The Collapse of St. James' Dome

621 N 2nd St Wausau

Marathon County Historical Society
Written By Marathon County Historical Society

Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.

The Dome of St. James Collapses, 1911

In July of 1905, a group from the crowded St. Mary’ Catholic Church split off to start St. James. The 135-140 families came together and acquired the former Methodist Church on 2nd and Grant Streets. By 1911, the congregation had outgrown the former Methodist facilities. And so set out to raise money for a new building.

Plans were drawn up for a new church on the southern corner of the block, which was promised to be a “commodious and handsome house of worship.” A prominent feature of the new Church would be a magnificent central dome.

Construction began on the new building in August 1911.

But a month into the construction in 1911, tragedy struck. In what the newspaper called, “the most deplorable accident in the history of Wausau,” the central dome collapsed. One of the workers died before he could be brought to St. Mary's Hospital, another died shortly after arriving, and six others were injured.

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It was unclear what had gone wrong. One of the pillars holding up the structure had failed, that was clear. But speculation that the structure had been weakened due to the storming over the previous week in which rain and wind blew through the partially completed scaffolding, eventually gave way to the realization that substandard materials had been used by the contractors.

A crowd gathered in the early morning—attracted by the immense sound of the building collapsing. One of those spectators, James Colby, brought his camera. Colby was well known for travels to photograph communities across Wisconsin, and the many postcards he produced with surprising speed and at low cost.

It was often said that the postcard companies like Colby’s Northern Photo Company could have postcards showing accidents or train wrecks before the newspaper could be sent to print, and in this case Colby produced a number of postcards depicting the disaster at St. James. Although other photographs of the aftermath of the collapse were better, Colby's were available the next day after the collapse.

The congregation rebuilt despite the tragedy, and the new Church building was dedicated by Bishop Schwebach of La Crosse on December 17, 1912. The building did indeed “enhance the appearance of that section of the city considerably.”

In 1998, after 86 years, the St James’ and St. Mary’s congregations were merged once again. The church building on Second and McClellan has been used since then by the Church of the Resurrection.

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