Saturday, November 29, 2014


In 1844 Dorothea Dix delivered a damning report, to the New Jersey legislature on the condition of the mentally ill in that state.  This lead to the construction of New Jerseys' Lunatic Asylum, a building based on a plan developed by Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride.  The idea caught on and many hospitals were built using the Kirkbride plan.  By 1869 Wisconsin, just twenty years a state moved to build its' own hospitals for the insane.  Two location were chosen: Governors' Island in Lake Mendota near Madison and the village of Winnebago just north of Oshkosh on Lake Winnebago.

The plans for both, using the Kirkbride template were drawn by S. V. Shipman a Madison architect, retained by the state as State Architect.  Mr. Shipman also maintained an office in Chicago and the plans for the Northern Illinois State Mental Hospital, in Elgin were identical to the Wisconsin structures.  How does William Waters fit in to all this, you may ask.  Mr. Waters was the architect supervising the construction of the new hospital near Oshkosh.  There has been some confusion about this in the past, with Waters being cited as having planed the building.  In September of 1872 in a report on the progress of construction, architect Shipman wrote "The constant and efficient superintendence of the work by my assistant, Mr. Waters, architect, has contributed largely to the excellent character of the work accomplished.  This should prove to the board as it does to me, his fitness and integrity."         

Also in the village of Winnebago was the Winnebago County Asylum, Poorhouse and farm.  In 1849 the state enacted a poorhouse law which allowed for counties to establish poorhouses and asylums. By 1865 Winnebago County formed a plan to care for the poor, insane and feeble minded, taking over a poorhouse run by the city of Oshkosh.  In 1871 a farm just across the tracks form the state hospital was purchased and a building erected to serve as poorhouse and asylum.  The building served well for a number of years but the indigent and insane shared the same space, by 1893 an asylum for the insane was built as planed by William Waters. Waters abandoned the Kirkbride model and instead designed a hospital with a large central building flanked by two identical structures.  The same project included a residence for the engineer and a boiler house both designed by Mr. Waters. All the buildings were of a light colored brick with dark accent bands, two stories high and steep hipped roofs.  The asylum buildings served until 1968 when mounting maintains costs and code violation made it impractical to keep them and they were razed.  

The poorhouse still occupied a building built in 1871 and by 1906 had proved to be inadequate.  Mr.Waters won the contract to design a replacement.  A beautiful building was constructed with a three story central pavilion and two story wings on either side.  The home was capped by hipped roofs with large chimneys.  Entry was gained by way of a front porch and there were side porches as well.  Struck by lighting in June of 1944 the home burned to the ground      

Not all of the asylums planned by architect Waters were built.  In 1887 Waupaca County intended to build an asylum on farm land a mile north of the city of Waupaca.  The Milwaukee Sentinel reported that the plans as drawn by Mr. Waters had been adopted and the county board was accepting bids.  The article also mentioned a group of residence from the eastern part of the county who opposed the site had filed an injunction.  In December of the next year a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, scuttling the plans for an asylum near Waupaca.  Eventually a hospital was built in Weyauwega from plans drawn by the architectural partners Van Ryn and De Gelleke of Milwaukee.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wisconsin Veterans Home, Part Two

As the summer of 1889 continued the grounds of the Veteran Home took on the look of a village.  A park with band stand was envisioned, streets were laid out and tidy cottages built to line them. Architect Waters planned a large and small cottage and many were built.  The Waters' buildings were of a simple Queen Anne style with porches, interesting fenestration and a variety shingle patterns.
 Not all cottages erected were of Waters' design, GAR chapters from many cities around the state constructed cottages of various designs and allowed deserving veterans form that city live in them.  The dwellings were small because they had no kitchens, all meals being served at the dining hall.  Some cottage still remain, although altered slightly and some were demolished or moved off the grounds.

A small hospital was built at the south end of the campus.  It was one and half stories and a Queen Anne style with interesting details but little ornamentation.  The building was in service only a few months when on the night of November 9, 1889 it burned down to its' foundation.  There is but one photograph of the smoldering ruins, just the chimneys standing.  The hospital was soon replaced by a large two story building which was not the work of William Waters. 

Another of the original buildings designed by Mr. Waters was the barn built to house dray animals and other livestock.  One publication claims the barn was on the property when it was acquired.  This seems unlikely as a sketch of it appears in the Oshkosh Times of March 16, 1890 along with drawings of the Hospital, Commandants Residence, 21st Regiment Club House and a small cottage.  The structure, although utilitarian was a stylish Queen Anne design and was handsome addition to the grounds.  There was at least one extension to the barn before it fell into disuse and deteriorated to the point of need to be demolished making way for another hall.  

Other buildings not from Waters' drafting table were built; Amusement Hall, The Chapel and post office were but a few.  Mr Waters' next job at the home was Jerry Rusk Hall, commissioned in 1895. Intended as housing for elderly couples the hall was a Queen Anne style with central pavilion, flanked by two towers, a tall one to the left and a short one to the right. Entry was gained through a large veranda, the roof of which formed a balcony accessed by a door between the towers. Two wings stretched in opposite directions from the center, the terminus of which were large octagon shaped sections with porches.  On June 7, 1929 a fire destroyed much of the building such that what remained had to be razed.  Only a few of the old building survived to the 21st century.