Explore downtown De Pere’s rich architecture and fascinating history with this self guided walking tour. The tour highlights buildings, many of which are on the National Registry of Historic Places, representing architectural styles of the mid to late nineteenth and early to mid twentieth centuries: Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Romanesque, Italianate, High Victorian Italianate, Commercial Vernacular Queen Anne, Neoclassical Revival, Tudor Revival, and Twentieth Century Commercial. There were food markets, saloons, and general merchandise stores lining the streets of downtown. On the tour you will see former bank buildings and churches as well as a historic hotel and an old time movie theater.
Downtown De Pere is situated on both the east and west sides of the Fox River and is one of Wisconsin’s oldest communities. In 1634, 14 years after the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Jean Nicolet ended his 1,000 mile canoe voyage from Montreal to Red Banks. After being welcomed there by a tribe of Winnebago Indians, he proceeded up the river about six miles where he encountered a rocky shallow rapids. Nicolet disembarked on the soil that would be named De Pere.
De Pere can trace its name and origin to the Jesuit Father Claude Allouez, who established the historic mission of St Francis Xavier at the foot of the rapids 36 years after Nicolet passed over them. From 1670 until 1687, the mission was a religious outpost and fur trading way station. In 1673, Marquette and Joliet stopped at the mission for three days on their historic Journey of Discovery to find the Mississippi River.
Upon their return, Marquette spent the winter of 1674 here. One of the then oldest and most valuable historic relics in the United States, a silver ostensorium, was presented to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier by Nicolas Perrot in 1686. It can now be seen at the Neville Public Museum. A year later, the mission was burned by Indians and never reestablished. From then on the spectacular stretch of foaming water was known as “Les Rapides Des Peres,” The Rapids of our Fathers.
The beginning of modern De Pere dates from 1829 when William Dickinson foresaw the site’s water power potential, and The Fox River Hydraulic Company was built in 1836. A dam was built in 1849 giving De Pere tremendous industrial importance because of its water power. Little was built here, though, until 1851, when a bridge constructed across the dam linked the two sides of the river. Once the bridge was in place, commercial districts quickly evolved at both ends of the bridge.
In March 1857, the Village of De Pere was incorporated. The Village of West De Pere was incorporated in 1870. In 1883, the State Legislature passed an act incorporating the City of De Pere and also an act to incorporate the City of Nicolet (formerly the Village of West De Pere). In 1887, the legislature, upon petition, changed the name of Nicolet to West De Pere. In 1889 the electors of the two cities voted to consolidate and in 1890 The City of West De Pere was annexed to the City of De Pere.
Click here to embark on the self-guided Historic Walking Tour and explore the most notable historical buildings, monuments and markers in downtown De Pere.