Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Northern Wisconsin State Fair

In 1870 the Northern Wisconsin Agricultural and Mechanical Association was formed as group interested in promoting more efficient framing techniques and practices.  The association grew rapidly and every year held a convention in various cities, such as Berlin, Appleton, Ripon and Green Bay.  The officers of the group too were from many different locations.  In September the group held a fair and exposition in Oshkosh.  It wasn't long before the fair became an important event, attracting hundreds of attendees, and needed a suitable grounds and exhibition hall. 
 In 1879 the society had a large hall built on grounds just west of Jackson Street, north of New York Avenue.  There was a race course too, on the west side of the exhibit hall.  It's unclear who drew the plans for the building but similarities to other building of the time by architect William Waters suggest it was he who penned the plans.  It was truly a grand edifice with a towering belvidere at its' center, long wings stretching to the north and south and the corners of each wing, towers with peaked roofs and windowed dormers.  The building was the largest exhibit hall in the northwest out side of Chicago.  It was however a short lived grandeur as a fire reduced the building to ash and charred limber within a year.   A replacement was soon in the works with plans drawn by Mr. Waters.  The new hall was finished in 1881 and was slightly large than its' predecessor.  Still it bore a great resemblance to the former exhibition building with imposing central cupola, outstretched wings and corner towers.  The lighting was improved with skylights and dormers along the length of the vast wings, the corner tower had peaked roofs but with no windowed dormers.  The exhibition hall served for but a few years when in 1885 three tornadoes roared through town, leaving the fairgrounds littered with roof sections and other debris and no exhibit hall. 
There was no immediate news of a replacement and was not until the summer of 1891 that word came out of plans to build anew.  Mr. Waters submitted plans but there was a challenger, a contractor named Schneider, who’s plan was less expensive.   Architect Waters redrew the hall, removing ornamentation and embellishment.  In the end Mr. Waters modified design won as the Schneider plan although attractive was thought be “not so firm.”   Later in July came the news of an intended grand stand also planned by William Waters.   It was to 183’ long and seat 1,000 people with a roof to shield the audience from the sun.  By mid-August the papers reported that the exhibition hall was to be finished in the next week and that the grand stand would be ready in time for the fair in September.  The few newspaper accounts from July and August of 1891 seem to be the only record of those structures, there are no photographs or written records to tell what they looked like or what became of them.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Neoclassical in Neenah

In the late nineteenth century many small local insurance companies were formed.  The Fox River valley had several; Aid Association for Lutherans of Appleton, Oshkosh's Wisconsin National Life Insurance and The Fraternal Reserve Association and in Neenah there was The Equitable Fraternal Union which was founded in 1897.  All these companies would eventuality build large, impressive home office buildings.  The first to do so was The Equitable Fraternal Union of Neenah.  The fast growing company quickly out grew its' original office space and in 1908 turned to William Waters to design the “Home Office”.   A lot on the corner of Commercial and Doty Streets was acquired and by September of 1909 the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported on the nearly completed edifice, replete with a fine engraving of the building.  
The favored style of the time for building of that nature was neoclassical.  It was a style which projected strength and longevity and the Equitable Reserve building seems to have been the bell weather for structures to follow, such as; The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance building in Milwaukee or the Wisconsin National Life Insurance building in Oshkosh.  The Equitable Reserve building was built of limestone and was three stories high and measured 68' x 102' with the front entrance on Commercial Street.  Above the front door was a colonnade of six ionic pillars supporting the frieze and cornice.  Atop the cornice was a parapet with decorative escutcheons at the corners and a pediment at the center.  In a history of Neenah published in 1958, architect Henry Auler described the building as…”one of the few remaining buildings of classical design that is true to the Greek method of construction.  It too is an example of what is expressed in the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.”  The building remains to this day unaltered and looking as it did the day it was finished.            

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lakeside Sanitarium

As a kid I was told by a friend that the house on the corner of Washington and Hazel Street was the original Mercy Hospital, I was skeptical.  As it turned out my friend was right, and wrong.  The history of medicine and hospitals in Oshkosh is interesting from an architectural point of view.  Perhaps the first general hospital was Alexian Brother founded in 1880 and housed in the former J. J. Moore residence on the corner of Jackson and New York Avenue.  Later the brothers built a large brick structure with grounds that occupied the entire block.  In 1891 the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother established St. Mary Hospital in an erstwhile store on the corner of Boyd and Merritt Street, which was replaced by a handsome brick structure designed by E.E. Stevens in 1894. 
 By 1903 the good Sisters had ambitious plans for explanation and hired E. Breilmaler and Sons, architect of Milwaukee to plan an addition, which if built as drawn would have tripled the size of the hospital.  That was not to be and only a small portion was constructed and served as a hospital until 1934 when it became a home for the aged.                                      
 In 1889 a young doctor named Michael E. Corbett MD arrived in Oshkosh, his office was in the Beckwith Block on Main St. and his residence on Waugoo Avenue.  In 1892 Dr. Corbett chose William Waters to design his house on Washington Avenue.  Dr. Corbett seems to have been an ambitious person and soon made a name for himself such that by 1902 he purchased the lot behind his house and commissioned William Klapproth to design a modern new office. The office was something of a new departure for a doctor’s office.  Physicians might have an office in their home or on the second floor of a business block, Dr. Corbett’s office looked like a home.  
In 1905 Corbett bought the former residence of Congressman Richard Guenther on the Washington Avenue, the same house my friend claimed was the original Mercy Hospital.  Dr. Corbett transformed the house, designed by William Waters into the Lakeside Sanitarium. 

It remained that until 1912 when he and eighteen other doctors formed the Lakeside Sanitarium Company and hired architect Waters to plan a modern new hospital.  New facility was equipped with the most up-to-date innovations, such as an Otis automatic elevator, one merely had to push a number button and the car would stop at that floor. The new building occupied the block from Hazel to Oak and from Park to Cleveland and was four full stories with the fifth floor as a dormitory.  
For a while, the city was blessed with two general hospitals, St. Mary's and Lakeside. The Alexian Brothers had long since taken up working with addiction and mental patients only.  In 1918 the Sister of the Sorrowful Mother purchased the Lakeside Sanitarium, renaming it Mercy Hospital.  The sisters maintained both St. Mary's and Mercy, even expanding Mercy in 1922 with a lager wing at the north side of the building, in 1938 there was another addition to the south end, witch completely obscured all vestiges of the original building. 

 For many decades Mercy Medical Center as it became known, was fixture on Hazel Street.  As the city grew so did the hospital, its expansion had an adverse effect on the surrounding residential neighborhood.  Finally, in 2000 a new medical center was erected on the city's far west side and what had been the hospital became care and housing for the elderly.                 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Schlitz In Oshkosh

In an earlier post the subject of Oshkosh beer distribution and the Pabst brewing company was covered but many other out of town breweries set up shop in the city, chief among them was Schlitz. August Uihlein of the Schlitz Brewery was selling beer in Oshkosh as early as the 1880's and in 1891 the Uihlein Block was completed, which housed Schlitz Hall a magnificent drinking place. ( See, “More Oshkosh Buildings, Part Five.” May 28, 2015)
Something was afoot, in February of 1891, William Dichmann an Oshkosh business man purchased a lot on Division Street. Dichmann has purchased the lot at Washington and State St. some years earlier and in turn sold it to Mr. Uihlein so that the Uihlein Block could be built. In mid-year, 1891 came the announcement of the brewery's intention to build a storage house with a bottling facility and stable, this according to the Oshkosh Weekly Northwestern of July 8, 1891. The article stated that the structure was to 36 x 62 and was to be located on Division St., between the Milwaukee Road and Central Wisconsin Central tracks, the same lot acquired by Mr. Dichmann some months earlier. There was also published in that same edition a notice to contractors for sealed bids for the construction of the edifice, plans for which could be viewed and bids accepted at the office of William Waters, architect. The Oshkosh Times of October 29,1891 printed an article on the just completed Schlitz warehouse, describing it's modern attributes and praising it as “...quite an addition to the city's semi-public buildings.” Just what the building looked like is a bit of a mystery as there are no extant images of the place.
The building did appear on the 1903 Sanborn Map of Oshkosh, labeled as Louis Plate Beer Bottling and shows several structures, some of wood and some with a brick veneer but not much more than that. The Oshkosh Beer Blog of April 4, 2016 covers the Schlitz in Oshkosh subject more extensively and I commend those pages to you as a good and interesting read.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pabst Brewing, Oshkosh

As the city of Oshkosh became better connected by rail with Chicago, Milwaukee and north, goods were able to come and go at a lower coast, it was a boon to industry. It was soon discovered by many brewing companies that Oshkosh made an excellent distribution point for northern Wisconsin. The Oshkosh Times of March 29,1891 noted this fact in an article under the headline “A Center for Beer”, brewers from Cincinnati, St. Louis as well as Milwaukee's Schlitz and Pabst all had a presents in the city with some bottling plants, warehouse and beer halls. As early as 1876, Pabst had an agent in town to distribute their product. Captain Pabst was shrewd businessman and had turned his father-in-law's failing enterprise into the county's largest brewery. The company built numerous taverns in Milwaukee, surrounding cities and beyond. Early in 1896 the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported another purchase of land by the Pabst agent Lawrence Thence. The Light Street property, occupied by the Columbia Hotel was acquired from Mr. Charles Schriber for the sum of $8,500 and the stated intent was to erect a large three store brick storage and bottling plant. The day following that announcement came clarification from Mr. Thence who stated that work would start in the next week at an accelerate pace from plans that called for a two story building 40 x 120. More reports were published outlining Pabst's plans to acquire the entire block bordered by Jackson, Light and Pearl Streets. Mention was also made of a rumor that the brewer was interested the Methodist church property at the corner of Main and Merritt which was denied by a company attorney.
Perhaps the timetable put forth by Mr. Thence was overly ambitious because it wasn't until March 16,1896 that the announcement for sealed bids was publish. Interested parties could view the plans at the office of William Waters. Work on the building was underway by May with precaution taken dew to the wet ground. After excavating to a depth of four feet eight foot piles were driven in and covered with gravel for a solid foundation. Contrary to earlier report the building was to be two stories high and measure 30 x 78 with an office, bottling room and refrigerator on the first floor, living rooms and storage were on the second floor. It was customary for building of the Pabst Brewing Company to have certain look about them and a circular Pabst logo in the brickwork. Parapets and towers were part of the design by architect Waters, giving the building the look of a diminutive Rhine castle which was consistent with Pabst architecture. With the rise and dominance of local breweries the Pabst market share fell off and prohibition was the death knell for the breweries' presents in Oshkosh. The building was sold in 1925. Remodeling work removed the parapets and a general renovation many years ago made the building a show piece.

P.S. For a more comprehensive article on the Pabst Brewing company in Oshkosh, please visit, Oshkosh Beer Blog of May 9, 2016. It's a good read.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Stroud's Warehouse

George F. Stroud was a paint and oil merchant in the early days of Oshkosh. He was well established by the early 1870's. There is pictured in the 1886 city directory his retail store and his warehouse, side by side. The store was on the east side of Main Street's second block in a building erected by C. Griffin after the great fire of 1875 and his warehouse was on Otter Street. It was not uncommon for enterprises to picture their building in fictitious settings.
In 1884 there was and curious news item in the Daily Northwestern of March 7th. The Stroud warehouse had been located near Pearl and Market Streets and the Wisconsin Central freight depot. The article reported that Mr. Stroud was dismantling his warehouse and moving the stones to his lot near Otter and State Streets and that when, weather permitting he would erect a new factory and warehouse. The write up stated the building would be 44 x 100 with two stories and a basement.
The March 27th the Daily Northwestern published a notice for sealed bids to be received for the construction of George Stroud's new building, the plans for which could be seen at the office of William Waters. Mr. Waters planed a building that was of no great beauty as its' utilitarian nature didn't call for it. The structure was of plain limestone block, a material the architect was familiar with. There was but one truly decorative feature, a cornice of protruding blocks spaced about twelve inches apart. There was another announcement in late April that work had started on the foundation of the Stroud warehouse. 
The Stroud Company occupied the building for many years, for a time as Stroud and Thomson. In 1914 the building had two tenants: H. M. Wellman and C. O. Sweet followed by the Heco Envelope Company in 1920. The final company to inhabit the place before its' demolition was Mondl Manufacturing, a shoemaker. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Oshkosh Public Library

A great part of what makes a community vital and attractive is a good public library and Oshkosh can boast of one of the finest.  It was not however always so, in the early days of the city, like minded people formed private literary associations where for a nominal fee they could access books. 
These private libraries were some times housed in stores, restaurants or the YMCA.  The Oshkosh Library Association and the YMCA both maintained reading rooms but merged in 1869. This was a fine arrangement until the great fire of 1875 destroyed the reading room and its' contents but the library association rebuilt.  By 1889 the public library movement was gaining popularity, fueled by the generous gifts of Andrew Carnegie and a state law which provided that municipalities could levy a mill tax for establishment and maintenance of libraries.  In April of 1890, pushed by the Oshkosh Library Association the city council voted to hold a referendum on a city funded public library and the measure failed.  The Oshkosh Library Association closed but was replaced in 1894 by another group which too faltered.  That same year the city council appointed a library committee to make proposals.  
 Yet another referendum was held in 1895 but it too was defeated, the Library Committee discerned the failure was due to lack of information on the part of the laboring population.  The committee persisted in its' efforts to establish a public library when came the news of the death of Abbie Harris the widow of Marshall Harris a promoter of the public library movement.  In her will Mrs. Harris bequeathed $75,000 and the Harris property on the corner of Washington and Jefferson for a public library.  On the recommendation of the Library Committee the City Council appropriated $1,900 for the establishment of a library in a basement room of city hall, which opened in April of 1896.  In 1897 former Senator Pliletus Sawyer made a generous largess of $25,000 toward the library, the Library Committee recommended a bond issue of $50,000 and the City Council approved it 

With financing in place the project moved forward, there were many details to be worked out but the Library Committee asked for and got proposals  for the new building from three local architects; William Waters, E. E. Stevens and William C. Klapproth. There were also plans drawn by an east coast architect at the behest of Senator Sawyer which never gained much favor.  The contest came down to the three most prominent Oshkosh architects of their day.  Throughout the month of August 1898 the Oshkosh Northwestern published sketches and plans along with the architects' description of their proposals.  From the out set the Library Committee seemed to favor the Waters plan.  George Paine, a member of the school board was a proponent of the plans submitted by Senator Sawyer and seemed to be of the opinion that Oshkosh deserved the best and that local architects weren't up to the task. When all was said and done the plans of William Waters were selected and the corner stone was laid in 1899.                        

As the city grew greater demands were placed on the aging building such that by the mid 1960's it was apparent more space was needed. The firm of Irion and Reinke was engaged to design the addition the plans for which called for expansion along the west and north sides of the original building. Because of limited space and resources a less than harmonious structure was erected. As more time past the inadequacies of the whole library were reviled and in 1992 the city made plans for a complete renovation that in the end would amount to $10.9 million. With a generous gift from an anonymous donor the city realize the financing needed. Architectural firms from Milwaukee and Chicago were selected for the monumental undertaking. Architects Lonn Frye and Barbara Arendt acted as design architects and devised a sensitive addition to the original Waters building. For the duration of the construction the library was moved to the former Radford factory on Wisconsin Ave. In October of 1994 the newly expanded library opened.