Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Oshkosh Public Library

A great part of what makes a community vital and attractive is a good public library and Oshkosh can boast of one of the finest.  It was not however always so, in the early days of the city, like minded people formed private literary associations where for a nominal fee they could access books. 
These private libraries were some times housed in stores, restaurants or the YMCA.  The Oshkosh Library Association and the YMCA both maintained reading rooms but merged in 1869. This was a fine arrangement until the great fire of 1875 destroyed the reading room and its' contents but the library association rebuilt.  By 1889 the public library movement was gaining popularity, fueled by the generous gifts of Andrew Carnegie and a state law which provided that municipalities could levy a mill tax for establishment and maintenance of libraries.  In April of 1890, pushed by the Oshkosh Library Association the city council voted to hold a referendum on a city funded public library and the measure failed.  The Oshkosh Library Association closed but was replaced in 1894 by another group which too faltered.  That same year the city council appointed a library committee to make proposals.  
 Yet another referendum was held in 1895 but it too was defeated, the Library Committee discerned the failure was due to lack of information on the part of the laboring population.  The committee persisted in its' efforts to establish a public library when came the news of the death of Abbie Harris the widow of Marshall Harris a promoter of the public library movement.  In her will Mrs. Harris bequeathed $75,000 and the Harris property on the corner of Washington and Jefferson for a public library.  On the recommendation of the Library Committee the City Council appropriated $1,900 for the establishment of a library in a basement room of city hall, which opened in April of 1896.  In 1897 former Senator Pliletus Sawyer made a generous largess of $25,000 toward the library, the Library Committee recommended a bond issue of $50,000 and the City Council approved it 

With financing in place the project moved forward, there were many details to be worked out but the Library Committee asked for and got proposals  for the new building from three local architects; William Waters, E. E. Stevens and William C. Klapproth. There were also plans drawn by an east coast architect at the behest of Senator Sawyer which never gained much favor.  The contest came down to the three most prominent Oshkosh architects of their day.  Throughout the month of August 1898 the Oshkosh Northwestern published sketches and plans along with the architects' description of their proposals.  From the out set the Library Committee seemed to favor the Waters plan.  George Paine, a member of the school board was a proponent of the plans submitted by Senator Sawyer and seemed to be of the opinion that Oshkosh deserved the best and that local architects weren't up to the task. When all was said and done the plans of William Waters were selected and the corner stone was laid in 1899.                        

As the city grew greater demands were placed on the aging building such that by the mid 1960's it was apparent more space was needed. The firm of Irion and Reinke was engaged to design the addition the plans for which called for expansion along the west and north sides of the original building. Because of limited space and resources a less than harmonious structure was erected. As more time past the inadequacies of the whole library were reviled and in 1992 the city made plans for a complete renovation that in the end would amount to $10.9 million. With a generous gift from an anonymous donor the city realize the financing needed. Architectural firms from Milwaukee and Chicago were selected for the monumental undertaking. Architects Lonn Frye and Barbara Arendt acted as design architects and devised a sensitive addition to the original Waters building. For the duration of the construction the library was moved to the former Radford factory on Wisconsin Ave. In October of 1994 the newly expanded library opened.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The State Street Station

In 1890, not long after the completion of City Hall the city council was considering the construction of a new Fire Department “Truck House” for State Street, even though Company No.1 was housed just three blocks to the north at the Phoenix Fire House.  The process moved quickly with the purchase of a vacant lot just north of City Hall.  William Waters drew the plans and a construction contract was let to Louis Houle with work started on the twenty first of July.  Waters specified the same types of building materials as used in the City Hall. 
The foundation and trim was of Oshkosh Blue Limestone and the brick was red pressed brick.  There were many terracotta plaques decorating the exterior walls.  The original building was a display of symmetry; with a lime stone foundation there were two large limestone arched door at the center flanked by entry door.  Above the entry doors were decorative rectangular terracotta plaques and between the equipment door was a circular plaque.  A course of limestone formed the lentils of the entry doors and more limestone delineated the first and second floors.  At the center of the second floor front elevation was a large terracotta plaque inscribed with O. F. D. surrounded by floral flourishes, either side of which were large windows.  Above the entry doors were narrow window capped the lentils of limestone and across the whole of the building was decorative brick work like a window pane lattices, divided by pilasters at either end and to the inside of the narrow windows.  The front of the structure was topped off by two more courses of limestone.           
It's unclear when, but not long after the fire house was finished an addition was proposed.  It is clear that William Waters was the architect because the extension was a seamless match to the original building.  About a third more was added to the south side of the structure using the same building materials and deign motifs.  On the first floor there was a limestone arched equipment door and to the left an entry door above which was a decorative terracotta plaque.  On the second floor was a single large window centered over the arch below it.  To either side of the widow, like book ends were inscribed terracotta plaques.  At some point the arched equipment door were altered to accommodate larger apparatus and the building continued to serve until 1970 when it razed and replaced by a parking lot. 


Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Job Well Done

On April 14, 2015 I authored a post on this blog entitled “A Call to Action”.  The news came out that the Paine Art Center wished to expand its' parking to the lot next door which was occupied by the one hundred four year old Louis Schriber house.  The art center offered the house for the price of one dollar to anyone who would move it.  In that post I urged the art center and the citizens of Oshkosh to find a way to make the relocation happen and I take no credit what transpired over the next year.  That honer goes to the many creative and patient people how worked long and hard for a solution.  This is not news to some but to some it may be, the move is a fait accompli, and the house should survive for another one hundred years.
When first announced, the magazine "This Old House" highlighted the availability of the building, generating nation wide interest and many inquiries.  At last a deal was worked out between the Paine Art Center, David and Jason DeVooght and their sister Tammie DeVooght-Blaney the latter being on the staff of The University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley and the brothers operators of DeVooght House and Building Movers.  The company was started by their father Don and although headquartered in New Jersey, DeVooght has moved other Oshkosh houses.  Of note was the 1985 relocation of another brick house from Oshkosh to Menasha via Lake Winnebago.  The plan for the Schriber home didn't call for placing the house on a barge and float it twenty miles north, merely turning it around and moving it a block down the street.  A near by vacant lot was available and the planning began; first the 200 ton building would need to be jacked up and 65 tons of steel beams placed under it. Fourteen, remote controlled eight wheel dollies were attached to the beams.  One hundred twelve wheels rolled the house from it's old foundation and turned it, moved it to the street, then down the block and on to it's new foundation.  
There was prep work of a somewhat disappointing nature; two fine old oak tree had to be cut down, one in order to get the house on to the street and the other stood where the house was to be placed.  The entire move took several days and was cover in the social media.  There will be more work as the new occupants make the place livable once again.  I tip my hat to all those who made this possible, it was truly a job well done.