Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Bells of St. Mary's

An Oshkosh neighborhood near the intersection of Bay and Washington Streets, within the sound of the bells of St. Mary’s Catholic church was a popular with business owners no doubt because of the proximity of Main Street and the business district. There were in that district several homes with similar features which I believe to be design by William Waters. 
 Of these houses, perhaps the first to be built, circa 1891, was the home of Mr. Robert Mehlmann, a cigar maker who arrived in Oshkosh in 1875.  In business with his brother Adolph, Robert lived on Bay Street for many years before building an eleven room Queen Anne Style house there.  His family was large, there was his wife Ida, daughter Gretchen, two sons and his sister Matilda, who ran the millinery shop on Waugoo Avenue.  The dwelling displayed the features of a Queen Anne cottage with a long sloping roof with a dormer to the left of the front gabled section.  The main part of the house had two gables on the south elevation, with a bay running from the foundation to the roof line of the secondary peak.  In all, however the building lacked ornamentation, being covered in just clapboard with scallop shingles in the gables.  The Mehlmanns moved to a house near Algoma and Murdock in 1905 and sold the Bay Street house in 1912.  After that it seems to have suffered the fate of many large nineteen century houses, it became a multi-family dwelling and over the years deteriorated and was finally demolished.
At about the same time Mr. Mehlmann had his house built, Mr. Peter Stein had a fine house constructed just up the street and around the corner on Washington Avenue.  What the Mehlmann house lacked in decoration, Peter Stein’s more than made up for it.  Mr. Stein showed up in Oshkosh in 1889 and was the proprietor of the Royal Bodega sample room on Main Street and live on Waugoo Avenue.  The saloon business must have been good as Peter soon could build a fine home.  His house was in the familiar Queen Anne cottage template with some ornate features; a picture window flanked by six lights on each side adorned the center of the first floor, above that was a set of triplet window which combined with a fan light in the attic to give the look of a Palladian window and in the peak of the gable was a carved festoon.  Missing was any sort of dormer on the roof above the front porch but the elevation to the right had two gables and a full-length bay.   
This style must have had great appeal for in 1895 Charles Stroud had a house built that was a combination of the Mehlmann and Stein residences. Stroud was a partner in Stroud and Thomson, dealers in oil, lubricants and paint and business must have been good for Mr. Stroud built a fine dwelling.  Stroud’s home was just down the block from Peter Stein’s place and it appeared some-what larger but not as ornate.  There was a dormer above the front porch, not seen on the Stein house but there were double gables on the side and a two-story bay, just as with the others.         

Thursday, August 31, 2017

More of the Cottage Style

The city of Oshkosh had many houses based on the Queen Anne Cottage Style and they were not all Queen Anne or cottages, some were large and more classical in style.  William Waters may have drawn the plan for these two houses that seem to transition away from the Queen Anne, the first was a diminutive dwelling built on Fulton Avenue for J. P. Miller.  Mr. Miller was a millwright a job that was much in demand in the Oshkosh of the later 19th century.  In the mid 1880’s the Miller family including J. P.’s mother were living on Otter Avenue but in 1889 the family had moved to a fine new house on Fulton. 
The house was uncluttered with ornamentation and even lacked a dormer on the long roof above the front porch.  There were two curious design elements first the pseudo gable at left above the porch and the half window between two windows on the second floor of the front elevation. 
The residence of Martin Davidson on Wisconsin Street was built about 1890 and displayed a more classical style as well as being larger than the Miller place.  Mr. Davidson was a carpenter by trade and may have had a hand in building his house.  As with other dwelling of this style, the second floor is shingled covered and the first floor is clad in clapboard.  There was on the right side a bay which rises to the second floor and above the front porch is a small dormer.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Durable Arrangement

Mr. Waters would sometimes find a layout or template that worked well, appealed to clients and he would use variations over and over, for instance commercial building of two stores separated be a stairway to the upper floor.  The architect also had such a template for dwellings and is best exemplified by R. P. Finny’s Queen Anne cottage built in 1888 on Washington Avenue in Oshkosh. This design featured a two-story portion on the front elevation with a gabled end, transversely situated to that portion was the main body of the house, which rose slightly higher.  The main segment had gables at each end and a long slopping roof to the left of the front gable.  This long roof came down past the second story and cover the front porch, the slope often had dormers of various designs. 
There were many residences built using this plan, not all were the work of William Waters but there were several I’d long suspected as the product of his drawing board.  The staff of Oshkosh Public Museum had already researched the two houses to be covered in this post, the first is that of Charles F. Abraham on Ceape Street.  Mr. Abraham was born on September 21, 1861 and immigrated to Oshkosh in 1883 after serving in the Prussian army.  Upon arriving Charles took a job in the tailor shop of S. Eckstein and Son and soon married Clara Timm and over the years the couple have five boys.  In 1889 Mr. Abraham opened his own shop and not long after that built a fine home to house his family.  The dwelling was in the Queen Anne Style with a verity of surface coverings and interesting fenestration.  In the shingle covered front gable there was a small widow set back in the peak of the gable. Below the second story was covered with clapboards and shingles and the first floor was clad with clapboards. A small dormer with a diminutive railed balcony protruded from the long sloping roof to the left of the front gable.  Along the west side of the house at the roof line was a large bracket with an elegant curve holding up the gable end.  To my eye so many elements and details mark this house as the work of William Waters.
The next house I suspect of being the work of architect Waters was the home of Mrs. Sophia McMillen on Jefferson Street.  The house was built about 1890 for the widow of lumberman, John H. McMillen, Sophia.  The dwelling was in the Queen Anne Style and bore a great resemblance to the R. P. Finny house mentioned earlier.  There were many surface covering and details consistent with the Queen Anne Style.  The gable on the front elevation was supported by the elegant brackets so often seen in Mr. Waters’ works.  There was also in the front gable an elongated window and the side gables too had such fenestration.  A dormer with a prow gable emerged from long slope of the roof above the front porch and on the north side of the house was a feature common to this design, the stair well landing bay.  The interior stair way would rise half the distance to the second floor and then double back on itself to finish the rise the upper floor.  To provide more room architects would cantilever a landing past the exterior wall to accommodate the directional change of the stairs. 
I’m unable at this time to offer any proof of William Waters authorship of the plans for these buildings but perhaps in the future…              

Friday, August 11, 2017

Have You Met the Twins?

There are on Otter Avenue two more houses I believe to be the work of William Waters.  Located next to Peter Nicolai’s Italianate Style house these two houses are mirror images of each other and of the Queen Anne Style.  They were built in 1885 and were occupied at different times.  Presently the houses are numbered 402 and 406 but in 1886 would have carrier the numbers 93 and 97, respectively.  The dwellings are nearly duplicates of the rectory built in Appleton for the Episcopal church there.  They show many of the stylistic elements that would mark them as the work of William Waters. There are on one side elevation double gables as seen on the J. W. Kelley residence of Washington Street.  Like brackets supporting gables and eves are found on other Waters houses as well, they surly must have come from architect Waters’ drawing board.
                                            See number 5, lower right corner.

An article in the Daily Northwestern of January 2, 1886 gives a list and dollar amount for the buildings completed in 1885, two are listed on Otter Street for C. D. Heath at $2,500 each, the report doesn't name any architects.  Mr. Heath was born in Racine in and came to Oshkosh with his family in 1858.  He was proprietor of a cigar shop and later the Senate sample room on Washington Street and Athearn Hotel.  Additionally, Heath was second ward alderman and was for one week in April of 1891 the mayor of Oshkosh.  Later he and his family moved to Marinette, Wisconsin, where he ran a hotel.
The first resident of number 406 was Frank D. Topliff a partner in the dry goods house of Hough and Topliff which had two locations, one on Oregon Street and the other on Main Street. The city directory of 1886 lists Mr. Topliff’s residence as 279 Jackson Street but the 1889 register locates him on Otter Avenue.  Mr. Topliff came from New York in 1872 to Green Bay and married Miss Hoffmann while working for Seels and Best Dry Goods.  In 1879 he traveled to Oshkosh and eventually partnered with Elbert Hough in the dry goods business.  That arrangement went until 1894 when Topliff opened his own store.  He remained it business until 1915 when he and his wife retired to Green Bay.  Parenthetically Mr. Charles Heath was the Topliff Company treasurer.     

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Special Report

On July 31, 2016 I gave a presentation to the Winchester Academe, a like long learning organization based in Waupaca.  I had been eagerly anticipating the event for months and Robbi and I had assembled a fine power point lecture which covered William Waters and his work in Waupaca.
 The proceedings were well attended and the crowd enjoyed show, asking many question during the Q and A.  I saw some folks I'd not seen in years and made new acquaintances, it was a splendid evening.  My thanks to my wife Robbi, Ann Buerger Linden, Nolan, Joe and Maggie Jones and the other members of the board of Winchester Academe for making the presentation possible.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Peter Nicolai and His House

There was a fine house on Otter Avenue which I’d long admired but hadn’t considered to be the work of William Waters until just recently.  The house was built for Peter Nicolai, a prominent and colorful citizen.  ( Number 4.)
Mr. Nicolai was born in 1820 at Rhineland-Platz, Germany and immigrated to Oshkosh in 1849 making the city his home until his death fifty-one years later.  He married Appolonia Jagoditsch and they had eight children.  His obituary lists Peter as a carpenter but said he did not engage in that occupation for many years, a check of old city directories shows that Peter was a saloon keeper, restaurateur and man of leisure.  Mr. Nicolai had quite a temper and was arrested for an assault on Theodore Frenz, it seems Mr. Frenz told Peter that he’d seen his daughter at Rolla Herrmann’s saloon drinking beer with unsavory company.  Later Peter went to Mr. Herrmann and inquired if he had witnessed his daughter with undesirables, Rolla told Peter he had not and Peter left Mr. Herrmann’s establishment only to return the next afternoon in the company of Theodore Frenz.  The two strolled up to Mr. Herrmann and Peter asked if he’s seen his daughter in bad company to which Rolla said no, Mr. Nicolai then sized a duster and beat Mr. Frenz about the head with the handle to the point of drawing blood.  But I digress.
The reason I feel the Nicolai house is a Waters job is the front entrance and porches, they are
nearly identical to the entrance and porches of the Rodrick McKenzie house.  The layout of the
front elevation of both structures is the same only the scale and some details differ. 

The dates would be about the same, the McKenzie place was built about 1873 and Peter Nicolai’s 
first residual listing on Otter Avenue comes in 1876, I therefore conclude Mr. Waters to be the
architect of Peter Nicolai’s house.  I can offer no written proof of my accretion just my intuition.      

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Kings of Waugoo Avenue

There is one other house on Waugoo Avenue which I always believed to be the work of William Waters but for which I’ve no proof, just my intuition.  The house at 204 Waugoo Avenue was once one of many homes in that block but as the neighborhood changed it became the only house in that block on that side of the street.  When I was in grade school the bus, I rode home on would pass this house and I always admired the house.

 My research indicates that it was built in the early 1890’s for Peter King who was half of the partnership of the King Brothers.  F. B. King had been a resident of Oshkosh since 1863 and operated several sample rooms which seemed to be very lucrative, for F. B. King could commission William Waters to design a large house on the south west corner of Waugoo and Broad Streets.  

If Fred could hire Mr. Waters, perhaps his brother could also.  Peter’s house wasn’t as grand as his brother’s but it was a fine building, the design for which was used by others.  There was a house on Parkway Avenue which was the mirror image of the King house and the Sorensen house in Neenah was nearly identical. 

P. S.  It has come to my attention that a publication for the 1990's credits Mr. Waters as the architect of the Peter King house.