Old Third Ward Neighborhood Association History
The following information about the history of the Old Third Ward Neighborhood Association was taken from Association documents and correspondence, newspaper articles, and Outagamie County documents and correspondence. For a particularly concise history of the Old Third Ward, see the proposal for Midwest Living® Magazine's Hometown Pride Award, which was submitted in 1997. The Association received the award in 1998.

The area that is now called the Old Third Ward has a long history. Since 1851 it has been the site of the seat of Outagamie County's government. This coexistence between residential neighborhood and county government has been shaky at times.

During the early 1970's Outagamie County looked to the neighborhood for expansion of county grounds, specifically parking.

The Old Third Ward Neighborhood Association begins in 1993. In the fall that year, at a routine safety meeting at the Appleton police station, neighbors learned of a plan by the Outagamie County government to acquire and demolish five square blocks of homes for courthouse area parking expansion. A group of residents lead by Frank Council mobilized very quickly, holding a meeting on November 16, 1993. At that meeting 66 signatures representing 49 residences were collected, stating the following:

We, the undersigned are unilaterally opposed to the acquisition of homes and residential property adjacent to the Outagamie Courthouse complex for the purpose of constructing surface parking area or any other commercial or governmental use.

Shortly after that the group that was then known as the "Courthouse Area Neighborhood Association" formed, created a steering committee, wrote a mission statement and unanimously elected officers: Frank Council, Chair; John Barkett, Vice-Chair, Meg Casey, Recording Secretary.
The November 22, 1993 Steering Committee Minutes list several actions to be taken by the Chair: contacting the National Historical Trust for Preservation, State Trust for Historical Preservation, and requesting criteria for homes and/or the district to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another large part of the Association's task was educating its members and the community on the historical significance of not only the buildings in the neighborhood, but the neighborhood itself. These actions represented the historical side of the arguments to be presented. The other side was political. The Association had to gather all information available about the County's intentions for the neighborhood and, as the above minutes state, to identify any additional city/county agenda. The Chair obtained the County's Long Range Plan (1979) including a map of "proposed," "potential" and "additional potential" county parking expansion, and the 1991 City Study. Upcoming city and county meetings were widely disseminated to assure that the voice of the neighborhood would be heard in government deliberations. The group calculated property values in the targeted area to show the impact of property tax losses.
Various legal options and alternative long and short range plans were explored. Letters were written and calls made to county supervisors. Regular meetings were held resulting in detailed minutes and agendas being recorded. Updates were distributed to the neighborhood, initially in the form of letters or memos, but later took the form of formal newsletters. Posters, buttons, bumper stickers and other examples of visual persuasion proliferated.

By August of the following year the group incorporated into the Old Third Ward Neighborhood Association, Inc. In 1994, through the efforts of the Association, the neighborhood was named to Wisconsin's "10 Most Endangered Property List." The first in a series of home tours was also held in 1994. Through the next two years the Association made its mark as a presence in both city and county governments. A dedicated group spent over a year researching buildings in the neighborhood culminating in more annual home tours and a walking tour brochure produced through a grant from the area Convention and Visitors' Bureau. In 1998 this brochure won the Lillian Mackesy Historian of the Year Award. Read about it in the Winter, 97-98 neighborhood association newsletter.

Where these initial efforts successful? Further demolition was not stopped - 6 homes (2 historic) were lost to Outagamie County parking and building projects. But public awareness was raised about the importance of historic preservation, not only for this particular area but city-wide. This episode in the city's history proved that destruction was not the only alternative and that history can be learned, appreciated and passed down to generations through buildings. It has been said: the destruction of historic properties cannot be undone.