The mission of the Neenah Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and stories of our community.
Neenah Historical Society was formed at the home of Helen Kimberly Stuart, 406 E Wisconsin Ave Neenah, in 1948. The purpose of the society was to collect all obtainable information about the history of the City of Neenah; and to compile and preserve it in some suitable and permanent form. The work of the Neenah Historical Society continues today under the direction of Jane Lang, Executive Director and the Board of Directors.
The Hiram Smith Octagon House houses the Historical Society's museum and archives. Located at 347 Smith Street, it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of a handful of octagon houses in Wisconsin. The Ward House serves as the Society office, research library, and classroom. Both the Octagon House and Ward House are open by appointment. In addition to the Smith Street properties, you can visit our Native American display in the lobby and south hallway of Neenah City Hall at 211 Walnut Street. You can view the exhibit during regular City Hall office hours.
The Hiram Smith Octagon House
The Smith Octagon House is a landmark in the City of Neenah. It dates back to the 1850s, less than a decade after the first settlers arrived in the area. It was built with eight sides instead of the conventional four, and must have been an object of wonder and speculation to local residents. The house was topped with an octagonal cupola and set on a prime location, with its wide front veranda overlooking a lawn that led to the beautiful tree-lined shore of Little Lake Butte des Morts. Octagon houses were the inspiration of Orson Squire Fowler, who wrote a book extolling their merits. He pointed out that windows on eight sides of the house not only brought in more sunshine, light and fresh air, but eliminated the dark corners found in conventional houses. Over a thousand of these innovative houses were built in America between 1850 and 1860, forty of them in Wisconsin and most of the rest in New England and New York state.
The first owner of our Octagon House was Edward Smith, a prosperous flour mill owner. Later it was owned by his brother Hiram who was a merchant, a paper mill owner, and a stove manufacturer. He was also a founder of the Manufacturers' National Bank, now known as Chase Bank. The Smith family occupied the house for nearly seventy years. Hiram's widow, Vesta Olmstead Smith, lived in it until her death in 1919. The house then passed through another owner to the Quinn Family in 1923, and remained in their hands until the Society bought it in 1993. Many changes have occurred in the Octagon House over the years. The original thirty-foot octagon was enlarged three times: twice early in its existence with brick that matches the original construction, and a third time much later, with wood siding. The cupola came down some time in the 1930s, and the Quinns converted the house into three apartment units.
The Ward House
The Neenah Historical Society offices and research library are located in the historic Fourth Ward building, now located at 343 Smith Street, adjacent to the Hiram Smith Octagon House. The Ward House was constructed around 1912 and served for many years as a neighborhood polling place. Jim Draeger, architectural historian at The Wisconsin Historical Society says of our Ward House: "The building is remarkably intact and appears to have never been altered in any fashion since its construction. Such an original state is rarely ever seen in public buildings, which are often repeatedly altered over the course of their history. Although this is an early 20th century building, in my experience it is an exceedingly rare building type and of great local importance." The building was moved to Smith Street in 2001 from its former location at the corner of Van and Adams streets. In the 1990s and earlier it was used to store the city's Christmas decorations. The building was previously located on Harrison Street, where it served as an overflow classroom for McKinley School and also as the temporary first home of Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Jane Lang, Executive Director
Emily Runnerstrom, Education & Programming Coordinator
Board of Directors
Catherine Davis, President
Jerry Robak, Vice President
Becky Heidke-Kwiatkowski, Treasurer
Nicole Hardina-Wilhelm, Secretary