The Shawano Has History Project

Published March 30, 2024

The Shawano Has History Project started in April 2022 when Ben and Diane Hartwig visited the Shawano County Historical Society looking to bring plaques to historic buildings in Shawano. These plaques would tell the visitor about the history of the property, businesses, and owners.

After Ben Hartwig visited London and found plaques on their historic properties, he wondered if that could happen in Shawano. This was the impetus that would become a Shawano Has History Project partnership between the historical society, Leadership Shawano County teams, the Business Improvement District of Shawano, the City of Shawano, and Chamber of Commerce.

Shawano’s business district was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and the city still has many of its original buildings that date from the late 1800’s and mid 1900’s. This foundation makes it straightforward for the project to choose relevant historic properties. After researching projects like this in other cities, the team decided to develop plaques that contain text describing the history of the property, a historic photograph, and a QR code that would lead the plaque visitor to a page on the Shawano County Historical Society’s website with further information. We researched a variety of plaque alternatives and decided on high quality, cast bronze plaques from Franklin Plaques in Franklin, PA. If you travel in the USA, you might have seen plaques like these in other communities.

It took over two years to research the historic properties, develop the website, and information for the plaques. By January 2024, after several meetings with the Business Improvement District, we started taking donations for, and selling, plaques to property owners. The first plaque sold was to Cornerstone Chiropractic for the Upham & Russell Building plaque on the corner of Division and Main Streets. Others followed with a goal of twenty plaques installed for a formal announcement to the public at Shawano Fest in June 2024.

The project is fortunate to have people coming forward to sponsor plaques in the community. One of those, the Franklin School plaque in Franklin Park, is sponsored by Pure Essence Salon in Shawano. These plaques are high quality but are not inexpensive so the team is working on fund raising opportunities.

To date, we’ve researched forty properties that span the City of Shawano which are listed on the Shawano County Historical Society’s website. Information for twenty plaques is also complete. The Leadership Shawano County team is developing a brochure and map and working with the Chamber of Commerce to promote the project and these historic properties. We are planning newspaper and radio announcements. In the future we hope to partner with the history department at the high school to involve our students in this local history. We also hope to continue to add properties in the city and could expand the project to Shawano County.