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.    

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