Saturday, August 16, 2014

E. E. Stevens

The history of Oshkosh could boast of many fine architects: Adam Bell, William Waters, William C. Klapproth and E. E. Stevens are some of the noteworthy names which come to mind.  Ephraim Eldorus Stevens was born in 1851 in Waldo County, Maine and moved with the family to Oshkosh in 1852, one of twelve children born to Hiram and Rosella Stevens.  Hiram operated a lime kiln across the lake and was a dealer of bricks and other building materials.  At the start of the Civil War he and his two eldest sons joined up, Hiram fell ill and died in 1863, Ephraim was thirteen.  The young Stevens attended Oshkosh public schools as well as the Baptist church.  His older brothers taught him masonry and carpentry, by 1876 he went to Green Bay to study architecture in the office D. M. Harteau with whom he later formed a partnership.  He also formed a life partnership that same year when he married Maggie Jacobs of New York.  In 1878 he and his wife returned to Oshkosh and started a family and business.   
                              Several  Oshkosh schools were of his design.
The Stevens family was growing too, in time Maggie would give birth to five daughters, namely; Viola Maude, Gracie May, Catherine Rosalie, Addie D. and Bessie.  Like his brother Edward P, Ephraim worked as a contractor and builder as well as architect. Stevens established his office on the second floor of 158 N. Main Street and did in 1895 employ the services of Wm. C. Klapproth and Alonzo Austin.  As a contractor Stevens worked on a few buildings designed by William Waters, most notably the First Ward School, he also competed with Waters for the design of many buildings, the library, South Park School Merrill School and the High School were just a few.

                                      The building at 158 North Main Street

The decade of the the 1890's seem to have been the the high water mark for Mr. Stevens' architectural career with commissions for churches, commercial buildings, a hospital and many fine dwelling for wealthy clients.  All his buildings seem to have had a distinctive flair and unusual yet handsome look about them.      
Architect Stevens' residential works were of the most outstanding character, large and impressive, they were noticed as artistic and capacious.  The well to do of Oshkosh sought his services for their housing needs for new construction as well as alterations.  For instance Orville Beach owned an ageing and passe' Italianate style house on Algoma Street, transformed by Stevens to a dwelling more au courant for its' day.     

E. E. Stevens lived most of his life in Oshkosh, so it is little wonder that he would come to love the city and work toward its' improvement.  To that end he became interested in city politics, first winning election as the Forth Ward alderman, not once but twice, in 1881 and 1885.  He didn't stop there however and in 1889 ran for and was elected mayor of the city.  As mayor he saw the need for city parks and was responsible for the acquisition of the land for both North and South Parks, the former being purchased from Col. Lucius Miller for $25,000 and the latter from Samuel Osborn.  Stevens' visionary purchases were not received well by the voter of Oshkosh and Mayor Stevens served but one term.  The voters must have forgiven him as he was elected to the State Senate in 1904 and served until 1905.     
The Stevens lived in a large house on Merritt Avenue near the lake and was likely built in 1878, designed by his own hand.  He died there in 1907.  The city of Oshkosh has much to be thankful for in the legacy left by E. E. Stevens.  His vision and ability made the city what it is today.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stevens House

About a year ago I published an elevation of a house which came from a collection of sketches gathered by a young William Waters Jr.  I had no information about the house but concluded that the dwelling dated from the 1870's.  A few months back an astute reader recognized the house as being on Merritt Avenue in Oshkosh.  I'm not one to pass up a good mystery so I started my search with State Historical Society and photos from a 1983 building survey of Oshkosh.  There I found a photograph of  919 Merritt Ave, formerly numbered 274 before 1957.  A comparison of the two show them to be similar but not identical.  Perhaps the house was the work of William Waters or perhaps not, it's hard to say.  
Next I searched old Oshkosh City Directories and made an interesting discovery.  In the 1891 directory, the first one to publish a street directory, Edward P. Stevens, a builder and contractor in list as the resident of 274 Merritt Ave.  Further the 1866 directory lists Mrs. Stevens, (sic) s s Merritt b Bowen and Hazel and indeed 274 cum 919 Merritt is on the south side of the street between Bowen and Hazel.  Rosella Stevens was widow of Hiram Stevens who in 1852 moved his family from Waldo County, Maine to the village of Oshkosh.  Hiram became a dealer of wood and lime, operating a kiln across the lake at Clifton (High Cliff).
In 1861 he and his eldest son William enlisted in Oshkosh Company B, Third Wisconsin Cavalry and served a three year attachment with Western army in Missouri, his younger son Edward joined the next year.  The riggers of service took a harsh toll on Hiram and he returned to Oshkosh and died in March of 1863.
Rosella had twelve children four of whom died as infants the rest grew to be adults.  William O. Stevens survived the war and became a successful stone cutter and mason.  Edward P. also a war survivor was a mason, builder and contractor.  Daughters Addie and Lilly married and moved to Milwaukee and Missouri, respectively. Sons Fredrick B. and Charles O. moved to Suamico in Brown county, while George a lumberman lived in Menominee, Michigan.  Ephraim Eldorus Stevens worked as a carpenter, mason and apprenticed with architect with D. M. Harteau of Green Bay, later forming a partnership.  In 1878 he returned to Oshkosh to open his own office.  There is so much to tell of E. E. Stevens, I intend to devote more posts him and his work.