Friday, October 10, 2008

October Progress Report: Combined Locks

The double lock has been tuckpointed and the replacement gates are being put back into place. The openings for the refurbished steel valves are apparent in this image. Eventually the valves will be positioned in the bases of the gates and the rest of the replacement timbers will be stacked to the height of the masonry walls. Work on the restoration and rehabilitation of Combined Locks is expected to be completed before winter settles in.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Historic Mendota Mental Health Institute



Few locations in Wisconsin are as culturally significant and multi-layered as the site of the Mendota Mental Health Institute (MMHI) on the northern shore of Lake Mendota. Located directly across the lake from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the hospital was built by the state as one of its earliest institutions. The development of the hospital so early in state history indicates that the care of the mentally ill was a priority in Wisconsin from its first days of statehood.

Long before this lake side site was developed by the state as “lunatic asylum,” it was home to a Native American culture that flourished in the region. The artifacts left behind are broadly spaced earthen sculptures in a number of distinct groups. Although similar mound groups are found throughout the upper Midwest, concentrated in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the groups at Mendota are unusual for their number and for that fact that they remain relatively intact. Representing a combination of abstract and animal forms, they were known to be associated with burials, but also functioned as emblems of clan identity and as art forms drawing on motifs from contemporaneous legends and lore.

A third distinct aspect of the history of the MMHI site is embodied by the Wisconsin Memorial Hospital complex, which was constructed by the state for the care of mentally impaired World War I soldiers. Prior to the construction of the complex, veterans were treated at the crowded Mendota psychiatric facility. The state assumed the cost of constructing and managing the facility, but the cost of treating soldiers suffering with “shell shock” was reimbursed by the federal government. Mental health services dedicated specifically to veterans was suspended by the mid-1930s, and since that time the Memorial Hospital complex has become part of the larger MMHI facility.

[Photos courtesy of Mendota Mental Health Institute]

Combined Locks


In the mid-1850s a pair of English artists, Samuel Brookes and Thomas Stevenson, were commissioned by Morgan L. Martin of Green Bay to paint a series of sketches showing the improvements that were underway on the Fox River. The image above, showing Combined Locks, is representative of the series of paintings produced by the pair. It shows a monumental masonry structure in a landscape that is in the process of being transformed by European settlement.

Fully functional by 1856 the locks of the Lower Fox River facilitated navigation in-land from Lake Michigan (through Green Bay) for 130 years. After being "mothballed" by the Corps of Engineers in the late 1980s and remaining in that status for nearly 20 years, the navigational locks of the Lower Fox were acquired by the State of Wisconsin in 2004 and currently are being restored and rehabilitated.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Oshkosh Water Treatment Plant

The Oshkosh Water Treatment Plant exists as a complex of buildings constructed between 1916 and 1999. The earliest portion of the plant was designed in 1915 by Chicago engineer Henry A. Allan. The new facility replaced a plant built in 1883 that had been operated by Warren G. Maxcy. In 1913 the City of Oshkosh assumed responsibility for water treatment and moved forward with the design and construction of a larger state-of-the-art rapid sand filtration plant. The city demolished Maxcy’s plant (shown in the foreground) shortly after the new facility became fully operational.

B.J. Jorgenson oversaw the construction of the 1916 plant as the city’s resident engineer. The capacity of the new “Water Works” was six million gallons of water every twenty-four hours with the ability to accommodate up to eight million gallons in twenty-four hours. Provisions were made for the eventual expansion of the plant to include a new pump. The fifty-thousand gallon steel tank in the tower was used to wash the filter sand from the bottom of the six filter beds that cleansed the water. Although the 1916 structure was connected by pipes to the low lift discharge in the earlier treatment station, the new structure was designed to function independently and did so by 1917.

While Allen’s focus in designing the plant was the efficiency of its water treatment systems, the building was detailed architecturally in the drawings developed for project. The cover sheet of the 1915 drawing set provides a three dimensional perspective that shows a somewhat grander view of the plant than realized; the grounds are shown with fountains and the principal entrance is formalized with light standards on the balustrade leading into the building.

The most prominent element of Allen’s design was the water tower situated in the north east corner of the plant. The tower, as was the balance of the plant, was constructed of red brick with stone string courses and coping. Clock faces, approximately eight-feet in diameter, were positioned in the upper part of each of the four tower fa├žades. The roof was covered with red tile and its prominent triangular gables were provided with a decorative cornice of contrasting cut stone. This treatment was consistent with the roof and gables of the two-story portion of the plant. The exterior detailing of the plant, with its ornamentation of contrasting stone, is fully described in Allen’s design drawings.

The Water Treatment Plant has been modified and expanded over the years to serve the growing needs of Oshkosh’s population. Five substantial additions were placed on the 1916 plant between 1923 and 1949. Additional improvements were made at the site in 1958, 1967, 1983 and 1999 although all involved the construction of free standing buildings or structures, none of which were contiguous to the 1916 plant or tower.

(Photo courtesy the City of Oshkosh)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Historic Oshkosh Water Tower

The Oshkosh Water Tower, which holds a non-functional 50,000 gallon water storage tank, no longer satisfies the purpose for which it was constructed. Although highly regarded as a local landmark by members of the community, finding an alternate use for the structure will be challenging if not impossible. Since September 11, 2001 water treatment facilities are considered at high risk of terrorist threat. Therefore the Department of Homeland Security has initiated highly restricted public access to these sites. Considering the proximity of the tower to other functional assets on the property, the tower can be maintained only as a structure that would be seen from a distance.

Olin House Site Visit

The project site has been buzzing with activity for the past several months. The work is progressing nicely. It will be a fitting home for John Wiley's successor as UW-Madison's chancellor. The more public first floor spaces, intended for receptions and official university functions, are being restored and rehabilitated. The second and third levels, which will be dedicated to the private use of the chancellor and his or her family, are being fully refurbished. A new master suite was built in an area of the second floor that originally housed domestic help and had been substantially remodeled in the 1950s.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wisconsin's Changing Rural Landscape

A rural outbuilding located along a back highway just outside of Black Earth in Dane County, Wisconsin did not survive the long winter. Already fragile from deferred maintenance, the strong winter winds and heavy snows likely conspired to cause its collapse. The ruin probably will vanish altogether in the upcoming months, leaving Wisconsin's iconic rural landscape with one less picturesque element.

Neglected Maintenance


These images, taken approximately fifty years apart, show rooms located in the same building. The first image shows a functional space that is being well maintained, while the second image shows a room in ruin with a ceiling that has collapsed onto the floor. Over a decade ago, use of the building was suspended and utilities were shut down. Infiltration of water into the structure went unchecked. The consequences were dire and unfortunately will result in the demolition of this once proud building.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Trempleau, WI



Trempleau is a sleepy little Wisconsin town located on the Mississippi River about 100 miles south of the Twin Cities. It was a much livelier place when the use of the river and railroad were crucial to the movement of people and products. Remaining something of an outpost relative to Wisconsin's modern highway system, it has retained a good deal of its 19th century character.

Restored Timber Gates at Cedars Lock

The upper and lower timber gates in place at the outset of the 2007-08 Cedars project were installed in 1974–1975 by the United States Corps of Engineers. Since they are constantly subjected to water, the timbers have an operational life of approximately two to three decades. Maintenance over the last century has included the replacement of the timbers and the cleaning, repair, and replacement, as needed, of the metal components. In its maintenance efforts the COE replaced the historic gates in-kind repeatedly, and the two sets of paired wooden gates in place at the beginning of the current project were fairly close replicas of the gates that had been installed in the late 19th century. Restoration was the approach determined appropriate to the timber gates, however the replacement of the timbers, a long-held tradition associated with the maintenance of the locks, was necessary.

C. R. Meyer secured Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest (wood comparable to what had been used by the COE in the 1974–1975 rebuilding of the gates) for the replacement timbers. The wood was grade no. 2 or better and treated to .60 Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ), which was selected as an environmentally friendly wood preservative. In cutting and milling timbers for the replacement gates, the necessary openings and curved ends of each beam, where the wood interfaces with the stone, were cut at the mill to expedite assembly and installation at the site.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Olin House, University Heights, Madison, WI

The Olin House has functioned as the official residence of the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin since 1925. It was designed fifteen years earlier as a private residence for John Olin, a prominent Madison attorney and member of the university law faculty.

In addition to having been engaged in a busy professional life practicing and teaching law, Olin’s principal avocation was the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA). Olin founded the organization in 1894 and served as its president until 1909. In this role he promoted park development in Madison; by 1909 the MPPDA had acquired approximately 265 acres of park land (much of it waterfront property), and the city had established a park commission. Olin’s wife, Helen Remington Olin also was dedicated to social concerns and was well known for her work with the Wisconsin Woman’s Suffrage Association and for her advocacy of a meaningful co-education curriculum at the University of Wisconsin.

John and Helen Olin selected Ferry & Clas of Milwaukee to design the house; at nearly the same time as securing the commission for Olin’s residence, Ferry & Clas were at work designing the Brittingham Boathouse in what had been a blighted waterfront area in Madison. Olin had the experience of working with the architects on the boathouse project as the president of the MPPDA.

The Olin House has been recognized as a contributing element within the University Heights Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The University Heights district is an important resource for representing early suburban development in Madison, for the prominent individuals that chose to build there and for the fact that the district contains a residence designed by Louis Sullivan and another by Frank Lloyd Wright, located within blocks of one another. The Olin House is extremely well-built, well-designed and prominent within this important Madison neighborhood. Its site, which is many times the size of most neighboring lots, further distinguishes the Olin House. For its development, Olin secured the services of the nation’s most pre-eminent landscape architects to design a park-like setting for the residence.

English Tudor Revival references from the exterior are reintroduced in the scale, finish and detailing of the first floor living room, which the Olins furnished with some Arts and Crafts pieces. The large living room is thirty-two by seventeen feet, exclusive of its two alcoves; the ceilings are at thirteen feet and the walls are wainscoted with quarter sawn white oak to a height of 8½ feet. The oak woodwork was stained a dark shade, making it similar in color to the walnut trim in the dining room. The floor is constructed of eight-inch quarter sawn white oak veneer, approximately an 1/8th inch thick, edged with thin strips of black walnut. Screws used to secure the boards were counter sunk and a small piece of wood used to conceal the screw. The oak boards were fastened together with glue to prevent shrinking. Boards that are broader than those used for flooring elsewhere in the residence were purposefully selected to be in “keeping with the size or dimensions of the room.” The space was illuminated with a large and ornate chandelier that was centrally placed and sconces were situated on walls throughout the space, including on either side of the fireplace.

(Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)