers and sites, museums, lighthouses, and veterans memorials, along with nearly 25,000 photographs, comprise the Wisconsin Historical Markers website -- the most comprehensive survey of its kind anywhere online.

Yet, as did the State Historical Society in 1913, I sense there are scads more to be discovered.

I believe my “marker madness” would make Hjalmar Höland proud. Both immigrants to Wisconsin, we share a passion for the breathtaking beauty and fascinating history of our new home. And on those days, when a “wrong” turn or compelling “feeling” leads to a lone marker, I can't help imagining it was Uncle Hjalmar who guided me.

  • The State Historical Society of Wisconsin Bulletin of Information No. 70 (September, 1913).
  • Historic Meet at Green Bay: Nicolet landing anniversary to be observed next week. Brown County Democrat, August 6, 1909, p. 1
  • Manitowoc Daily Herald, August 8, 1910, p. 3
  • Green Bay Notes. Brown County Democrat, June 18, 1909, p. 3.

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