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 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

A Cold November Evening

Hello to all of my blog readers. It seems I have taken another hiatus from writing. It has been such a busy year here at the Frederick home. Molly and I have been working on our house, traveling for weddings, and spending time with family. It’s also hard to find the time since I have become the vice president of the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society. The board of directors has been very busy restructuring our society and changing the way we carry out business, and I have been going to a lot of committee meetings. Tonight I thought I would make a conscious effort to get back into the habit of writing, which I enjoy doing and miss very much.

It has been a pretty good year for me in the field of history. The City of Oshkosh hired me on part-time a while back to do some research for historical markers that are being placed along the city’s Riverwalk. The experience has been phenomenal, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to leave my mark on the city that I call home. I did much of the work last year, and now this year the markers are finally placed. Another marker I helped with will be placed next year. I also hope to be involved with more of these in the future. Another project I helped the city with is still in the works….more on that later.

My career change earlier this year has also opened the doors to some new historical work. I am a maintenance worker with the county, and I have access to the Winnebago County courthouse. My supervisor is looking into ways to preserve and bring back originals features of our courthouse. I have been doing some free-lance historical research of the building’s construction, which turns out to been an interesting one. It was built between 1937-38 at just over a million dollars–bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Winnebago County. In the process, I have found some amazing pictures of the building’s interior when it was completed. I don’t want to give away too many details….that’s another blog post for later.

So, there you have it. These are a few things I have been working on the past month or two. I will be more diligent and make time to blog more often. With the days getting shorter and temps continue to fall, there will be a lot more time for sipping hot tea and blogging about the many amazing histories I find every day.

Overhauling the 710

My cabin fever is reaching its limit, and I am so glad spring has finally sprung. Living in town is an ongoing adjustment for me. I came from a farm with 180 acres to go and do whatever on, even during the winter months. I am thankful that we have a decent size yard for me to play with my tractor.

Still Plays With Tractors

I use an Allis-Chalmers 710 lawn tractor for mowing. It was built in the late 1970s by Simplicity, which was an Allis-Chalmers subsidiary. It’s equipped with a Kohler 241S single-cylinder engine. It used to be my great uncle’s tractor, but he had not used it in years. We got it as part of a deal to repaint his Minneapolis-Moline tractor. After 30 years of use, the engine is in serious need of overhauling. I was adding oil every week when I mowed last summer, and it smoked enough to keep the mosquitoes away! It is a fuel-efficient engine that sips gas. It was filled up full in May and I didn’t put gas in until end of August.

(Simple TrACtors)

Now that it is getting warmer out, I decided to pull out the engine and tear it down. It should be a nice little DIY project before the mowing season commences. I don’t have all the tools necessary to complete the project, so I am just tearing it down as much as I can at my house and taking it back to the farm shop to complete it, with some help from my brother (he is the expert on this stuff). There are some other small things that need to be repaired (batter wires, carburetor, etc), but hopefully it will run like new once it is all done.

 

Markesan Railroad Yard/Time Table

I am working on a big project right now (more on that later) that has me digging into some railroad history in Oshkosh. While working on that, it has me wondering more about Markesan’s railroad yard. It can be harder to find information on small lines that ended in small towns. Once in a while I can find some information that is one more piece of the puzzle.

While cleaning my mass of papers, I found this copy of a Sanborn Map  layout of the Markesan railroad yard. As you can see, the railroad did not run through town. The trains came in and had to be turned around. I am not sure how that all worked out, but,If I had to make an educated guess, I assume that a locomotive was always kept in the locomotive house. The locomotive that brought the train in was uncoupled. Meanwhile, another train was pulled out of the locomotive house and coupled to the back of the train to head out.

MKSN RR

TIME TABLE MARKESAN