The Oldest Town in Wisconsin Is 142 Years Older Than America Itself

Green Bay, Wisconsin
© Hank Erdmann/

Written by Kristen Holder

Updated: August 15, 2023

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Native Americans occupied what is now Wisconsin for thousands of years. Aztalan, which dissolved centuries before the arrival of Europeans, is technically the oldest town to ever exist in Wisconsin. But what is the oldest European settlement still in existence today?

"Oldest Town" Infographic for Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Copper Culture Indians lived near this important bay 7,000-8.000 years ago.

Surprisingly, the oldest town in Wisconsin is 142 years older than America itself! We’ll discuss the details and other facts now.

What is the Oldest Town in Wisconsin?

The oldest town in Wisconsin is Green Bay at 389 years old. This means that it is 142 years older than America itself.

A permanent settlement in place of a trading post at Green Bay was established in 1765. If this is used as the start date of the city, it still means that Green Bay is older than America by 11 years.

Oldest Town: Where is Green Bay in Wisconsin?

Green Bay is at the end of the Fox River where it meets the southern tip of the Green Bay. The body of water known as Green Bay is an offshoot of Lake Michigan toward the northwestern corner of the lake. Green Bay is a little less than 2 hours north of Milwaukee, WI. 

Since the City of Green Bay is strategically located on the mouth of the Fox River and the Green Bay, it acts as a major port of entry for the Great Lakes. The Green Bay itself is about 120 miles in length and up to 20 miles across. Locals call it the Bay of Green Bay so people know it’s the waters, and not the town, being discussed.

While the Bay of Green Bay is small compared to Lake Michigan to which it is attached, it is one of the most valuable parts of the lake. One-third of the water that is drained into Lake Michigan enters through Green Bay.

Fox River

Since the City of Green Bay is strategically located on the mouth of the Fox River and the Green Bay, it acts as a major port of entry for the Great Lakes.

©Donald Joski/

Why is Green Bay 142 Years Older Than America?

Green Bay was founded in 1634 when Jean Nicolet laid claim to the area for France. This is well before Wisconsin became a territory in 1836. The French were in the area by the 1600s looking for trade passages between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The oldest standing house in Wisconsin is the Roi-Porlier-Tank Cottage in Green Bay, though it’s been moved from its original location. It was built by a Frenchman named Joseph Roi around 1785. It also bears the name of a nineteenth-century owner from Norway named Nels Otto Tank.

Why is it Called Green Bay, Wisconsin?

The British named the area Green Bay because the water turns green in the spring. This is an anglicized version of the French name Baie du Vert, which translates to Green Bay.

Before the arrival of the French, the area was home to a Winnebago tribe called the Puants by other natives. This word was meant to be a derogatory word as Puant translates to stink in French. This led to the area’s initial name which was Baie des Puants.

In English, this means that the area was originally known as the Bay of the Stinkers. The region’s name evolved to Baie du Vert in response to the bay’s green waters. This is because French settlers were disconnected from the regional native history and politics at the time.

In the Menominee language, the original name is Pūcīhkit. This word means “a bay that smells like rotting.” This may be because the swamps in the area stunk in the 1600s, as the French explorer Jacques Marquette noted when he arrived in the region.

Traditionally, the waters of the Bay of Green Bay are an emerald color. This is because the sediments, minerals, and nutrients from the Fox River foster particular kinds of algae in the water.

However, over the last century, industrial pollution has severely harmed the bay’s ecosystem. Due to agricultural and industrial pollution, harmful algal blooms that are toxic occur. When it rains, things full of too many nutrients, like manure, flood into the bay which fosters uncontrollable algal growth.

The shoreline of the bay in Green Bay Wisconsin

Traditionally, the waters of the Bay of Green Bay are an emerald color.

© Neal

Oldest Town: What is the History of Green Bay, Wisconsin?

After an expedition in the 1670s, it was discovered that Green Bay is along a navigable route to the Mississippi River. This turned Green Bay into a fur trading hotspot, and soon settlers began pouring into the area.

In the early 1700s, the Fox Indians waged war against the French inhabitants. The French and Indian War then broke out, and the British took control of the area in 1763 after the French were defeated.

After the Revolutionary War in 1776, the Northwest Territory was established. In 1787, this territory, including Wisconsin, became America’s first incorporated territory.

Today, it’s an industrial city that’s dominated by papermaking. Food processing is also a big industry and it focuses on dairy and meat.

About a half hour away from downtown Green Bay lies the small city of Oconto. Oconto houses Copper Culture State Park which is a burial ground for the Copper Culture Indians.

These indigenous people inhabited the area 7000 to 8000 years ago. Their burial grounds are the oldest discovered cemetery in the state.

Yellow perch are a favorite catch around Green Bay.


Wildlife You’ll Find in Green Bay

There is wildlife to take in around Green Bay as the waters in the region act as an epicenter for animal life. The Green Bay fishery is important to many industries and anglers. Fish like walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, and smallmouth bass are favorite catches.

The Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to fish for trout, bluegill, and bass. There is also a Nature Center where certain local animals are sometimes out on display. There are also trails and an observation platform that’s excellent for birders.

The Manger Lagoon at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is a man-made lagoon that is stocked with fish for children under 15. Only kids, the elderly, and disabled adults are allowed to fish at this spot.

If you’re going to fish around the Bay of Green Bay, always dispose of your used gear properly. Loose lines, bobbers, and hooks are hazardous to wildlife. For example, any loose fishing line can tangle around animals hindering their mobility which reduces their chances of survival.

Where is Green Bay, Wisconsin Located on a Map?

Green Bay is a city found in the state of Wisconsin. It’s near the southern end of Green Bay off an arm of Lake Michigan. It’s also home to the Green Bay Packers and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

Here is Green Bay, Wisconsin on a map:

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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