The first rural area in the United States to achieve NRHP Historic District designation
With difficult times in Europe in the mid 19th Century, Belgians came to America to search for a new life. Many settled in northeastern Wisconsin. Door County was heavily forested, and many of the Belgian immigrants cleared the land to make farms. Others took up fishing in Green Bay, others became lumberjacks or merchants while others became cheese makers.
The communities near the Green Bay demonstrate a fondness for the homeland with names like Brussels, Rosiere and Luxemburg. (The town of Belgium can be found in Ozaukee County.)
Many descendents of the original settlers remain in the area. One second generation Belgian from the area, born in Green Bay, came to fame as the founder of the Acme Packers in 1919. Earl "Curly" Lambeau (his grandfather immigrated from Belgium to Door County) founded the football team as a town team that grew to become the Green Bay Packers. City Stadium would later be named Lambeau Field in his honor.
The first chapel was built in 1859 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, near Champion. (Yes, there is a town named Champion near Green Bay.) A school and convent were built on the site in 1864. Also on this site, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a young Belgian named Adele Brice. As Sister Adele, she dedicated her life to teaching. In 2010, the Catholic Church decreed the apparition was worthy of belief. This makes Our Lady of Good Help one of only a few such shrines in the world and the only one in the United States.
On the evening of October 8, 1871, numerous fires around the midwest caused incredible loss of life and property, including a rather famous fire in Chicago. Other fires burned in Michigan but the worst of all was the Peshtigo Fire. The flames were so intense that the fire jumped across the Green Bay to burn an area 10 miles by 60 miles. 200 people died, 5,000 were left homeless.
As a result of the fire, lumbering evolved into agriculture. Many residents gave up and moved to Green Bay to find work. Waloons settled on the northeast side of the city, Flemish settled on the west side. Many of the institutions founded in Green Bay by the Belgians are still in operation. For example, Dr. Julius Bellin, born of Belgian immigrant parents in 1870, started a practice that grew into today's Bellin Health System.
Those who did stay rebuilt did so by adding more fireproof materials for veneers, like locally quarried dolomite and brick. The materials made a distinct architecture of the area, reminiscent of the Belgian homeland.
In the 1980s, research into the unique nature of the community led to an application to the National Park Service to set a historic district. Dr. Tischler stated, "The Belgian vernacular buildings form a regional architectural expression that is perhaps the largest and most intact concentration of ethnic-related buildings surviving from any of the more than 30 nationalities who have settled in Wisconsin.”-
A drive through the area confirms the unique designs, lots of brick and stone homes and buildings, along with log barns and sheds. It is a unique district.