Carried by the Fox River: Appleton's First Highway

Photographed March 14, 2015
Appleton, Outagamie County, Wisconsin
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Appleton's First Highway
Before there were rail lines and paved roads, the Fox River served as northeast Wisconsin's major national commercial and transportation highway. Jacques Marquette and Joliet were among the first Europeans to navigate the river in 1673. By the late 1700s, traffic on the river had become so heavy that plans were made to connect the Fox to the Wisconsin River, and the transportation rights were purchased from the Winnebago Indians. The completion of the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway in 1856 linked Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, allowing boats to more readily bring new settlers and manufactured goods to Appleton and the entire Fox Valley region.

River traffic increased after the locks were opened, and as a result, the Appleton area's economy boomed. By 1857, 24 steamers per week came to port in Appleton. Passengers traveling the entire route of the lower Fox River passed through 56 miles and 17 locks. Until the arrival of the railroad in 1861, the Fox River and its locks system were the only network available for transporting large quantities of commercial goods.
The marker is located adjacent to the Fox River at Vulcan Heritage Park, located at 535 West Water Street, Appleton, Wisconsin 54911.

This painting from 1858 depicts a steamer trip on the Fox River. These high, narrow boats were specially built to navigate the river's narrow and often overgrown channels.
1887 photo of a steamer carrying lumber at the Fox River Flats. Taken from the south side of the river looking north, the Atlas and Vulcan Mills can be seen in the background.
Historic postcard showing a steamer passing through the locks of Appleton's Fox River canal system.

The marker is one of six placed along this walkway.

The marker is located at Vulcan Heritage Park.

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