Sunday, December 5, 2010

William Waters and the early Oshkosh Schools

On January first 1867 William Waters found himself newly arrived, newly wed and newly established as an architect in Oshkosh Wisconsin, just nineteen days before he had married Catherine Follett after traveling from New York State. The young professional set about the practice of architecture. Two jobs were to come his way that first year: the Harding Opera House and St. Peter's Church. Both projects were plagued by funding woes and lingered for years before completion. But young William had a great deal going for him; he was twenty four years old, handsome, well schooled and experienced with a strong work ethic. His wife's father had been the third mayor of the city and although deceased, the former mayors' family was still politically influential. It was not long before Waters developed a relationship with the city and its' school board, a relationship that would serve him well to end of his days.

At that time there were seven public schools in the city. The notated map above shows location and gives a brief explanation of the structures under consideration. In May of 1868 the city was in need of a new school house in the 4th ward to replace a building on corner of Jefferson and Merritt Streets. Mr. Waters was given the job of designing the new building to be located on lots between Jefferson and Mt. Vernon Sts. just north of Merritt. By early September it was nearly complete. The two story frame structure fronted on Jefferson St. and was transverse in form with three front entrances and a tower at the center. There were two main rooms on each floor measuring 32' x 33' x 15' high. The school board further decided to relieve overcrowding down in the second ward. To that end, it was proposed to move the vacant school house on the corner of Merritt and Jefferson about a half mile to the corner of Otter and Mill Sts. where it would be joined with a building already on the site. Mr. Waters was given the job of overseeing the move and refurbishing of the two schools.

Come 1869 the school board was dealing with a number of over crowed schools. That May another school was being considered for the forth ward with drawings supplied by Waters. The site was the corner of Jefferson and Irving Sts. The newspapers of the time are silent as to appearance of the building and its size. Also a mystery was if it was intended to augment or replace the building from the previous year. Another problem was the fifth ward, which covered a great deal of real estate and was served by two schools, both in need of improvement. The first of these was at the south east corner of Elm and Vine Sts. and the other in the remote suburb of Algoma. The board opted for additions to both locations and Waters drew plans as well as served as superintendent of construction. Here again there are no descriptions in the press. On the south side of the river the 3rd Ward School was said to be a well lighted, ventilated and warmed building but badly crowed. The school boards committee recommended an addition rather than a new building. Lots adjoining the school were purchased and Mr. Waters drew plans for a sympathetic addition. Construction was started in June and was completed by September, the addition and wing more than doubled the size of the school. Above is an image of the completed Third Ward School as well as a wood cut of the First Ward School from the collection of the Oshkosh Public Museum. Of interest is the similar architectural style of both schools. Perhaps the original architect of the Third Ward Schools and the First Ward School were one and the same.