Danes Hall of Waupaca
Where History and Hospitality Meet
The History of Danes Hall
In the winter of 1876-77, the Wisconsin Central Railroad had just been completed to Ashland, Wisconsin. Many of the men who had worked on the line were idle, as were many young men with lack of work on local farms. These men had no place to go for an evening of companionship and amusement, except at local saloons. Therefore, a group of Waupaca community members gathered to see what could be done to provide these men with a more suitable environment.
Lars Larson, William Bendixen, and Nels Larson from Waupaca, and A.P. Larson from the Township of Farmington circulated a pledge and a petition. When 12 people had signed the pledge, a room was rented in the wooden building owned by O.O. Olson, and the first meeting was held on January 6, 1877, in which each signer paid a fee of 50 cents. The Danes Home (De Danske Hjem) was born! It was the first lodge to organize for social and literary purposes. In 1882, it incorporated under the laws of Wisconsin. "The Danes Home" name was formally adopted, as was its constitution and bylaws. The bylaws stated that all males born to Danish parents, 18 years of age or older , who were able to read and speak the Danish language, would be eligible for membership. Gambling and intoxicating beverages were strictly forbidden on the premises. After some years, the Danes Home Society had their own insurance for the benefit of the sick and incapacitated. charter members included Hans Yorkson-president, A. Rasmussen-vice president, George Nelson-librarian, Jens Peterson, JohnGeorgeson, George Hennegsen, N. Larson, A.P. Anderson and Jens Rasmussen. Not long after, O.O. Olson's wooden building was destroyed by fire.
The newly-organized Danes Home's second location was upstairs in the F. Peterson building, and their third location was over the post office in the Chady Building on East Union Street south of the Courthouse Square. While located in the Chady Building, the building burned. Their fourth location was over Matt Jensen's Market on North Main Street, where the society remained until November 14, 1882. The Society purchased the old courthouse for $275, a building that needed to be moved off of the Courthouse Square to make room for the new courthouse. The Society moved it to a property that had previously been purchased for $600. Including the cost of moving the building, their new home cost them $1,300. Within 5 years, the debt had been discharged, there was money in the treasury, and 560 books in their library.
The old wooden courthouse building served the Society's needs until 1894. They sold the building, and moved it to the west end of the Water Street Bridge. It stood there until being demolished in 1965.
The current Danes Hall (previously the Danes Home) stands on the corner of Main and Granite Streets. It was designed by architect William Waters of Oshkosh; a highly-respected architect of his time. The plans were drafted by Peter Jensen of Oshkosh; a former resident of Waupaca. Construction of the three-story brick building began in August of 1894 and was completed on November 22, 1894. The total cost of the new building was $7,000.
The Dedication ceremonies took place on November 29, 1894, with approximately 400 people in attendance. The Waupaca Republican newspaper stated that the building was "brilliantly illuminated with electric lights and profusely decorated with festoons of evergreens, flowers, and flags". The newspaper also stated that, "all who attended enjoyed the exercise, the dance, the music, the social, and the supper". From the description in the Waupaca Republican on December 7, 1894, "the main entrance from the sidewalk opened through three doors to a vestibule, where there were two doors which led to the assembly hall, ladies parlor, smoking room, cloak room, and ticket office". At the rear there was a wide stairway leading to the dance hall and lecture room. This was a fine dance hall where 15 to 20 couples could dance with ease. In the case of a lecture or other entertainment, there was room for 300 chairs and 200 more could be placed in the gallery above, which occupies three sides of the room.
At the time of the dedication, and for many years after, the Danes Home was the largest meeting facility in Waupaca. The ballroom was used by the Waupaca National Guard for practicing drills, and Waupaca High School used the ballroom for many of their graduation exercises.
Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, the Danes Home Society saw a declining membership with the end result being reported in The Waupaca County Post on March 8, 1945: "Danes Home, a Waupaca landmark for 50 years is sold." The paper continued, "One of Waupaca's old landmarks changed ownership last week when the D.A. Hall, opposite the city hall was sold to Henry Bille, local tinsmith. The building had been in the possession of the Danes Home Society for the past 50 years."
In June of 1975, Mr. Bille sold the former Danes Home building to the law firm of Johnson, Hansen, and Shambeau, but continued to operated his business from this location until April of 1977, when he moved his business to King, WI.
The building was sold once again, and the new owners proceeded in a restoration of the building. On January 17, 1980, it was officially registered on the National Register of Historic Places. Shortly after, the building was used for a successful "antique mall". Several antique dealers sold their merchandise on consignment through the building's owners. The ballroom, main floor, and lower levels was partitioned off into display areas for the various antique vendors. The Danes Home Antiques business operated for several years before closing in 2015.
The building's current owners, Danes Hall L.L.C., purchased the vacant building in August of 2016. They have meticulously restored it to its former grandeur as a national landmark and social hall for new generations to enjoy.