Chief Oshkosh Day

Chief Oshkosh Statue in Menominee Park

Chief Oshkosh Statue in Menominee Park

I’ve been exploring some really interesting local history lately that’s right down the road from me. I live near Menominee Park in Oshkosh where there is a massive statue of Chief Oshkosh near the shores of Lake Winnebago. The bronze memorial to the chief was placed in the park in 1911one of many statues generously donated by Col. John Hicks. What makes this memorial particularly interesting is that the remains of Chief Oshkosh were reinterred at the base of this statue 68 years after his death–or was he and the city practically shut down to welcome the chief home with a huge celebration.

Marker Above Chief Oshkosh's Grave

Marker Above Chief Oshkosh’s Grave

Just to give you a quick background on our city’s namesake. Oshkosh was a Menominee Indian born in 1795. Wisconsin, not yet a state, was still part of the Northwest Territory and mostly unsettled, and the Menominee had over 10 million acres of land to live off of and conduct trade with the French. It wasn’t long before British, Americans and even Eastern Native American tribes moved in and disrupted the Menominee way of life. Oshkosh was appointed chief of the Menominee in 1827 to negotiate treaties with the United States. During his time as the Menominee leader, he reluctantly signed treaties to cede millions of acres of land in Wisconsin away to the United States–he did this to protect his people.  In 1840 the settlements along the Fox River known as “Athens” and “Brooklyn” merged together and formed the village they named “Oshkosh” in honor of the chieftain. The chief spent the rest of his life on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Northeast Wisconsin until his untimely death in 1858. You can check out the Wisconsin Historical Society for more history of Chief Oshkosh.

Chief Oshkosh Day Parade Route

Chief Oshkosh Day Parade Route

On May 25, 1926, the citizens of Oshkosh celebrated Chief Oshkosh Day. A Luncheon was held at the Hotel Athearn in downtown Oshkosh. Following that was a parade through the city featuring nearly 200 floats–one with the casket of Chief Oshkosh. Among the estimated 200 marchers were bands, city officials, the Wisconsin National Guard and members of the Menominee Indian tribe. Airplanes were reported to have been flying above the city doing aerobatics and dropping some sort of aerial ordinance in celebration.

Truck carring the remains of Chief Oshkosh. (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Truck carrying the remains of Chief Oshkosh. (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

This was a HUGE deal that day.  A big enough deal that the mayor issued a proclamation that asked people to take the day off.

…I therefore request that the afternoon of Tuesday, May 25, 1926, be dedicated thruout [sic] the City of Oshkosh as a Special Day for expressing our Gratitude and honoring the great Chieftain whose name we bear. I urge all the people to observe the day. Let the outpouring of the people of Oshkosh indicate the measure of their gratitude and love,…to that Distinguished American–CHIEF OSHKOSH.

To promote the event outside of Oshkosh, airplanes flew over other towns and cities dropping leaflets by air. One account said that over 20,000 people attended the celebration in Oshkosh. Those who attended the event took home one of these Chief Oshkosh Day Memorial Exercises program booklets.

chief-oshkosh-day-photo

The program was planned and funded by local real estate mogul Alfred Craft McComb who spent an estimated $12,000 on the day’s festivities. McComb was born in 1857 near Hortonville, Wisconsin. He graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton in 1878 and spent his early years teaching at schools across the state and later served as superintendent of schools in Bozeman, Montana. in 1892 he moved to Oshkosh and soon after married Ella G. Wilson. McComb made a substantial amount of money buying and selling timberland in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Florida and a few other states. He also owned tracts of timberland in South America. It’s no wonder he was able to afford to pick up the bill!

The citizens of Oshkosh were grateful of Alfred McComb for his generosity. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern wrote that Chief Oshkosh Day helped stir historical preservation and civic pride in Oshkosh. It prompted people to learn about their past and take interest in their city’s roots. This is so interesting in that this attitude has come full circle. Today, a boost in civic pride has led to newly designated historic districts, historical markers and a historic tourism program in Oshkosh. It’s great to see that pride in our local history is in our history here in Oshkosh. That same newspaper snippet from 1926 got it right when it said that historical awareness “…will surely make for the good future of this splendid city.”

 

 

Sources:
Cross, Scott. 2002. Like a deer chased by the dogs: the life of Chief Oshkosh. Oshkosh, Wis: Oshkosh Public Museum.
Dawes, William, and Clara Dawes. 1938. History of Oshkosh, 1938. Oshkosh, Wis.: Service Print Shop.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 22, 1926.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 23, 1926.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 25, 1926.

 

Winnebago County’s Gold Stars of WWI

Service Flag (www.war-veterans.org)

Service Flag (www.war-veterans.org)

April 6, 2017, will mark the 100th anniversary of the United States of America officially entering World War I. The US was hardly prepared to fight a war in 1917. When war was declared, there were only 208,000 men in its standing army–80,000 of them were part of the national guard. Additionally, weapons and munitions were in short supply. Soon the American factories shifted to wartime production. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917 to bolster the US Military through a draft, which proved to be largely successful.  Nearly 2.7 million young men were conscripted into the army and about 300,000 volunteered.[1]

Out of the nearly 4.7 million men who served during World War I, the United States suffered over 116,000* casualties at the conclusion of the war.[2] Winnebago County sent off quiet a few of its sons  to fight in the trenches and on the seas, and some of them paid the ultimate price. Their names are forever immortalized on 4 bronze plaques that hung on the front of the Winnebago County Courthouse in Oshkosh.

When I read the names, I had this realization that these men were more than just names on a plaque, or number on a casualty list. They were people who lived and worked in our local communities, and they have a story. I think that is what fascinates me the most. Who were they, what did they do before the war, and what propelled them into the first global conflict of the 20th century? I am going to attempt, hopefully with the help of others, to learn and share the stories of theses soldiers from Winnebago County who lost their lives in World War I.

While doing some reading on the subject, I stumbled into the movement to build a monument in Washington D.C. to honor our WWI vets. I was surprised to find out that we don’t have a monument there already! I included a video from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission‘s website about their efforts to memorialize the servicemen of World War I in Washington D.C. I encourage you to see what this organization is doing to preserve our veterans’ history. 

*over 53,000 casualties were battle related, and over 63,000 were non battle related
[1] https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/fall/military-service-in-world-war-one.html
[2] https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf 

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.

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.

 

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)

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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

 

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.