Public Library’s History Room Holds a Century of NHS Yearbooks

One of the History Room’s most popular collections, these yearbooks spanning from 1919 to 2019 (with a few missing) bring in visitors of all ages.

Ashlyn Jacobs, Editor in Chief

The Neenah Public Library’s upstairs History Room contains tucked-away gems of Neenah’s past: high school yearbooks dating back to 1919, with the exception of a few missing years, according to librarian Mike Thomas. 

The room, open to all patrons during open-building hours, harbors many testaments to the yesteryears of Neenah and Wisconsin. Some resources include old maps, books, photographs and clippings, copies of Neenah’s newspapers from 1856 onward, and Neenah High School’s yearbooks, which find favor among “all ages,” Thomas said. 

While most materials must stay within the building, patrons can check out the photographs.

Thomas explained that many patrons use the History Room to conduct family research. Microforms and old city directories, which contain information on residents’ contact information and professions, aid in these searches. 

The yearbooks, one of the room’s most popular collections, take up a mere two shelves and span a century of Neenah’s students. Local history enthusiasts and nostalgia-seekers alike might stop in to peruse them when the library’s doors reopen to the public. 

Ancestor-related research, the main function of the History Room, largely utilizes the microform documents to search through Neenah’s newspapers for obituaries and other family-related stories. 

Neenah’s own newspaper, The Neenah Daily Times, provides records from 1856 to the 1980s. “The Post-Crescent picks up later on, around the 1950s,” Thomas said. 

Other uses of the History Room’s many resources include house history, such as past owners and years built, as well as research projects. If students seek knowledge of Neenah’s or Wisconsin’s past, the History Room may hold the answers.

In fact, U.S history teacher Mr. Ben Christian engaged his AP students in a local history project beginning ten years ago called “If Neenah’s Walls Could Talk.” Students accessed resources from the History Room to compile information on Neenah’s historical homes, schools, businesses, and churches. Anyone can access the full project on the “If Neenah’s Walls Could Talk” website.

Christian said his students gained valuable hands-on experience through the project. “These are primary sources that kids can actually touch and feel. Sometimes history seems so far off,” Christian said, but with authentic, tangible proof, the past becomes more concrete.

Christian’s favorite features of the History Room, the Sanborn Insurance Maps, provide a detailed illustration of each building in the city over time. The maps display local buildings every few years beginning in the late nineteenth century and viewers can see whether additions were built on and what materials were used. 

In response to today’s changing world, Christian said, a shift in historical research has settled on the horizon. “I see it going digital,” Christian said. “There’s pros and cons to that.”

Currently, the library building is not open to the public, but curbside services allow patrons to pick up holds. Access the listing of hours here. Because of the pandemic, students may find accessing resources difficult. Similar collections exist in the Neenah Historical Society’s archives, which has open hours during weekdays.