Recently I became a follower of a blog called "An American Downton Abbey" by Peter Adams. Mr. Adams lives in Neenah in the house built by his great grandfather H. Babcock, a co-founder of the Kimberly Clark Corporation. His home has been mentioned more than once in this blog as the work of William Waters. Reading Mr. Adams blog got me thinking about my interest in Mr. Waters. I rarely personalize my postings because this blog is about William Water, not me. Please indulge me this one time reminiscence.
I recall most vividly the first time I saw the Babcock house in Neenah. After my mother past, my maternal grandmother would take my sister, brother and me on little outings. She would pack a picnic lunch and load us in the back seat of her dark blue 1950 Chevrolet and off we went. Perhaps it would be to visit old friends in Appleton or to High Cliff but often it was to picnic in Neenah's Riverside Park. She was born and raised in Neenah and knew the city well. On one beautiful summer day when I was four or five and just becoming more aware of my surroundings we stopped to picnic in Riverside Park along East Wisconsin Avenue just in front of the line of towering mansions. At the time I was ignorant to the significance of the street or the houses lining it. I was impressed by many things that day; the green grass, the beautiful harbor, the good food served to us but most of all the graceful houses across the street.
The one that most interested me was the one with the great round tower and imposing porch, the Babcock place. Set within a backdrop of souring trees in full summer foliage it looked as a castle in a sylvan glen. My gaze took in all aspects of the great house, in particular the prominent tower; the combination of wood and brick and all the windows. The dark green shades pulled half way down, the white curtains and the dark void of the room beyond gave me to wonder who lived there? Were there children within or did elderly people dwell there? All these question were forgotten as my brother , sister and I played in and explored the park under grandma's watchful eye. Time wore on and we children grew tired, it was time to pack up and leave. There would be more picnics in the park with grandma and visits to my uncles and their families living in Neenah, Menasha. Trips there were not uncommon and as I grew so did my interest and appreciation in the history and architecture of Neenah.
It was not, however until I was in college that I became most keenly aware of the works of William Waters and his affect on the communities I grew up in. Through my research I found the church I was baptized in, the schools I attended from kindergarten to the eighth grade, the library and museum I loved to visit were all his handy work. Many of the beautiful homes I admired in my neighborhood and elsewhere too were of his hand. I realized his buildings were all round me and not just in Oshkosh but in Neenah, Menasha, Appleton and beyond. I try to bring to others an appreciation for Architect Waters quality and quantity of work.