Historical Plaques Going Up Around Shawano

Published June 1, 2024

Historical plaques going up around Shawano


Shawano Has History project hoping to have 20 installed by summer’s end

By: Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The city of Shawano hopes to look to the future, but there are some who hope that future can be infused with some of the community’s past.

Michael Oberle with the Shawano County Historical Society noted that Shawano Has History, a project more than two years in the making as part of Leadership Shawano County, has started putting up bronze plaques around the downtown Shawano area. Plaques have been installed at Franklin Park, Stubborn Brothers Brewery and Cornerstone Chiropractic so far, with Oberle hoping that 20 plaques will be affixed to properties by the end of this summer.

The plaques include information on the history of the property, a photo of how it looked way back when and, in an added touch from the 21st century, a QR code that smartphone users can use to access the historical society’s website, Shawano Has History, and go directly to the page that provides information on the building or site.

“We’ve done (research for) almost 40 properties, and we’ve got plaques designed for 20 of them,” Oberle said. “We keep adding.”

Oberle noted that the idea of having history plaques is not a new one for Shawano, but things never seemed to line up. He said that’s changing now that Shawano is in a phase of growth.

“There’s kind of a resurgence and an interest in downtown Shawano,” said Oberle, who noted that Shawano’s business district is on the National Historic Registry.

Ben Hartwig, who went through the Leadership Shawano County program and spearheaded the Shawano Has History campaign, noted that Shawano has not had the popularity among locals and visitors that it does now.

“When I grew up, you didn’t go downtown to do stuff,” Hartwig said. “There was nothing to do, but now you’ve got all these events. You’ve got Franklin Park. You’ve got Stubborn Brothers and all of the events they have. Now it’s the place to be.”

Oberle noted that research was done on plaque companies and the cost to make each plaque, which ranges from $2,000 to $3,500 depending on the size, before moving forward on the project, and then painstaking research into the history of the downtown buildings took up a lot of time.

“We called communities around the United States that have done this to talk to them about how they decided to do this,” Oberle said.

Hartwig noted that a plaque is coming for the building housing The Stock Market, and two are coming for the building where Dreier’s Pharmacy resides, and plenty more are on the way.

“I was at the new sorbet shop and eating in there, and I saw people reading the plaque on Cornerstone while waiting for the light to change,” Hartwig said. “That’s good to see.”

Hartwig is looking forward to the day when there are multiple plaques up on buildings so that the people visiting Shawano for various events are aware of the community’s rich history. Having the plaques also helps to promote the present-day businesses, he said.

“You get tourists here now, and you wouldn’t know there was a school on this property,” Hartwig said, indicating Franklin Park. “You look at the pictures, and you get to imagine how cool it was here. Some people have lived here forever and they don’t know the history of some of these locations. It’s good to get both the long-term residents of Shawano and the newcomers wanting to learn about the history.”

One thing Shawano Has History wants to do once enough plaques are installed is to set up a passport program where the businesses have plaques might offer coupons or deals for people who check out the plaques, according to Oberle. Nothing has been set in stone, though.

“We want it to be an interactive way to learn about the history of Shawano,” Hartwig added.

Trent Nolan with Nolan Signs has helped to install the plaques so far, according to Oberle. Although those plaques are permanent, the website will continue to evolve as more information comes to light about Shawano’s historical buildings.

For Hartwig, the passion project has also given him the opportunity to learn about the history of his community, having lived in Shawano all of his life.

“I like hearing about all the history of Shawano — where stuff was, what it used to be,” Hartwig said. “You see people looking in the windows of the buildings now, and they want to know what it was. They want to know why there’s a name on the top of the building, who that person is, and hopefully that’s what we bring about by having these plaques.”

Although the project is primarily focused on Shawano, Oberle and Hartwig both hope to eventually expand it to other communities around Shawano County.