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Explore Green Bay Packers History

“Jean Nicolet discovered Green Bay, but Curly Lambeau put it on the map.”

The Green Bay Packers have a long, proud history since their commencement into the world of football in 1919. This franchise has certainly left their mark on the Green Bay community and its die-hard fans around the world. Autographed memorabilia, pictures, flags, posters, replica Lombardi trophies, jerseys, green and gold décor, Cheeseheads, and plenty of other Green Bay Packers items can be found in houses, businesses, and bars almost anywhere you go.

Taking a trip to the Packers homeland will bring you on a historical journey spanning nearly a century of football in Green Bay. Many of the following historically significant landmarks can be found along the Packers Heritage Trail, but others will require detours to step back in time to see what Green Bay was like during the Curly Lambeau era or Vince Lombardi reign.

“The Packers Heritage Trail was designed as a self-guided walking tour that weaves two compelling stories. One is about the rich, colorful and improbable history of the Green Bay Packers. The other is about the people of Green Bay and how their undying devotion to their beloved football team pulled it through years of financial struggle and ensured its survival.” -Packers Heritage Trail website

You can walk the 2-mile Packers Heritage Trail to see almost all of the historical locations commemorated on the trail. Or hop aboard the Packers Heritage Trail Trolley Tour for a fully-narrated tour inside a climate-controlled trolley.

Here are some of the highlights on the tour with bonus historical sites around Greater Green Bay that helped shape the Green Bay Packers throughout the years.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Packers were formed in the…

Green Bay Press-Gazette Building

315 Cherry Street, Downtown Green Bay

…former Green Bay Press Gazette Building on August 11, 1919. This date could be one of the most important dates in Green Bay history. The second floor of the old Green Bay Press Gazette building hosted a meeting that would forever change this city. Nobody knew then the importance of what just happened, so details about the meeting are slim. We don’t know specifics on who was there or exactly what was officially discussed in detail.

Two days later, the Press Gazette story revealed the Indian Packing Company agreed to sponsor a football team and provide full uniforms. Also listed were 38 prospective players who had been high school standouts in the community that would make up the roster. August 13, 1919 was the first time the team was referred to as the “Packers” and the name stuck.

A second meeting was held August 14 with nearly 25 players—Curly Lambeau, former Green Bay East HS football star, was elected team captain and George Calhoun, Press Gazette editor and great-grandson of the founder of the city of Green Bay, was named team manager. These two have long been credited with being co-founders of the Green Bay Packers.

The first season paved the way of success and has set the bar high for fan expectation ever since, finishing 10-1. All home games were played at…

Hagemeister Park

Corner of Baird Street & Walnut Street

…Hagemeister Park was the first home turf of the Green Bay Packers. It was an open field with no fence or bleachers. Calhoun would “pass a hat” to collect any amount of spare change fans were willing to give in order to support team expenses. Since the beginning, as is still the case today, the Packers were a team supported by the fans.

The park was located near the corner of Baird Street and Walnut Street – what is now Joannes Park. Hagemeister Brewery owned this classic sandlot field.

After their second season (9-1 record), a fence was built around Hagemeister Park, allowing the team to charge admission to watch their games. Bleachers were also added.

Hagemeister Park was destroyed in 1923 to begin construction on Green Bay East High School, in which time the Packers temporarily moved to Bellevue Park until…

City Stadium

1500 E. Walnut Street, Green Bay

After a short stint at Bellevue Park, the Packers called City Stadium home for over three decades. City Stadium stood behind the new Green Bay East High School. The wooden stadium and seats held about 25,000 fans.

Curly Lambeau starred in the inaugural game played here on September 13, 1925. Bart Starr made his first career start in the final Packers game played at City Stadium on November 18, 1956. During this time, the Green Bay Packers won six NFL titles. At least 85 players who played at City Stadium, including 11 Packers, are forever enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

By the mid-1950s, City Stadium was proving too small for the mass-amount of Packers fans (well done packing it in everyone!). An expansion was necessary, but with East High School on one side and the East River on the other this wasn’t a geographically-possible option. Construction on a new home began.

Old City Stadium became the home of Green Bay East High School football team. New City Stadium opened in 1957 and was renamed Lambeau Field (maybe you’ve heard of it) in 1965 after Curly Lambeau died…

Curly Lambeau Gravesite

2121 Riverside Drive, Green Bay

Curly Lambeau died of a heart attack June 1, 1965. He was buried in Allouez Catholic Cemetery on the same plot as his father, mother, brother and sister-in-law. Pallbearers at Lambeau’s funeral included Don Hutson, Arnie Herber and Johnny “Blood” McNally—three of Lambeau’s Hall of Fame players. Years after Curly was buried, another foot marker was donated that features an engraving of Lambeau Field and the inscription ‘Founder of the Green Bay Packers.’

Photo courtesy of Shirley Christl via Packers Heritage Trail website

Chicago & Northwestern Depot

200 Dousman Street, Green Bay

Away games brought huge crowds of people to the Chicago & Northwestern Train Depot, where the Packers departed and arrived to Green Bay for nearly four decades. The Packers left for their first away game on October 19, 1919 to Ishpeming, Michigan.

Fans would gather to wish the team well and send them off with encouragement and excitement to bring home a win! Upon arrival back to Green Bay, Packers supporters would welcome the team back to the Chicago & Northwestern Depot with pride and congratulations after a victory or consolation and support following a loss. Nearly 20,000 rowdy fans lined the tracks and nearby streets for a huge celebration as the Green Bay Packers returned home with their first NFL Championship title following a victory over the Chicago Bears on December 8, 1929.

This train station has been repurposed into Titletown Brewing Company, yet preserves the century-old history of the building. There are still active train tracks along the east side of the building and you can still cheer on the Packers in their taproom. While you’re having a pint, be sure to appreciate the history of that location.

Curly Lambeau’s Birthplace Home

615 N. Irwin Avenue, Green Bay

Let’s take a brief trip back to the very, very beginning…

The birthplace home of Earl “Curly” Lambeau is located just blocks from Green Bay East High School, where he would go on to become a football star, and City Stadium, where he would play his first games as a professional football player. The home was built in 1868 and is one of the oldest homes in Green Bay to still be sitting on its original foundation with its original exterior. This would be an impressive landmark if just for that fact alone, but what makes this even better happened on April 9, 1898 when Curly Lambeau was brought home!

In the summer of 2003, the journey to discover this very house began. Many Brown County historical records were heavily researched in search of finding where Curly Lambeau spent his early years in Green Bay. Once it was discovered that in the late 19th Century, streets in East Green Bay were numbered and did not have their current names, research led a group of excited and dedicated fans to 615 N. Irwin Avenue. This house is now an official Green Bay Historical Landmark.

Lambeau would go on to play for and coach the Packers from 1919 – 1949. He was the first Packer to throw a pass, throw a touchdown pass, and kick a field goal in franchise history. Lambeau led the Green Bay Packers to six world championships (’29, ’30, ’31, ’36, ’39, ’44).

Lombardi Trophy

1265 Lombardi Avenue, Green Bay

Vince Lombardi came to coach Green Bay Packers as an answer to many a desperate and hopeful prayers following the worst season in Packers’ franchise history—1958 when they finished with a record 1-10-1. The entire Packers community, fans and players, were dispirited and angry with the performance on the field. Lombardi came with strict training regimens and expected absolute dedication to football from his team. Lombardi’s first season as head coach was a miraculous turn of events, finishing 7-5. He won NFL Coach of the Year in 1959.

The fans were impressed with this young coach and were excited for football again. In his sophomore season, every Packers home game – preseason, regular season, and playoffs – were sold out….and have been sold out ever since!

Vince Lombardi won Super Bowl I & II with the Green Bay Packers. The NFL Super Bowl Trophy is named the Lombardi Trophy. A 50-foot replica trophy can be seen inside Lambeau Field or looking through the five stories of eastern facing windows.

A collection of NFL Championship and Lombardi Trophies won by the Green Bay Packers can be seen inside the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

Union Hotel

200 N. Broadway, De Pere

The historic Union Hotel opened its doors in the late 19th Century and has been owned by the same family since 1918, just one year before the Packers were formed. The Union Hotel offers a few bed-and-breakfast style rooms but is best known for its supper club restaurant. Every Packers head coach from Curly Lambeau to Mike McCarthy has eaten here.

Legend has it the Union Hotel was the birthplace of the Packers ‘G’ logo. G.E. Braisher, the Packers’ equipment manager during the Lombardi-era lived at the Union Hotel for many years. Lombardi asked Braisher to design a logo. It is believed he did so late one night in the confines of his room at the Union Hotel. John Gordon, one of Braisher’s assistants was an art student at St. Norbert College, says Braisher passed the request on to him. Either way, this is still the same ‘G’ seen on Packers’ helmet today. Braisher’s room is available to overnight guests who want to stay where their favorite team’s logo was probably, definitely, maybe designed.

The Union Hotel is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lumberjack Band

Corner of Washington Street & Cherry Street, Green Bay

The Lumberjack Band was a marching band formed in the early days of the Packers history (1921) and played at all home games. Their name was derived from the plaid flannel jackets its members originally wore. The band first played “Go! You Packers! Go!” in 1931, which became the official fight song of the team.

The Lumberjack Band was an integral part of the City Stadium experience for Packers fans. Curly Lambeau was apparently a very superstitious man - he was convinced the band played an important role in how the Packers played. The Lumberjack Band sometimes traveled to away games with the team, especially down to Chicago.

When Lombardi took over the team, he transformed the look of the band to something more modern (read: to not look like lumberjacks anymore) and to fit the updated look of New City Stadium. The band was renamed “The Green Bay Packer Band”.

By the mid-1990s, the band saw a reduction in playing time due to digital advertisements and recorded music playing in the stadium. By the turn of the century, the band was no longer. This important and fun piece of Packers history will forever be remembered thanks to a Lumberjack Band member addition to the Packers Heritage Trail Monument on the corner of Washington Street and Cherry Street in Downtown Green Bay.

Another notable piece at the Packers Heritage Trail Monument is a statue of George Calhoun sitting on a bench. Take a picture sitting with this journalist and founding member of the Green Bay Packers.

Lombardi Time
1265 Lombardi Avenue, Green Bay

It is no secret Vince Lombardi demanded a lot out of his players and coaches. It is also very apparent he was a well-respected coach and man. An easy Google search will bring up dozens of famous and inspirational quotes from one of the greatest coaches in any sport at any given time. There is much lore surrounding Vince Lombardi - one of the most well-known, perhaps, is during his tenure, everything ran on “Lombardi Time”.

Veteran players knew that if a meeting started at 8:00am, they had better be there and ready by 7:45am. If you weren’t 15 minutes early, you were late.

The giant clock on the northwest exterior corner of Lambeau Field pays homage to the Lombardi Time mantra by being set 15 minutes fast. As you’re driving past Lambeau Field and panic because you’re late for something based on this clock, well, according to Vince Lombardi, you are...but don’t worry, you really still have 15 minutes.

Lambeau Leap
1265 Lombardi Avenue, Green Bay

Scoring any touchdown in the National Football League is an impressive feat, often resulting in well-choreographed dance moves or an impromptu release of emotion and adrenaline. Nothing can compare to getting to do it all in a Green and Gold jersey in front of the home crowd at Lambeau Field. But there’s no awkward dancing or anything like that at Lambeau Field, just a simple running and jumping up a six-foot wall into the arms of ecstatic fans - it’s the Lambeau Leap.

The original Lambeau Leap was performed by LeRoy Butler, weirdly a guy who plays on the defensive side of the ball. In a cold December game against the Raiders, a Los Angeles fumble ends up in the hands of Reggie White who lateraled the pigskin to Butler for the touchdown. In an interview with espn.com, Butler recalls what was going through his head when watching game film:

“I was excited because I’m going to score my first touchdown. All this stuff is going through my head. And as I’m about to score, you see me point right there to this guy. And I jump. And this guy just kind of grabs me. I know a lot of people say, ‘Well, act like you’ve been there before.’ I’m a defensive guy. I may not ever get back there again. So I was going to make the most of it.”

Butler didn’t quite make it completely up the wall, but several excited (and strong) fans hoisted him into the stands. A tradition was born and a tradition still thrives. After every Packers home touchdown, whoever scores immediately runs to the fans and jumps into the crowd! This is an experience these fans will never forget...or the players, either!

You, too, can experience jumping for a Lambeau Leap. There is a statue outside of Lambeau Field of a stadium wall with eager fans waiting for you to jump up to them. Do your best and envision 80,000 people cheering for you!

 

Green Bay Packers history runs deeper in this community than touched upon in this blog. I’m sure many businesses and people around Greater Green Bay have their own “Packers story.” But that’s what makes Green Bay such a charming football town. For more details and to see even more historic sites with even more in-depth information, be sure to take a ride on the Packers Heritage Trail Trolley Tours by C&M Presents!

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