NEENAH, WI (WFRV) -The story of Neenah is as much about the water as it is the land. In any season, the views of Lake Winnebago or Little Lake Butte des Morts are breathtaking. But it’s the Fox River that has fueled the engine of Neenah’s historic commerce district along Wisconsin Avenue for generations.
“The power of the Fox River is originally what drew people to this area,” explains Jane Lang, Executive Director of the Neenah Historical Society. “They wanted to develop flour mills. And then later the paper mills. At one point Neenah was only second to Milwaukee in the production of flour. So it’s fun to think about farmers driving from 50 miles away to bring this wonderful flour that was being shipped around the world. “
Today, it’s the only place in the midwest that offers a replica of New York’s Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Plaza skating rink within blocks of each other.
“This has a cool factor,” says Mayor Dean Kauffert. “This is a game changer it’s going to bring people to the destination, help our restaurants and storefronts.”
In modern times, the mills gave way to technology and a business improvement district tasked with providing the amenities a growing workforce demands.
“Alta and Plexus both have their headquarters here in downtown,” noted Future Neenah Executive Director Nikki Hessel. “And those are really great anchors. Mixed in with thousands of daytime employees that support all the establishments downtown.”
And then there’s all the street art. A variety of statues that have gone up over the years. Some show the founding fathers, others focus on the area’s Idigineous people.
The donated artwork to Neenah’s Public Library comes straight from the heart, including the wind sculpture that is tucked behind the museum. So you have to venture off Wisconsin Avenue, closer to the river.
“A longtime patron wanted to give back to the library. So she donated the money to us before she passed away in 2015.” explains Asst. Library Director Nicold Hardina-Wilhelm. “You get the best wind here. And also you’ll see the windows. The kids on the first floor can see it moving no matter what the weather is. See it moving. And you can also see it from upstairs from the balcony.”
There’s also another donated piece that comes to life. It’s a moving kaleidescope that invites visitors to take a look and stop and see all that Neenah has to offer.
It’s not something that can be done in one day or two. That’s seems to be the idea. Come to Neenah to see the statues, you’ll probably wind up staying for the people.