Winnebago County Courthouse Preservation: Part I

Winnebago County Courthouse 1938

Winnebago County Courthouse 1938

I’ve been keeping myself busy these past few months with all sorts of historical projects and am finally getting a chance to blog again. I would say a lot of people out there go to work, put in their time, and punch out at the end of the day. Lately, my line of work has me clocking in volunteer hours after work–but I am ecstatic about it!

I have been working hard to help with some historic preservation of the Winnebago County Courthouse in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Ever since starting work with the county, I’ve fallen in love with this Art Deco monument. It was built during the Great Depression without federal or state relief funds and cost nearly 1 million dollars. It’s breathtaking to step inside and take in the style and beauty of a different era.

One of the items on our “To Do” list is locating some of the original light fixtures in the building. Our courthouse was fitted with many bronze light fixtures. Some were very big, beautiful, ornate  fixtures. Unfortunately, most of these lights were removed during renovations that happened in the 1960s and 1970s. Fortunately, someone had the sense to rescue some of these fixtures giving us a chance to obtain them, but we are looking for some others that may be out there yet.

Lights Obtained

  • Stairway Light
  • Branch IV (1 of 6)
  • Branch III (1 of 6)

Lights Needed

  • Branch II/County Board Room
  • 2nd Floor Lobby
  • Hallway Lights ( unsure of what these look like )
  • Various Office Lights

I am looking for any information about these lights. Perhaps you know where some of them went or have a better picture of them. We are also seeking information on the manufacturer that made them. We do know that Keil & Werner Electric of Neenah supplied the light fixtures. The county has the spec books for the construction project, unfortunately there are no known blueprints or specs on these lights–the specs just labeled them as “special” fixtures. As you can see, the Branch III and Branch IV lights have seen better days. I am currently looking into the feasibility/cost have restoring these light fixtures.

In addition to these light fixtures, the courthouse also had 9 bronze drinking fountains in the public spaces. These fountains suffered the same fate as the light fixtures–replaced with modern equipment. Wouldn’t it be great to have at least one of these old drinking fountains back in the building?!

The search continues for these missing components of the courthouse. We hope little by little we will be able to bring them home. The 2nd floor stairway light was recently acquired by the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society and donated back to Winnebago County to be placed back in the stairway of the courthouse. It is scheduled to be put up sometime in the next few months.

 

Allis-Chalmers Greendale Research Facility

In 1958, Allis-Chalmers announced that it would build a research laboratory for development and testing of nuclear technology. The 30-acre site chosen was a few miles south of West Allis in the village of  Greendale, Wisconsin, a planned community built during the Great Depression. The facility consisted of 2 main structures totaling 27,000 square feet* of space for labs, office areas, and a machine shop and staffed by 200 employees. (1) The laboratory was up and running by 1959, and scientists at the laboratory were able to conduct Wisconsin’s very first nuclear reaction in a model reactor they built. (2)

The company’s need for an advanced research facility can be traced back to Allis-Chalmers’ work with the Manhattan Project during World War II. The Hawley Plant, built at the West Allis Works, housed operations for filling wartime orders–one being equipment that helped build the first atom bomb. Management at Allis-Chalmers could see the peaceful uses of atomic energy for the future. (3)

Interior of facility at Argonne National Laboratory –notice AC logo at lower left.(Will Davis-atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com)

In October 1954, the company was awarded a contract by the Atomic Energy Commission to build equipment for an experimental reactor at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.  The scientists at the laboratory built the reactor components, and Allis-Chalmers designed and built the power systems. (4) This was one of several AC nuclear energy projects. It’s work in the nuclear field prompted the company to establish a nuclear power division and erect the facility in Greendale.

Fuel Cell Testing Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society)

Fuel Cell Testing (Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society

)In 1959, Allis-Chalmers introduced a tractor powered by fuel cells–the first vehicle of its kind. This breakthrough launched the company into another field of advanced technology. Soon scientists and engineers with the company were building fuel cell components that powered golf carts, submarines, forklifts, and space equipment for NASA.  The U.S. Military began ordering millions of dollars worth of fuel cell equipment for military projects. (5)

Greendale Expansion Project 1966 (Courtesy of West Allis Historical Society

)In 1966, Allis-Chalmers announced that the Greendale facility would be expanded to include the fuel cell technology. Work on fuel cells had been done at the West Allis Works and a lab in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (north of West Allis). The addition to the Greendale complex was roughly 20,000 square feet**. About 500 employees worked at the Greendale facility on both the fuel cell and atomic energy programs at Allis-Chalmers. (6)

Despite relative success in the fields, Allis-Chalmers shut down these branches of the company. Management divested in the nuclear testing program in 1966. The government canceled its contracts for fuel cell equipment as interest in the space program waned. As a result, Allis-Chalmers laid off workers and eventually shut down that program as well. By the early 1970s, the Greendale facility sat vacant.

 

 


(1) MKE Sentinel 01/7/1958
(2) MKE Sentinel 11/13/1959
(3)An Industrial Heritage-pg 350
(4)MKE Sentinel 10/8/1954
(5)Fuel Cell Accomplishments of Allis-Chalmers Research Division. Box 8, Folder 41 “Fuel Cell Technology, Allis Chalmers Corporation Files. Milwaukee County Historical Society
(6)MKE Journal 01/10/1966

*Figures announced in a press release said 23,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 27,000 sq/ft.

** Figures announced in a press release said 32,000 sq/ft, but company information shows 20,000 sq/ft.

 

Our Adventure in Manitowoc

20160206_201102574_iOS

Molly and I have been suffering from cabin fever like most Wisconsinites this time of year. We decided to hit the road and travel to Manitowoc for some fun. Molly wanted to check out a new yarn store that just opened, and I wanted to visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum  along the lakeshore.

We planned our trip just at the right time. Manitowoc was celebrating Ice on 8th (8th Street is the main commercial district.) Locals came out and carved ice sculptures all along the sidewalks. There were also a few other activities planned during the festival. We explored the stores and even bought a few souvenirs. We had to stop a local coffee shop for some warm drinks–the air was nippy that day!

After our adventure of shopping, we headed down 8th Street to the Courthouse Pub across the street from the county courthouse. It was a super-sweet little brewpub! I ordered some of their craft beer and it was refreshing! If you go for lunch, Molly and I recommend ordering their delicious Judge’s Burger. They serve some great food and drinks in a fun setting.

After lunch, we headed down to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. We got there just in time to take a tour of the submarine USS Cobia. The Cobia is a Gato-class submarine built during World War II. While the Cobia was not built in Manitowoc, it is similar to 28 other Gato-class submarines built at the local shipyard.  The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company employed some 7,000 people during the war to build these vessels. Upon completion, the submarines were tested in Lake Michigan and then were taken down to the Gulf of Mexico on barges in the cover of night.

20160206_203918930_iOS

I think Molly really enjoyed the tour. It was something different for her–this was my third time in the submarine.  We headed back in the museum to see the rest of the exhibits. They had model boats, a triple expansion steam engine, and a great collection of sail and motor boats.

What I enjoy the most is when the stories of the men and women are brought to life. Before walking into the USS Cobia exhibit, there were little postcards that had a picture, name, background, and a story about a sailor that served on the vessel. It’s great when the personal stories tied in with the artifact.  You can go into this ship and learn all about the mechanics and specs of the ship. But it is the stories of the young men that risked their lives in these vessels to serve their country that makes it an interesting and lasting history. If it was not for them the ship would just be a floating piece of metal.

Have you visited the USS Cobia? What were your impressions? What did you think of the rest of the exhibits?

Winnebago County’s Struggle to Save a Courthouse

The original courthouse as it appeared in 1944

The original courthouse as it appeared in 1944

At the end of  my previous post about the construction of the first Winnebago County courthouse, I briefly mentioned the attempt to save the structure. This venture never worked out, and the original building that stood for 100 years was dismantled. I thought it was important to tell a bit of the story of how a local organization, the organization that I am now the vice president of, attempted to preserve this landmark.

In 1938, the citizens of Winnebago County had just erected a new “million dollar” courthouse on the corner of Algoma Boulevard and what was then called Jackson Drive. The courthouse prior to this stood on the old county grounds between Otter and Ceape streets. As the move from old building to new took place, something needed to be done with the old property. The County Board voted 31 to 10 in favor to accept an offer from the City of Oshkosh to purchase the land and buildings for $8,000. A year later the county’s second courthouse was razed.(1)

A few blocks away, the original courthouse built sometime around 1849 was also standing. Nearly 100 years later it was used as a warehouse by the Marquart Millwork Company on Ceape Street.  Around 1944, the Winnebago Historical and Archeological Society considered the idea of saving the structure. The building was in poor shape and deemed a fire hazard. The society did not want to lose this historic building, so mill owners gave the building to the organization. In 1947, the building was successfully moved off the mill site and relocated to the original courthouse grounds owned by the city. The historical society was assisted by the county board and the city in moving the structure. The local newspaper expressed the historical society intentions to repair and preserve the old courthouse:

Designation of the original courthouse as an historical shrine will await repairs and improvements to the structure. An early fall program is contemplated by the Winnebago County Archeological Society (sic) at which time dedication exercises will be conducted in a public ceremony. ( July 10, 1947, Oshkosh Daily Northwestern)

The society had high hopes of restoring the building as a historical attraction in time for the state centennial in 1948.(2)20151218_023542058_iOS

An idea was proposed to have the County Board appropriate $5,000 towards the restoration. After all, it was connected to the county and would be a point of historical interest for visitors. Unfortunately, a majority vote was not reached and the motion failed.One of the opponents to funding the restoration said that the city should help pay for the cost of repairs.(3)

Suddenly the situation began to deteriorate. Herbert Wenzlaff, an alderman of the Eight Ward, proposed the building be demolished. The society was not making progress on the restoration, and the city grew impatient. Time and money were hindering the progress of the restoration.(4)

The society was desperately seeking donations to save the building. They asked that citizens help fund the preservation the  same way it had been built–through public donations. By March 1949, the common council voted that the historical society must have the courthouse moved or it would be demolished. The council stated that the historical society had “failed and neglected to meet the terms and conditions of the lease and the building is still in an unsightly condition.” The society was given 30 more days to do something with the old building. (5)

After the 30-day delay, nothing was done to move or improve the building. Despite this, the historical society once again came to the council in April 1949 and said they had secured a building contractor that would complete the restoration in about five weeks. The society asked for a 90-day extension to do so, which the council rejected. In May 1949, the society came back again asking for only a 60-day extension and that the exterior would be improved in that time. Again, the common council rejected the proposal and stuck to its original order to remove or dismantle the building.(6)

ViewScan_0001

On May 10, 1949, the city began dismantling the courthouse board by board and placed the pieces in storage. I am sure that shortly thereafter the materials were disposed of. The land on which the building sat was converted into city parking spaces. I am not sure why the historical society did not just move the building, which the council said they could do. Instead, Winnebago’s first courthouse was lost to history.(7)

Courthouse as it appeared before demolition (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Courthouse as it appeared before demolition (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

It is a shame that this courthouse was unable to be saved. It is a common struggle we see today–old buildings being leveled to make room for parking lots. At least an effort was put forward to try to save this structure. Preservationists back then saw the historical significance and made an attempt. I think there were important people who did not see the importance of saving landmarks. In addition to strong support, there was some strong opposition that stated the public should not be paying for somebody else’s hobby–implying that historical preservation was not a necessity.  Had the building not been placed on government property, or if the society would have made a last ditch effort to move it, we may still have had this structure today.


 

(1) ODN 10/7/1937
(2) ODN 5/24/1947
(3) ODN 3/10/1948
(4) ODN 5/3/1948
(5) ODN 3/8/1949
(6) ODN 5/3/1949
(7)ODN 5/14/1949

 

Book Review

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what a book! This should be a required read in schools. This changes my entire outlook on the Holocaust. Not only were innocent individuals slaughtered during the second world war, but they were murdered before and after the war. Stalin and Hitler both had twisted justifications for what they did. It really hit home when Snyder reminds us that these people need to be remembered for more than just a victim or a number. Each and every one of them had a life and a story– they were humans.

View all my reviews

History Gallery Wall

20151215_005352329_iOSMy wife, Molly, and I have been living in our home for one-and-a-half years now, and we have been making some improvements along the way. We have put in central air, a fence, new steps, and even remodeled a whole room! We have a small wall between our living room and kitchen that was bare and very plain. Molly found an awesome idea on Pinterest, and we devised a plan that would make this area a focal point for us and visitors.

Maybe some of you are familiar with gallery walls? I know I wasn’t until Molly showed me. It’s an artsy way of showcasing art, family heirlooms, or pictures. We decided to make one and create it so that it was a mixture of the things we both like. Molly knew I liked the history portion of the house, and she likes arts and crafts and current photos. We mixed our ideas together and came up with a past & present house gallery wall. It turned out quite nice. Molly picked out a great color for this room. I have to say I love the hanging pendant light she picked out as well. I dug up an old map of the city, a few old pictures, and a key from the door in our home.

This was such a fun and easy project. I would like to do another wall in the house, but make it a family tree with old family photos (ones that Molly doesn’t call creepy).  I think this is a great addition to a wall that was bare and just plain white. The wall is  now colorful and tells a story. I can’t wait to show visitors!

 

 

 

Winnebago County Courthouses- Part 1

As part of my job, I have been assigned to sort and organize our collection of blueprints for all of the county buildings. My first collection of prints is of the county courthouse constructed in 1937-38. It had me wondering about previous courthouses built in Oshkosh. I did some research at the Oshkosh Public Library and Oshkosh Public Museum and found some interesting information.

On January 6, 1840, an act of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature  divided parts of  Brown County  and established the boundaries of new counties, one of them being Winnebago. In 1842, an act of the Legislature formally organized Winnebago County. However, Winnebago remained attached to Brown County and then Fond du Lac County for judicial purposes until another act establishing a seat of justice in Winnebago County was passed in 1847. This is just some basic information of the county’s establishment. For more information, I recommend History of Winnebago County by Richard Harney published in 1880.

First Courthouse in Winnebago County-1849

First Courthouse in Winnebago County

A showdown occurred between Butte des Morts and Oshkosh over the location of the county seat. Augustine Grignon offered a plot of land in Butte des Morts for the county seat to be located in Butte des Morts. This was approved by the county seat commission and Butte des Morts became the first county seat in 1845, but the people of Oshkosh were not happy with the decision. Oshkosh had a larger population and was a central commercial area at the time. In the official act of the Legislature, the wording of the document was done so in a way that made Oshkosh the location of the seat of county government. It’s no doubt that special interests in Oshkosh had  a part in the scheme. A referendum vote in 1850 attempted to bring the county seat back to Butte des Morts, but it was swiftly defeated. The county seat remains in Oshkosh to this day.*

After the seat was firmly established in Oshkosh, the next step was obtaining land to build a courthouse. The county government accepted ten lots in the donated by Lucas. M. Miller, Samuel H. Farnsworth, and Sewell A. Wolcott.  This plot of land was located between Ceape and Otter streets in Oshkosh (Where Court Tower is today). The first courthouse was a two-story, wood building erected between the years 1847 and 1849. The first session of court was held there on April 9, 1849. In 1854, another building was erected to serve as office space and record storage. Within a few years, however, some began to clamor for a new courthouse. An Oshkosh newspaper expressed discontent of the county’s  first courthouse.**

Oshkosh Courier December 3, 1856

Eventually, a newer and larger courthouse was built to accommodate the needs of the growing population. The original courthouse was moved off the property to a local mill along the Fox River and stood for 100 years before it was demolished. There was an attempt to save this old courthouse by the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society, but they were not able to raise the funds to do so. The Oshkosh Common Council ordered the building be taken down in 1949.*** Visit the archives at the Oshkosh Public Museum for some interesting information about this. There are pictures of this building being dismantled and correspondences between historical society members and the community in an attempt to save this courthouse.

Next time I will pick up with the construction of the second of Winnebago County’s three courthouses.

 


 

*Goff, Charles Davis,, and Martin Gruberg. A History of Winnebago County Government., 1998

**Harney, Richard J. History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and Early History of the Northwest. Oshkosh: Allen & Hicks, 1800.

*** “Present Courthouse is Third in County History.” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 18, 1953, p. 4. Newspaper Archive.  http://access.newspaperarchive.com/us/wisconsin/oshkosh/oshkosh-daily-northwestern/1953/06-18/page-40?tag=history+courthouse.