Monday, October 21, 2013

The Athearn Hotel

William Waters was the architect of many hotels, in Oshkosh he drew the plans for the Beckwith House and the Tremont House both built after the great fire of 1875, he also planned hotels in other cities.  His grandest lodging structure was the Athearn Hotel, which was built in 1890.  In 1886 there were twenty two hotels listed in the city directory, with twelve on the north side and the rest south of the river.  The Revere House near the river and the Tremont were perhaps the best accommodations to be had in town.  With the loss of the Beckwith House in December of 1880 there was need of a first class hotel in the city.  In February of 1886 George Athearn started to drum up investors for a new Oshkosh hotel.  He had drawings done up by Mr. Waters for a fine five story building with a mansard roof, to be built on Algoma Street, which he exhibited to potential investors around town and as far away as Milwaukee.
George Athearn was born in Maine in 1846 and had spent a year in Oshkosh in 1862 visiting his half brothers, with the intention of going to school there.  He did not attend school but returned to Maine and joined the cavalry. After the war he married and in 1866 moved to Winnebago County Wisconsin and took up farming 170 acres near Oshkosh.  He engaged in a number of profitable business ventures and in 1881 got into the hotel business, most notably the Revere House.  In 1886 Mr. Athearn was intent on building a fine new hotel, finding capitalists willing to finance the undertaking was not an easy task and the fervor for the
enterprise cooled.  The project again got hot in 1889 with press accounts of commercial travelers unable to find lodging.  Architect Waters had prepared another sketch, the block at High and Division Streets was picked as the location; and Mr. Athearn was again chasing money.  Better luck attended this effort, it was now a matter of civic pride that the second largest city in the state should have a first class hotel.  That summer the Oshkosh Hotel Company was formed and share were sold, its investors read as list of the industrial and commercial captains of the city. A meeting was held and a board of directors was chosen, the site was acquired; and by October demolition of the existing building was under weigh.  With the clearing of the lot work immediately began on the foundation and basement.   
On November 19, 1889 the Oshkosh Times published a lengthy article accompanied by the drawing seen here, and described in detail the building, it's size and layout. It is noteworthy that the drawing by J. P. Jensen is not what was built.  In the sketch there are three pediments along the Division Street elevation, however as built there were but two pediments on that side.  Also there were two sets of triplet windows drawn on the forth floor when actually there were no triplet window on that floor.  The north elevation differs as well, with one large pediment at the center of the wall.  The story goes on to say that the building was to be the in the Romanesque style and built of red pressed brick with a limestone foundation and trim.  It was to be eighty feet on High Street, one hundred fifty feet along Division Street, one hundred twenty feet on Market Street and one hundred sixty feet along the alley.  The hotel was four stories high with ceilings of 16' on the first floor, 12' feet on the second and 11' on the third, forth and basement floors.  Second floor rooms were to be suites measuring 15' x 18' with fireplace, bath and water closets.  There were also three meeting rooms on the second floor, 16' x 30' in size.  Guest rooms on the third and forth floors and were equipped with baths and a fireplace of oak.  Further it was to have electric lights and steam heat.  The main entrance was on Division Street some four feet above street level and cover by a porch, the Ladies entrance was at street level on High Street.  The cost of the hotel was estimated to be between $100.000 and 125.000. George Athearn and Son were to lease the building and operate it.

Construction commenced on February 15,1890 by contractors Williamson and Meyer.  The work progressed quickly and the building was hailed all round as much need addition to the city.  In July of 1890 the Appleton Post Crescent printed a story which claimed the building was being poorly built, with but 12" walls on the first floor.  The paper called upon the Oshkosh press to deny these rumors and stop the mouths of the commercial travelers, George Athearn, William Waters and C. R. Meyer all denounced the story and dismissed it as rubbish.  By early 1891 the hotel was very nearly finished and the Oshkosh Hotel Company was to vote on a name. Some ideas were The Arion, Athaern, St. George and others.  The result of the vote was to name it The Colombia, no doubt in honor of the 400th anniversary of  America's discovery.  George Athearn and his son George Jr. occupied the hotel as its managers on May the first of 1891 and immediately began to call it The Athaern Hotel.  The hotel was a great success and required a forty room addition in 1909.  The hotel remained a fixture in the Oshkosh business district until 1964 when it was razed, making way for a new bank.  It would seem that the real estate upon which it stood was worth more than its presents and history.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Neenah City Hall

By the late 1880's Neenah had become a wealthy and progressive city.  An ostentation of mansions lined some city streets and it could also boast of many fine schools and commercial structures.  The city needed a suitable building from which it might conduct its' business.  Menasha had built a hall in 1885 and so it was resolved that Neenah should build too and go Menasha one better.  In August of 1888 the Oshkosh Weekly Northwestern noted the visit of Neenahs' Mayor and six aldermen to the office of William Waters to view the plans he proposed for the new city hall.  Not long after that visit a rare Saturday night council meeting was held in order to decide whose plans were to be used, either those of William Waters or Appleton architect Charles Hove.  A lengthy and spirited discussion was joined with Alderman William Hesse delivering an effective and eloquent speech.  The vote, taken at 11:00 PM ended in a tie with Mayor Arneman deciding in favor of Mr. Waters' design.    
The hall was to house city offices as well as the fire, police departments and was to be located on the corner of Doty and Ceder Streets.  (Ceder St. was renamed South Commercial St.)  By late October of 1889 the building was finished.  The high foundation was limestone as were the arches that formed the openings on the ground floor, the remainder of the building was a cream colored brick with bands of limestone accents.  The arches gave first floor of the structure a Romanesque feel but the rest of the building was Queen Anne in style with a tower of 135 feet, replete with four clock dials and a large bell to toll the hour.  The fire and police departments occupied the first floor with an equipment deck for fire apparatus, horse stalls, hay storage and hose drying tower fulfilling the fire department needs.  The police department was accommodated with jail cells and an office, below all of this were two boilers capable of heating the entire building.  Access to the upper floors was gained by way of the arches at the base of the tower which opened on to a broad stairway that lead to a landing and vestibule, twenty feet square from which were accessed the city treasures' and clerks' offices.  These offices measured 18' x 30' and had double vaults.  Also off this vestibule was the council chamber, 30' x 40' and a 12' x 12' committee room.  On the floor above was the "Firemen's Room" intended for meeting or parties and measured 38' x 60' with a dais.  The total cost of the project, including the purchase of land was $30.000.        
Over the buildings' many years of service changes were made; the arched openings for the fire trucks were enlarged and other entrances were alter as well.  By 1975 the hall was decrepit and  inadequate for city use but Neenah couldn't part entirely with the old building; all but the bell tower was demolished.  It was reinforced, windows bricked up, cleaned and remains part of the charm of Neenah.