Fraternal Reserve Association

105 Washington Ave Oshkosh

Oshkosh Public Library
Written By Oshkosh Public Library

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The new Washington Avenue business district expanded with the addition of the Fraternal Reserve Association (F.R.A.) Building, which continued the neoclassical motif that began with the library across the street.

The F.R.A. was founded in 1902 by several prominent Oshkosh businessmen, including George A. Buckstaff of the Buckstaff-Edwards Furniture Company, local cigar maker and long-time City Clerk Daniel C. Witzel, and former Wisconsin Attorney General Emmett R. Hicks.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw an explosion in fraternal organizations. Before the federal Social Security system existed, public aid was minimal and set up to be a source of shame. Many people relied on fraternal mutual aid societies to supply a safety net. There were primarily three types: secret societies (such as the freemasons), sick and funeral benefit societies, and life insurance societies.

The F.R.A. offered insurance and an opportunity to socialize. By 1912, the association had more than 15,000 members in 185 locations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and South Dakota.

As membership grew, the F.R.A. worked to build a grand new home in the district developing along Washington Avenue. In 1913, the association purchased land at the corner of Washington and State, known at the time as the Heisinger property, and began construction.

Designed by architect Henry Auler, and built by C.R. Meyer and Sons Company, the new headquarters was created to serve the needs of the lodge and local businesses. The first two floors had rental office spaces. The third floor housed the F.R.A. offices and more rental units. The fourth floor had a social gathering space featuring two-story ceilings, a kitchen, a dining room, and parlors for ladies and gentlemen to relax and socialize.

As you stand in front of the building, the elongated entrance is meant to catch your attention. If you look closely under the transom window, you can still see the words, "Fraternal Reserve Association" engraved into the stone. Notice how the triangular pediment supported by scrolled brackets (a common classical feature), echoes the large pediment of the library. The windows on each floor have a different configuration, alternating from ground level upward in a pattern: rectangular, depressed arch, rectangular, rounded arch. Looking from a distance, the vertical line of windows offers the illusion of two glassed-in arches. This pattern repeats on all four sides of the building.

The architects treated them as buildings in the round in a way. They looked at all of the facades. They didn’t just say, ok, here’s the front façade, we’re going to make this look really good and behind that we don’t care. They wanted prominent structures and they used high quality materials. - City of Oshkosh Assistant Planner Steven Wiley, 2018

In July 1914, during the F.R.A.'s annual convention, more than two hundred association members attended the building's dedication. Speakers included Wisconsin Governor Francis E. McGovern, former Attorney General Emmett R. Hicks, and Wisconsin National Life Insurance Company co-organizer, Gen. Charles R. Boardman.

In 1930, the association merged with the Equitable Fraternal Union of Neenah, Wisconsin to become the Equitable Reserve Association and the offices moved to Neenah. Following the merger, the building housed a variety of businesses over the years. In 2016, it was renovated into apartments.

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