Saturday, December 19, 2015

State Normal School at River Falls

Not long after Wisconsin became a state its' legislature enacted laws providing for the establishment of state schools.  The University of Wisconsin at Madison was inaugurated in 1849 as well as a school for the blind in Janesville and in 1852 a school for the deaf opened in Delavan.  The state of Wisconsin also founded Normal Schools or teacher colleges, throughout the state the forth one of which was built in River Falls in 1875.  River Falls was a small town in western Wisconsin just east of Minneapolis, St Paul.  The academe was successful and both the city and school thrived.  On a winter's night in 1897 the building burned almost entirely but the community pull together helping to set up class rooms in churches, lodge halls and other venues such that only a half day of class time was lost.   The Normal School Board of Regents took up the matter of rebuilding and other cities wished to move the school but the citizens of River Falls prevailed with the regents calling for architects to submit plans for a new building.  Dozens of proposals were received from architect in Milwaukee, Racine, Janesville, La Cross, Superior and Ashland but in the end Oshkosh architect William Waters’ plans was judged the best.
Mr. Waters paid a visit to River Falls in February of 1898 to view the site and assess what might be salvaged.  A week later a notice for contractor to submit bids was published with Bonnett, Michele and Company of Milwaukee winning the contract.  But April construction was well under way and the new school finished by September in time for the fall term.  For many years there was but one building on campus but in 1914 North Hall was built.  The building designed by Waters became known as South Hall and by the 1970’s had become run down to the point that there was serious talk of razing the structure and building anew.  An effort to save the building was launched and in 1976 a newly refurbished South Hall was added to The National Register of Historic Places.    

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wisconsin Goes to the Fair

Exposition Universelle de 1889, held in Paris was a great success and showed the world the greatness of France. Many countries exhibited in Paris, promoting there goods and manufacturing prowess, the United States mounted a halfhearted effort, coming off as unsophisticated hicks unready to be a world power. It was therefore decided that the United States would host a World's Fair in 1893, honoring the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus but what city would host this gala face saving event? New York, Washington DC, Chicago and St. Louis all vied for the privilege of being the venue for the big show and the matter was to be resolved by the US House of Representatives. Chicago's city counsel formed a committee of powerful citizens to insure the city would prevail and it did. Architects Daniel Burnham and John W. Root were put in charge of bringing the whole thing together using Root's creative genius and Burnham's organizational skills. Burnham assembled a fraternity of the county's best architects such as, George Post, Henry Van Brunt, Charles McKim and enlisted Frederick Law Olmsted to transform the marshy Jackson Park into a suitable fair grounds. All the states and territories were to have a presence at the fair in the form of a pavilion.

By July of 1891 the state of Wisconsin had appointed a board of managers to oversee all matter concerning the state's presents at the fair. The board specified that the building was to be constructed entirely of materials from Wisconsin, have no less 10,000 square feet of floor space at a coast exceed $30,000 and plans were to be submitted by September 15,1891. The winning architect would receive a prize of $300 and there was to be a second prize of $200. There were four competing plans from; Messrs. Ferry and Clas, Mr. Holbrook, Mr. Douglas all of Milwaukee and William Waters of Oshkosh. The board announced their decision on October 21, 1891, naming Mr. Waters as the winner and James Douglas as taking second prize. On February 21, 1892 a notice for bids for contractors was placed in the Oshkosh Times with announcement coming in early April that Houle Bros. of Oshkosh would build the structure. And so it was that by the opening of the fair, Wisconsin had a fine building and exhibition hall. Only after the fair was open a few months did the bickering start. The Milwaukee Journal praised the hall, claiming it to have won first prize and took the Milwaukee Sentinel to task for making no mention of it. The Sentinel replied that several state buildings received awards but all where of the same degree with no first place being recognized. As final accounts were taken several sources noted that the Wisconsin State Building was singled
out as architecturally unique, well built and commodious for the visitors.