Sunday, September 5, 2010

After the fire

By the early 1870's Oshkosh was well on it's way to becoming an important city of manufacturing and commerce. It did suffer a few set backs, however. With a reliance on wood as a construction material and the fire fighting technology of the time the city was prone to destruction by fire. Five times; 1859, 1866, twice in 1874 and finally in 1875 major portion of the business district were consumed by flames and subsequently rebuilt. I will devote the next few entries to Waters' post conflagration works.

The fires of 1859 and 1866 destroyed
much of what was the business district
to varying degrees. The first fire in May of 1874 had no effect on the businesses along Main St. In August another conflagration consumed a large area from Main and Algoma / Washington Sts. north to Irving and as far east as Broad St. There is a dearth of information about reconstruction after these four fires. The blaze of 1875 and its aftermath was the subject of much newspaper print. Starting a few blocks west of Main St. near the river the flames, pushed by strong winds moved to the east and north destroying much of what lay in its path from Ceape St. to Washington St. and to the east well past the Court House.

Reconstruction started soon after, as the newspaper account will attest. Mr. Waters office was drawing "Plan by the yard" as draftsman J.P. Jensen put it. Waters had under his purview some 35 commercial structures that year. Perhaps one of the most interesting undertakings was the east side of Main St. from Ceape to Otter St. Misters Griffin, Ernst and Hubbard owned adjoining lots and were convinced to build identical buildings. In this row of stores the architect uses a form described in an earlier post, two stores with a stairways leading to the second floor between them. The row consists of four such buildings with single slightly larger store between the last two at the right, as seen in the first image. In the next block up Waters designed buildings for H. Bammessell and R. McKenzie, as well as others. The buildings were not adjacent as implied by the second image. All but one of the building on the east side the next block north were of Waters' design.

A structure of particular beauty was the Union Bank located on the northwest corner of Main and High Sts. It featured a cut corner entrance with an arched opening and recessed doors. Above the doors was arched window flanked by columns supporting a cornice upon which rested an arched pediment. Beyond the pediment was something like a plinth inscribed with the word bank. On the Main St. elevation pilasters either side of a large arched window supported small ledge. There were pilasters as well on the second floor bolstering a cornice. A set of double window filled the center of the wall. The fenestration along the the south elevation was regular with rows of four windows from foundation to the second floor. Pilasters at the west end the the building define another commercial space with a window and entrance gained by a small flight of steps. There were two window on the second floor.

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