Town of New Hope
New Hope is one of the oldest towns in Portage County. It was constituted in 1856 and at that time it included the Town of Alban which was detached from it in 1878. Despite its size it was thinly settled at the beginning and at first almost all inhabitants were Norwegians. There was a colony of them in nearby Waupaca and newcomers started farms in Portage County close to their fellow country people. In the census of 1860 there were 105 households in the town, 99 of which were headed by farmers, 83 from Norway, 4 from Germany, 4 from Denmark, 1 from England, 1 from Switzerland and six Americans; as occupations only three persons indicated occupations that were not farmers or laborers, one pump maker from Vermont, one seamstress from Norway (probably a widow) and one teacher whose origin was not given.
The name of New Hope is rather common in the United States among places named by immigrants and there is no evidence about those who chose it. The town in its present limits has always remained rural. A few stores were established, post offices were open, a creamery functioned for some years and the places where these establishments were received names: Benson Corners, Garfield, Peru, but none of them developed into a village. As the Scandinavians are Lutheran, one church was built in the north of the township and a second one in the south, near them are cemeteries with many tombstones having inscriptions in Norwegian. When a split occurred in the Lutheran church, a new church was built not far from the North New Hope church for the new group.
New Hope never had any tavern or hotel; the stores did not sell any alcoholic beverages; the town was dry. In the 1960’s the town council decided to authorize the Garfield store to sell beer, but when the store closed a few years later the town became dry again.
Typical of the Norwegian heritage are the farms consisting in a large number of buildings: residence, barn, stable, sheds, chicken coops, and others. At first the buildings were made of logs jointed in the typical Scandinavian dovetail way. Later frame buildings became customary and in some cases log houses were covered with boards to look like frame houses. Another cultural feature is the split rail fences made of sticks without any nail or wire as in the early times cash for purchases was scarce and labor did not cost anything. Some split rail fences can still be seen in the New Hope area.
New Hope lies completely on the terminal moraine of the last Wisconsin glaciations. It is therefore hilly with some kettles and a number of small lakes formed in some kettles; most of these lakes have been named after pioneer families. They are not fed by streams and have no outlet but represent the surface of the water table and their level varies. For years their levels have decreased and a few dried up almost completely. It was argued that it was the result of the development of irrigation that used much water but after a few wet years their level has risen again and in 1985 this level is about the highest that has been registered. One of the most beautiful lakes and also the most popular lake is Sunset Lake, which was on the east side a public beach which is a public park.