December 14, 2017 is the one hundredth anniversary of the passing of William Waters. After a century, many of his buildings are no more but many remain as monuments to his ability. His extant structures serve as touch-stones to our past, a reminder of what was and may server to inspire our future. William Water, like many early Wisconsinites had roots in the east. He was born in 1843 to William and Elizabeth Waters in the village of Franklin in Delaware county New York, his father a successful man of business and civic leader could provide well for wife and three children. Young William was educated in Franklin, then in 1863 attended Rensselaer Polytechnic School in Troy, New York but left to take a job on the Midland Railroad, after the Civil War he made his way west. What brought him to Oshkosh? Surly Milwaukee or Chicago held great allure for young men wishing to start a life in the frontier where opportunity was abundant. Having acquired sufficient knowledge of engineering and architecture the twenty-three-year-old William went to Oshkosh, arriving there in December of 1866 and married Catherina Follett. Miss Follett’s family also originated in Franklin, New York, her father moved west to Oshkosh in 1849 with his family following in 1850. Mr. Follett was very successful, even becoming the city’s second mayor and although he’d been killed in an accident his son, Catherine’s brother was a prominent citizen who’s name and position carried a great deal of weight in the city.
William Waters wasted little time in establishing himself as an architect and was soon receiving commissions from the city for schools and fire houses. He also took on supervision jobs, guiding the construction of other’s buildings. The state of Wisconsin also noticed him and picked his plans for the new normal school to be built in Oshkosh as well as giving him the job as superintendent of construction of the Northern State Hospital for the Insane, just north of Oshkosh. Mr. Waters’ amiable nature, attention to details and ambition soon garnered him commissions from parties in other cities such as Sheboygan Falls, Neenah-Menasha and Appleton making him one of the premier architects of fast growing central Wisconsin. He and Catherine started a family and by 1872 had three children, first born was Elizabeth then Willie and finally Katie who lived but ten months. William’s carrier continued to expand helped by a devastating fire in 1874 and another even more destructive conflagration in 1875. James Peter Jensen Waters’ draftsman, quipped “Plans by the yard” were drawn up after the fire of ’75. The office was busy but things at home took a terrible turn when Catherine suddenly died in October of 1875. For fifty-one years William Waters made Oshkosh his home and worked for the improvement of the city and the state. I know I drew inspiration from his life story, I hope others might as well.