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)