Oshkosh in 1900

318 N Main St Oshkosh

Oshkosh Public Library
Written By Oshkosh Public Library

Our mission is to help people find knowledge resources; provide free access to information; preserve local history; and create a vibrant community gathering place.

Thanks for your interest in local history. On this tour, we'll look at the six buildings that established the visual character of the Washington Avenue District and discover more about the people and organizations who built them. Let's go!

By the 1890s, two decades after the Great Fire of 1875 reduced a large swath of the city to ashes, much of downtown was rebuilt and businesses were thriving.

Where the Exclusive Company Building and parking lot are now, stood a line of two-story brick buildings housing retail businesses and professional offices. As a time traveler to Oshkosh in 1893, you might stop in to Stroud’s Music Company at Number 16, discuss plans for a new hat at Etta Doherty's and Letta Rice’s millinery shop at Number 18, or make an appointment with renowned architect William Waters at Number 20 Washington Avenue.

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As the border between the old 2nd Ward, which extended south to the river, and the old 4th Ward to the north, Washington Avenue was primarily residential. Looking east towards Lake Winnebago in 1898, there are mostly one or two-story homes. The air carries the scent of freshly cut timber, while chickens cluck and peck around the yards. On May 16, more than 1500 woodworkers voted to go on strike – a defining moment in Wisconsin labor history. By 1900, one-third of Oshkosh residents spoke German or claimed German ancestry. It was against this backdrop that the social and cultural life of the city was changing.

"We had a lot of mills and lumber industry booming, and once that was established, I think… there was more of an aristocracy…you had lawyers, politicians, doctors, wealthy business people. With the rise of that upper class… there was more of a demand for these fraternal and civic organizations, institutions. So people wanted buildings that were appropriate and I would say worthy of housing these institutions; it wasn’t going to be residential scale. You needed buildings that were more prominent, permanent, and larger in scale." --Steven Wiley, City of Oshkosh Assistant Planner

Starting with the construction of Oshkosh Public Library, a neoclassic architectural revival began to redefine the appearance of the neighborhood.

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