Traditional, hardworking, family-oriented – the cornerstones of Midwestern culture are alive and well, but there’s something a little different about Kaukauna. Time-honored values are counterbalanced by an open-minded approach to problem-solving, identifying solutions, and planning for the future. While the city supports a simple life – sweet and uncomplicated – the door remains open for ‘the simple life’ to evolve with each generation.
Today, the City of Kaukauna is home to over 16,000 people with its own full-time Police, Fire and Rescue services and a municipally owned electric and water utility – Kaukauna Utilities. Kaukauna boasts a 350-acre Industrial Park Network, complete with rail and heavy truck access.
Beyond playgrounds, parks and trails, Kaukauna is a ‘Bird City’ with more than 450 acres of protected greenspace and popular public nature programming, including Eagle Days. Our proximity to the Fox River affords our residents with numerous recreational opportunities such as the Historic Grignon Mansion, the 1000 Islands Environmental Center, sports fields, a public swimming pool, and a public library.
City-sponsored events held in the Central Business District include a weekly outdoor music series (Live! from Hydro Park), Fox Firecracker 5k Run/Walk, and the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s June through October. With such a variety of activities available, it should not come as a surprise that Kaukauna is also known as ‘The Friendly City.’
History of Kaukauna
(Information Obtained from City of Kaukauna Budget Book)
Located along the Fox River in southeastern Outagamie County, the area immediately adjacent to the falls at Kaukauna was the site of considerable indigenous settlement and activity. A large area on both the southeast and northwest sides of the Fox River at Kaukauna is recorded in the Archaeological Sites Inventory as the vicinity of a large village site occupied by the Menominee tribe and other groups. Likewise, effigy burial mounds and numerous archaeological sites are spread out along the river valley.
The rapids at Kaukauna necessitated portaging and became a natural gathering place for trade along the Fox River. As part of the Fox River’s 170-feet drop in elevation from Neenah and Menasha to Green Bay, 138 feet of the drop occurred in the nine miles of river between Appleton and Kaukauna. The area had many names, including Kakalin, Cacolin, Cau Caulin, Kackaloo, Grand Kaukaulin, the Grande Coquiller Rapides, and Kaukauna, all derived from an approximation of the Menominee word meaning “the gathering place of the pickerel.”
The Fur Trade Era
Fur trappers Charles de Langlade and Pierre Grignon established a semi-permanent trading post in the Kaukauna vicinity as early as the 1760s to engage with the local Menominee population, who occupied a village of an estimated 1,500 people on the south side of Fox River. In 1790, Dominique Ducharme, son of French fur trader Jean Ducharme, built a substantial log house at “Cacalin” and started trading with the local tribes. The land Dominique acquired in 1793 is the first known recorded land deed in the state of Wisconsin.
The third French settler, Augustin Grignon, was born in La Baye, presently Green Bay, in 1780 into a family of successful French-Indian, or Métis, trappers, traders, and leaders, specifically among the French settlers and Native American tribes. He moved from Green Bay to Kaukauna in 1813, purchasing much of the Ducharme property, and married his wife, Nancy McCrea, around 1800. Nancy was the daughter of a Scottish fur trader and a Menominee woman from Green Bay. The Grignon’s can be identified as Métis, and these important ties lent to their success in the region. From the late eighteenth century through the 1830s, Métis people, a cultural and ethnic mix of indigenous and French people, were a dominant cultural and economic force in the Great Lakes region.
The population in Kaukauna increased with the arrival of the Stockbridge tribe in 1822, an east coast Mohican tribe who fought with the United States during the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. The Stockbridge moved to northeastern Wisconsin following land cession treaties with the Menominee and Ho-Chunk.
Known today as the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, prominent tribe member Electa Quinney became the first female teacher in what would become the state of Wisconsin. The school, located in Kaukauna, was free and open to any denomination of religion. The addition of the Stockbridge to the area also brought notable Revolutionary War Veterans Jacob Konkapot Jr. and Captain Hendrick Aupaumut to Kaukauna. By 1830, the Stockbridge-Munsee had largely adopted AngloAmerican customs, lived in log houses, and raised corn, wheat, and livestock on large farms. However, a series of American treaties beginning in 1831 resulted in the departure of the Stockbridge from the Kaukauna area.
Charles A. Grignon, Augustin’s eldest son, married Mary Elizabeth Meade in 1837 and soon constructed a large house, known as the Grignon Mansion or “The Mansion in the Woods,” closer to the river on the property of his father. Charles had a close relationship with local tribes, particularly the Menominee, given his ancestry, familiarity with the language, and business connections. He served as an interpreter on many treaties and business decisions, including the 1836 Treaty of the Cedars, in which the Menominee tribe ceded four million acres to the U.S. government. The treaty opened the area around Kaukauna and the lower Fox River Valley to general settlement through the United States territorial land office, causing the area to change swiftly.
An influx of Yankee settlers altered the economy from fur trading and the Fox River waterway to farming, logging, and permanent communities. The military road along the south shore of the Fox River and the first dam north along the river at De Pere were completed in 1837.
George W. Lawe settled in Kaukauna in 1839, opened a trading post, and established a farm. In 1842, Lawe was appointed Justice of the Peace by territorial Governor Doty, an office he held for almost fifty years. He directed the first platting of the town in 1850 and built the first bridge across the Fox River at Kaukauna in 1851, which led to the development of a small community.
From Trade to Industry
The falls at Kaukauna eventually presented an obstacle for transportation that led to the construction of a series of canals and locks in 1856. The infrastructure allowed larger steamboats to replace the flat-bottomed Durham boats that dominated river traffic in the 1830s and 1840s. The construction of the system also provided a boom to the local economy.
The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad reached Kaukauna in 1862, and industry thrived. By 1870, Kaukauna boasted two large flour mills, two large factories making staves for flour barrels, the Diedrich sawmill, and the Reuter Brothers spoke factory, which did business in hardwood logs and railroad ties. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line north of the river joined the Milwaukee Lakeshore and Western Railroad in 1872.
In 1872, Colonel Henry A. Frambach and his brother John Stoveken opened the first paper mill in the City of Kaukauna, the Eagle Paper and Flouring Mill, on the site of Stoveken and Henry Hewitt’s 1867 flour mill that was destroyed by a fire. Soon after the mill’s start, Frambach became the second producer of wood pulp in the state and the first to manufacture wood pulp paper.
The second railroad boom of the 1880s brought Irish and German workers to the area. These workers created the south side Village of Ledyard. In 1881, Milwaukee Lakeshore and Western Railroad relocated its district office from Manitowoc to Kaukauna’s south side. Company housing for the railroad workers developed in the south-central area of Kaukauna.
The American Pulp Company was established in 1883, becoming the Thilmany Pulp and Paper Company in 1889. The company was known for its diversified and innovative paper products, including the first tissue paper manufactured in Wisconsin, produced in 1885.
In 1885, the Village of Ledyard joined with the north side to form the City of Kaukauna. The 1880’s railroad developments coincided with the creation of new waterpower canals to supply Kaukauna industry. The construction of five municipal hydroelectric generating plants gave Kaukauna its nickname, “The Electric City.”
Today, the City of Kaukauna is a growing and prosperous community of just over 16,000 residents. Rich in natural resources and beautiful landscapes, the riverfront City of Kaukauna combines traditional Midwestern values with a history of progressive moves – from free education to clean energy – that protect and enhance the long-term health of the community for generations to come.