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Life on "The Island"

Those of you who can say, “I live on an island in Wisconsin,” are truly fortunate! The island’s namesake, James Doty, first traveled here on an expedition in 1820. His diary indicates that he was awed by the area and hoped to one day build a home here. His life-long dream was fulfilled in 1844 after finishing his term as the second Governor of the Wisconsin Territory. He moved to Neenah with his wife, Sarah, and built a home on the Island which they named “The Grand Loggery.” If you’re interested in learning more about the Doty’s and Doty Island’s rich history, the Elisha D. Smith Public Library has a great deal of information including a book entitled, ‘Memories of Doty Island – A Link Between Two Cities.’ That publication is also available at the Menasha Historical Society’s Resource Center in the Memorial Building on Keyes Street.

This article will focus on information obtained from a book we recently acquired entitled, History of Neenah, written in 1878 by a gentleman whose surname was Cunningham. The book is over a century old and the first few pages are missing (hence only the last name of the author is noted above). Other than that, the book is in remarkably good condition. Here are a few excerpts:

“This city possesses a rare combination of natural features for a delightful summer resort and watering place. The climate is not surpassed in healthfulness; the invigorating breezes from the lake temper the heats of summer, while the adjacent large bodies of water, have the effect of preventing those sudden extreme changes of temperature to which nearly all western localities are much subjected. The scenery is lovely, the lake the most magnificent sheet of water, with beautiful shores and good harbors that are accessible in every direction, thus affording the best of yachting facilities. The surrounding country is beautiful, with excellent roads, affording delightful drives and picturesque views of the lake and river scenery. Wild game is quite abundant in the vicinity, and is composed of blue and green winged teal, mallard and wood duck, snipe, woodcock, quail, squirrel, partridge and prairie chicken. The waters abound in black and white bass, pike, pickerel, sturgeon and other fish, therefore; steamboat excursions, picnics, yachting, fishing, shooting and pleasure drives are among the readily available recreations of the place. This secures immunity from that monotonous routine of tame and insipid pleasures which prevail in so many celebrated watering places; for the range of exciting and attractive outdoor enjoyments is here so extensive and varied that the tastes of all can be gratified; combining the gaieties, public amusements and social enjoyments of city life, with the most delightful rural pleasures.”

Wow…that was a colorful description! Although writing styles have changed a great deal in the past 140 years, it’s good to know that many of those leisure activities on and around Doty Island continue today. We still enjoy picnics, park dances, hayrides, winter carnivals, fishing, boating and so much more. Did you know that the river directly behind the Memorial Building was used as a public swimming area until the Municipal Pool was built in Menasha in 1956? The area included a diving board and a slide, and a lifeguard station. At that time, the Memorial Building had dressing rooms, a soda fountain, pool tables, etc. We would really like to have photos of the inside of the building during that time frame so we can add them to our collection. If you have some you’d be willing to share, we can scan them and return your originals. Please contact us at the Menasha Historical Society. We’d be most grateful.

Most of us know where Doty Cabin is located. The shoreline of Doty Park was once home to the wonderful Roberts’ Summer Resort, a beautiful hotel owned by John Roberts of Neenah. It was described in the ‘History of Neenah’ book as follows:

“This summer hotel is most beautifully located on Doty’s Island and near the old log homestead of Gov. Doty, which is still in existence and one of the attractions of the place. The Roberts’ House is located on the banks of the Fox River, as this broad stream emerges from Lake Winnebago, which brings the latter directly in view of the house. The grounds and drive-ways extend to the lake and river both above and below the hotel, and the view from the windows and verandahs is exquisitely beautiful. The hotel is nearly midway between the cities of Neenah and Menasha, and about one mile from the business streets of each. This hotel, although only opened to the public in 1877, already enjoys a generous patronage, the visitors coming largely from the southern States. The best fishing grounds in the vicinity are directly opposite the house, and boats are kept in full supply for the use of guests. Terms are reasonable.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article as much as I’ve enjoyed researching and writing it. There are many more stories like this one. Our historical society has a great deal of information to share, including the history of some of your lovely homes and the lives of the owners. We are open to the public on Mondays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and most anytime upon request. If you’re interested in becoming a member (and we’d love it if you would), dues are only $15 per year or $25 per couple. What a bargain! For more information, please contact us at (920) 840-4373 or

Kathy Humski, Vice-President

Menasha Historical Society

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