Archival Organization Project

Cataloging Work Station

Cataloging Work Station

I’ve been a board member of the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society here in Oshkosh for the last three years. We have an awesome facility in the old John Morgan house. The Morgans were the founders of one of the reputable sash and door factories back in Oshkosh’s heyday of the lumber industry. Our society inherited the house in the 1980s from a generous donor, and it has been restored since then. We are fortunate to have such a nice facility to be able to house a diverse collection of books, photographs, and documents.

When I joined the board of directors back in 2013, I took on the big project of archiving our decent-sized collections of photographs, books, and assorted documents. We have a great variety of items that have been donated over the years. We are also contacted on a regular basis for new items people want to donate.  I’ve put a plan in motion to organize, catalog, and make them accessible to people.

In 2015, I applied for the Wisconsin Historical Society’s annual mini-grantwhich is to help fund preservation projects at affiliate organizations. They award up to $700, and the organization applying must match the amount being asked for. My request was for $565, which we were awarded, and with the matching funds gave us a total of $1,130 to spend for preservation. We purchased the following items for our archives with the money we were given:

  • Shelving
  • Archival Boxes for Storage  (Gaylord Archival)
  • 2 TB External Hard Drive Storage ( backup for scanned photos/records)
  • Media Upgrade for PastPerfect Museum Software ( adding photographs to computer catalog)

Due to a massive restoration project from water damage in another part of the house in 2015, the archival project was put on hold for most of last year. Now that the restoration is complete, I have been able to get back to it. I have started by taking all of the items we received in 2015 and 2016 and started cataloging them into our computer database. After those are in, I will go back and start examining everything we have gotten in the past and organize it. It’s important we document the donor information as well.

When you work with a lot of old photographs...you start seeing yourself in them

When you work with a lot of old photographs…you start seeing yourself in them

I earned my undergraduate degree in history from UW Oshkosh, and I have decided to get some hands-on experience rather than going on for a higher degree. I’ve taken an online training course through the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) on the basics of archiving. There are also a lot of great resources online to help us out. It would be great to have a professional come in and volunteer!

Once organized and in the computer catalog, I would like to put together a plan in which we can make this more accessible to our members and the general public. We do not have a specific space laid out for researchers to come in and use our resources, which is the purpose of collecting and preserving the material. I envision one of our rooms being arranged so people can come in and scan documents and photographs or come in and use our library collection.

Morgan Library

Morgan Library

This summer my good friend and fellow board member Patti and I worked on cataloging the library collection. We finished that up before the end of summer–over 300 books in the library. Of course, our society needs all the help we can get with preservation projects like this. I encourage you to contact our society, if you are in the area, and get involved with this cataloging project. It is actually a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s hard to focus and keep working because you can’t help but examine the stuff you are cataloging.

You can email the society at WinnebagoHistoricalSociety@gmail.com and say that you want to help the Collections Committee catalog.

TIMELESS

 (Timeless Trailer from Television Promo)

Molly and I were really excited for fall television programming to begin again. The days are short, the nights are cool, and there is nothing better than curling up on the couch for some TV after a hard day at work. Besides Survivor on CBS, we now have another new favorite that we are getting into. Timeless premiered on NBC earlier this month, and Molly and I are enjoying it. We hope this one will stick around for couple of seasons.

The story is of a top-secret time machine development program that is hijacked by Garcia Flynn, the criminal mastermind of the story. Flynn goes back in time to rewrite history, but we are not sure what he plans to change yet or why. The US government recruits time machine engineer Rufus Carlin, soldier Wyatt Logan, and historian Lucy Preston to track Flynn down in a backup, prototype time machine. So far the characters have gone back to 1937 to interfere with the Hindenburg explosion, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and 1962 Las Vegas, Nevada to an atomic test site. Each character has a connection to Flynn’s plan, and each time history has been tweaked and has formed an alternate present–GREAT SCOTT! When will their travels take them next?!

I was hooked when I saw the previews. It’s nice to see something different on the program list–not just another talent, zombie, vampire, doctor, or reality show. Granted, some of the facts may be a bit twisted to make it more appealing. Nonetheless, it is a great way to get people thinking about the past. Maybe someone will see an episode and go online or a library to learn more. I know I am already doing that! In the last episode when the trio traveled back to the 1960s Las Vegas they witnessed mushroom clouds from atom bomb tests being conducted 80 miles away. I had no idea that atomic tests were being conducted right outside of Las Vegas, and that it was a site-seeing attraction for people. It blows my mind, no pun intended, that these deadly weapons were being tested that close to a tourist attraction.

I like where the show is going. It has the potential to give history a cool, new look and get viewers interested in learning more about the people and events that have shaped the world we live in. Although time travel is not possible, yet, a story like this makes us reflect on the “what ifs” in the past and how our world could have turned out differently. If you have time on a Monday night, make a big bowl of popcorn and curl up on the couch for an hour of this thrilling drama with a historical twist.

What are your thoughts about the new show? If you could go back in time, when would you want to go or who would you like to meet? What events would you try to change even if it meant an uncertain change in the future?

 

Winnebago County Courthouses-Part 2

Courthouse circa 1865 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Courthouse circa 1865 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

In a previous post I wrote about the establishment of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and the construction of the county’s first courthouse. That first courthouse was a simple, two-story structure constructed in 1849. That building was outgrown shortly after completion, and county officials began discussing a plan to build a new facility.

According to one account, court was no longer held in the little courthouse after a new brick building for offices and record storage was built in 1854. Instead, court was held in various halls in Oshkosh that were available. Records were transported back and forth from the county office depending on where the session of court was held in the city. It was not a very practical system, and the citizen’s of Winnebago County clamored for a respectable building to hold court in.[1]

The county approved to build a new courthouse in 1859 and work commenced that year. The new courthouse was completed in late 1860 for a sum of $21,000. It was constructed in Greek Revival style using Cream City brick and stone and had a large dome at its center. The building’s dimensions were 60’ x 100’ and had three floors. The ground floor held the county’s prisoners in one half and the sheriff’s residence in the other. The other floors were used as offices and a courtroom. The people of Winnebago County finally had a proper courthouse that they were proud of.[2]

After 12 years of use, county leaders decided on some exterior modifications to the building’s features. In 1872, the courthouse was transformed from its Greek Revival appearance to a Second Empire look. A tower replaced the large dome at the center of the building. The cornice was replaced with a mansard roofline that added a fourth floor to the building. The transformation cost an estimated $8,300.[3]

Three years later the county approved a $21,000 addition to the east side of the main structure. In 1875, the prominent Oshkosh architect William Waters worked with county officials and designed a 41’x50’ addition. The new wing created more jail space on the ground floor for male prisoners. The 2nd floor gave the building much-needed storage for a growing record collection and work space for county offices. The 3rd floor, or garret, held large water tanks that collected rainwater from the roof used for, as one Oshkosh paper said, “keeping the jail purified.”[4]

Courthouse in the aftermath of the fire on April 28, 1875. Cour

Courthouse in the aftermath of the fire on April 28, 1875 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

On April 28, 1875, Oshkosh experienced one of its most devastating fires in the city’s history. Around 1 o’clock on that dry, blustery day a fire broke out at the Morgan Brothers Mill sparked by embers from another factory’s smokestacks. In a matter of minutes, a raging inferno engulfed a large portion of the central city of Oshkosh, and the county courthouse lay directly in the fire’s path. Fearing the worse, county officials evacuated records from the building, but Sheriff Ebenezer Stevens, on the other hand, worked heroically to save the courthouse from burning to the ground. He recruited nearby people to form a bucket brigade and hoisted water to the building’s roof. Although the building caught fire a few times, the crew was able to successfully extinguish the fires that started. The fire raged on, but the courthouse was saved.[5]

Courthouse with east and west additions (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Courthouse with east and west additions–wing with prominent stone foundation and small ground floor windows (to left) is the eastern section of the courthouse constructed in 1875 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

 

Room was in short supply in the building again by 1884, so the county consulted with architect William Waters to plan an addition to the west portion of the courthouse. The addition, similar in size to the one ten years earlier, had a ground floor and two additional stories above. The ground floor had a residence for the sheriff. The first floor had fire-proof vaults for county records as well as a county courtroom, while the second floor had jury rooms. The project was finished in September 1885 and came in just under budget at $9,187.03.[6]

ch1903

Property with courthouse and new jail positioning

The jail facilities in the basement were no longer sufficient by 1899, and state officials recommended the county upgrade its jail facilities. County leaders went back and forth on whether to remodel the jail or build a new facility. It chose to build a facility and budgeted $25,000 for a new jail complex and sheriff residence. This was built on an adjoining lot to the southeast that was purchased specifically to build the new jail on. Although issues plagued the timely completion of the new jail, it was officially finished and prisoners moved in December 1900.[7]

The county courthouse in its final years

The county courthouse in its final years

By 1925, the courthouse was over 60-years-old and needed to be replaced entirely. County officials explored locations and costs to build a new courthouse and jail facility. It took ten years for the project to take shape, but I will save that for part 3 of the story. The new courthouse was completed in 1938 at its new location on the northwest corner of Jackson Street and Algoma Boulevard. With no use for the former building, the county accepted an offer from the City of Oshkosh to buy the property and buildings for $8,000. The transaction was finalized in January 1939, and the city took control of the property. A few months later, the county’s second courthouse was razed as part of a W.P.A. project to make room for additional parking. [8]

I’ve really enjoyed learning about this building. There are a lot of other little stories I would like to post about in the future–like the story of the cupola bell or the cornerstone contents during its razing! I was amazed to learn how this building’s outside appearance changed. Today the Court Tower Apartments occupies the lots where this magnificent building used to stand. It must have been amazing to see this once beautiful civil structure in person. They don’t build them like this anymore…


[1] David A. Langkau and Richard J. Harney, Index: History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin by Richard J. Harney, 1880, (Oshkosh: 1880), 123-124.
[2] Biographical and statistical history of the city of Oshkosh, Winnebago Co., Wisconsin: its early history, progress, and present condition, (Oshkosh: Finney & Davis, 1867), 69.
[3] Oshkosh Weekly Northwestern, January 8, 1880.
[4] David Groth and Patti Pata, A compilation of articles pertaining to the work of architect William Waters, (Oshkosh: Winnebago County Historical Society, 2002), 291-292
[5] James I Metz, Oshkosh aflame!: traumas and triumphs of its sawdust citizens: a history, (Oshkosh: Polemics Press, 1999), 69-70
[6] David Groth and Patti Pata, A compilation of articles pertaining to the work of architect William Waters, (Oshkosh: Winnebago County Historical Society, 2002), 293-298.
[7] Winnebago County (Wis.). 1900. Proceedings. Oshkosh, Wis: The Board. https://www.co.winnebago.wi.us/sites/default/files/countyclerk/oldminutes/Winnebago%20County%20Board%20Proceedings%20November%201900-March%201901.pdf
[8] Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, January 24, 1939.

Sunday Evening Reflections

Fall is here again, and soon winter will bring snow. Colder weather means more time to sit down and write–or at least that is my plan. It has been a busy but short summer here at the Frederick house. Molly and I have had quite a few weddings to go to this year, and Molly even stood up in one. We saved up and went to Las Vegas for our 3rd anniversary which was a fun experience. There were few weekends spent in the North Woods and a couple on the farm with our families. Dad, Adam, Dan and I finally made it to the Orange Spectacular to see a great collection of Allis-Chalmers tractors. Summer was fun, but Molly and I are happy for things to slow down as the seasons change.

I’ve been at my job with the county just over a year, and I am enjoying it. Working for the county is a phenomenal opportunity for me. I’m learning so many new skills that are so valuable in making me a better employee and more well-rounded person. My supervisor is also utilizing my skills as a researcher to assist with historical preservation work at our county courthouse. We have managed to track down and retrieve an original light fixture that will be going back up in the building soon.

I am still pursuing my dream career of working in a historical institution. In the mean time, I have been very active in my community through volunteer work. I am still involved with the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society after 3 years of serving on the board of directors. This month I will have been the vice president of the society for one year. In addition to my historical society work,  I have assisted the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau with its Historic Oshkosh tourism program that has been recently launched. Last month I was appointed onto the Oshkosh Landmarks Commission and am ecstatic for the work they do in historic preservation.

Molly and I continue to make our home in Oshkosh along with our two little Dachshunds, Theodore an Franklin. The boys, as we call them, enjoy our little place in town. Although, I am trying to convince Molly that they would enjoy the wide open area of the country. We’ve made a few improvements to our home this past year, and we are always planning on what we can do next. I suppose in a few years there will be little ones running around the house, but we have quite a few things to get in order before that day.

I enjoy the transition to fall. The vast sea of oranges, yellows, reds, and browns that the trees display. It is also nice to crack the windows during the day and curl up with a blanket on the cool nights.  I wish I had the same optimism for winter. Nonetheless, It feels good to sit down and put ideas to blog post once again. I hope you, my followers, will continue to read what this young historian has to write about.