Friday, March 16, 2012

Churches of Oshkosh, Part One

A great part of William Waters works were houses of worship. Mr. Waters planned twelve and a half churches in Oshkosh that can be documented. Much of the information here in is taken from newspaper accounts. The Oshkosh press always gave more space and detail to projects north of the river and the same held true for religious structures.
One of the first commissions the young architect received upon arriving in Oshkosh was from The Society of St. Peter. The group had outgrown the wooden frame building it occupied on High Street and sought plans from Mr. Waters. In June of 1867 an appeal for sealed bids appeared in the newspaper. The plans called for a frame structure with a brick veneer, 90' x 50'. Later news accounts clam that work had commenced with the laying of a foundation, 63' x 115', then work stalled for several years. It was not until June of 1874 and the arrival of Fr. O'Malley that things got started again with a proposal to receive bids. A newspapers' description in March of 1875 stated that the church would be built that coming season in the French Gothic Style, measuring 112' x 60'; 36' to the eves and 60' to the top of the roof. It was to be a frame structure clad with brick with a steeple 176' tall. Some work was done and by October of that year the old church was abandoned and the parishioners worshiped in the newly completed basement. Once again work stopped, not to resume until July of 1878 when bids were let for the stone and brick work.
After the frequent and devastating fires the city decreed that public building should be built solely of brick or stone. Not until January of 1880 was the church all but finished and the dedication followed , at long last in May. The building served for many years but by the 1950's it looked old and used; years of steam locomotive and factory shoot had sullied the brick, the souring steeple was replaced with a shorter, easier maintained roof. The old church was demolished in 1953 but holds a special place in my heart because I was baptized there, although I recall nothing of the event.
The Katolishers on the south side fared far better than their brethren to the north, by April of 1868 the as yet to be completed church of the Immaculate Conception held its first service. The newspapers gave little coverage to the new south side Catholic Church but to say the ground plan was 98' x 50' and the tower measured 18' x 18'. The structure was probably wooden frame with a brick veneer and was perhaps commissioned at about the same time as St. Peter's Church. The church was not Gothic in style but exhibited Roman arches in the window and front entrance. Buttresses enforced the corners of the nave and the tower as well as the side wall between each of the seven widows. In August of 1868 Fr. Marco became pastor and a month later the name was changed to St. Vincent de Paul. A handsome rectory and school were subsequently constructed. As the years past the church became crowed and out of date the once tall steeple was abbreviated, no doubt for maintenance reasons. The shorter tower gave the church an odd look and by 1914 the congregation replace the old church altogether with an immense new church.
In May of 1872 an advertisement for bids appeared in the newspaper for the brick work on the new Second Methodist Episcopal Church on Minnesota Street. The plans could be viewed and bids were accepted at the office of William Waters. The frame structure was complete and services had been held in the basement of the new building. That was about all the Oshkosh press had to say on the subject, no description of style or size. The building was of no particular style to speak of; the front door had a roman arched opening, above it a set of triplet windows and above them a small round window. The windows on the ground floor were in pairs with jack-arch lintels, on the floor above were paired window too but with roman arches. The very top of the steeple was covered with shingles and had a very English look about it. The Methodist continued to worship there until 1918 when they combined with two other congregations to form the Tenth Street Methodist Church. The building was sold to the First Evangelical and Reformed Church and remained their house of worship well into the 1950's. Although the building still stands as of this writing it no longer serves as a church and is in bad repair.

In 1871 The First Congregational Church occupied a fine if not dated Greek revival style building on Algoma and Bond Streets. In 1872 that building went up in flames and William Waters got the job of planning a replacement; a preliminary front elevation from the archives of the Oshkosh Public Museum appears below.
The new church was to be patterned after the First Congregational Church in Janesville and indeed there were similarities between the two. Work started in 1873 and the building was described as being Gothic in style, measuring 60' x 115' and a steeple to tower to a height of 160'. The newspapers followed the progress of construction meticulously throughout the year and the coverage ended with a long article in November when the church nearly finished.
The building was replaced as the church in 1911 by another Waters designed structure which will be the subject of a later post. The old church continued to serve as the fellowship hall until the 1960's when it was demolished and a modern hall was built in its' stead. By the time it was removed it looked vary shabby; discolored by years of soot and the removal of the towering spire all add to its' dilapidated appearance.
The long history of the Episcopal Church is well documented and Mr. Waters played a sizable roll in it. In the mid 1870's Trinity Episcopal served the needs of the faithful in central Oshkosh; on the south side there was Grace Chapel at Minnesota and Eleventh Streets on the east, Kemper Mission on Winnebago St. near Bowen and the north side St. Paul's Chapel, located on the corner of Melvin and Jefferson Streets. St Paul's was designed by Mr. Waters in 1875 and built that same year. The press wrote of the first service held there in October of 1875; that it was well attended and praised the decor and windows as being in good taste, credit architect Waters. As transportation improved in the city the three satellite churches were closed so as to consolidate worship in one venue. There were those who felt the need for another church however and in 1909 Christ Episcopal Church was built on Jackson Street just north of Irving Avenue. The building that was St. Paul's was moved to the new church site and became the guild hall and parlor. Christ Church couldn't make a go of it and the property was taken over in 1917 by Martin Luther Evangelical Church which remained there until building a new structure on Algoma Blvd. The old St. Paul's is still there, used now as housing and looking shabby and in bad repair.