Sunday, January 17, 2016

Oshkosh State Normal School

The state of Wisconsin had by the late 1860's established two Normal schools, the first in Platteville and the second in Whitewater, there was an obvious need for a more centrally located teachers college and the board of Normal School Regents had many fine cities from which to choose.  Oshkosh was eager to secure the school and the city council offered $30,000 to help fund the school.  It worked for the board of regents selected the city as the site for the new Normal School.  The next decision was where in the city would the school be located.  There were four options to consider: first, a site, just south of the Jackson St. fair grounds fronted along New York Ave., second, a lot to the west of the same fair grounds along Wisconsin St.  third, the old cemetery which was at the intersection of Algoma Blvd. and Union Ave., finally the A. B. Knapp property on Algoma Blvd.  The Regents first preference was the cemetery, the second was the site to west of the fair grounds and a resolution was passed in October of 1868 naming the cemetery as the site for the school.  It came as a big surprise when two months later the board changed their position and selected the eight acre Knapp parcel which was elevated and dry as well as populated with old oak trees.     

A few weeks after the Regents announced the location of the school came the news that William Waters' plans had been selected and that Mr. Waters was to supervise the construction of the building.  Galloway, Roger and Company of Sheboygan Falls won the contract to building the school. The young architect had arrived in Oshkosh in December of 1867 working hard to establish a thriving practice.  This job represented his entry into the circle of architects considered worthy of state projects.  Work started in May of 1869 and was to be completed by August of 1870.  The building was finished in time for the fall term of 1870 but the school failed to open owning to a lack of funds to furnish and operate it and stood empty and unused for a year until money was allocated to open the school.  The young architect designed an impressive structure in the Second Empire Style. The floor plan was asymmetrical but wall elevations displayed symmetry with towering ventilation plenums rising above the mansard roof.  By far the most impressive feature was the central tower which rose high above the rest of the building and nearby oak trees.  Algoma Blvd. follows an ancient trail along the Fox River which runs from the northwest to the southeast.  In the late 1860's there wasn't much out that way, a few houses here and there, soon however wealthy lumber and businessmen began to build along the street.

Oshkosh's Normal School proved to very popular and it grew swiftly, so much so that by 1874 an addition was needed.  Mr. Waters designed a harmonious addition which stretched to the north of his original building.  The addition was two stories high with a high foundation.  The center of the front elevation featured a bay window on the first floor above which were a set double windows and in the gable was a single arched top window. Flanking the center were sets of double windows on the first and second floors and lofty ventilation plenums.  A two story section connected the two buildings with an entrance near the original structure.   Two years later there was another addition planned with architect Waters competing against H. C. Kock of Milwaukee for the commission. In an article published in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of July 21, 1876 it was reported that Waters got the job, however just a few weeks later a notice for contractor bids appeared urging interested parties to view the plans at Mr. Kock's office, in Milwaukee or the Hay Hardware Store in Oshkosh.   

In July of 1893 it was announced that yet another addition was to be made to the Normal School, this time on south end of the original building.  Again architect Waters drew plans that were sympathetic with the earlier structure, using cream colored brick and roman ached windows.  It measured 118 by 60 feet and had a full basement and two stories.  Where the addition attached to the old building where was an ached opening and steps to an entrance adjacent to a bay which rose from the basement to the attic level.  Beyond that the building was symmetrical in its’ fenestration with sets of triplet window on the first and second floor below a central gable to either side was a single window followed sets of double windows, which set up a rhythm to the front elevation.

Mr. Waters was preparing plans in February of 1898 for yet another expansion of the Normal School.  The school’s president G. S. Albee was pushing of new build at the southeast end of the school complex.  A great deal of persuasion was required and it took several years before work could commence in May of 1900.  This time William Waters made no attempt to match the existing buildings as that style was passé, instead he treated the edifice as a separate and distinct structure although connected to the other buildings.  The new hall had a basement and three floors above, measuring 60 by 115 feet.  The building was capped with a hipped roof with large overhanging eves. 

On march 22, 1916 the school caught fire and burned beyond repair.  All portions of the many buildings were severely damaged and had to be razed.  The academic year continued with classes being held in various halls and churches throughout the city. Soon a new building rose on the spot where the old school stood and is in use to this day.           

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