Oshkosh

German Oshkosh & the Turners

 

By Thomas J. Rowland


A German gymnastic movement, spawned by Napoleon’s occupation of most of the German States in the early 19th century, the Turners (Turnverein) made their arrival in America in the wake of the failed liberal revolutions of 1848. This underscores the reality that the Turner movement was rooted in as much political, social, cultural and philosophical underpinnings as it was in its physical expression. To borrow the somewhat hackneyed phrase, the Turners vowed the holistic approach of a “sound mind in a sound body.”

Some of the earliest Turners to arrive in Wisconsin were liberal refugees from the failed revolutions in Prussia. Labeled the “Forty-Eighters” by other Germans, they sunk roots primarily in the city of Milwaukee and along a due westerly route out to Watertown, the place in which one of the most famous émigrés of 1848, Carl Schurz, called home. The lack of radical credentials did not preclude other German immigrants from gravitating to the Turner movement.

 The iconic symbol of the Turnverein was its creation of Turner Halls, sprinkled throughout Wisconsin and a handful of other states (Indiana, Missouri, Iowa and Pennsylvania to name but a few). In order to attend to its holistic mission the halls served as gymnasiums, lecture centers, theaters, music halls, and as a source of political mobilization.  In the late 19th century the Turners played a conspicuous role in American public education and the nascent labor movements. Second generation Turners in Wisconsin would figure prominently in the ranks of both the progressive and socialist movements of the early 20th century.

Winnebago County in the mid-19th century was populated primarily by the so-called “Yankees” who had migrated into the state from points along the eastern coast in the decades leading up to 1850. They would soon be joined by numerous German immigrants from that point onward.  By the close of the 19th century Winnebago County was overwhelmingly German in both ethnicity and character.

One of the earliest expressions of German solidarity occurred in Menasha. There in 1856 Germans created the Concordia Society which would eventually merge with the Menasha Turner Society in 1888. Turner activities were conducted in an edifice named Germania Hall built sometime during the 1860s on 320 Chute Street. In 1927 the organization adopted its final name, the German Benevolent Society. With its fundamental purpose no longer relevant, the hall was razed in 1963. A banquet facility, named Germania Hall, was build upon the same spot, serving the local population for nearly three decades until it ceased operation.

Oshkosh became the home of not just one but two Turner Halls, one on the North Side and the other on the South Side. Recent research has revealed that a commodious wooden structure was built by the Turners in the downtown section (North Side) of Oshkosh in 1874.  The best recreation of the hall reveals that it was not particularly ornate but very utilitarian in character, resembling a common warehouse in many ways. An attempt to turn it into an opera house in 1883 proved less than successful and in 1890 the Turners turned to William Waters to design an imposing brick structure at the old site on the northeastern corner of Merritt Avenue and Jefferson Street.  Much larger than the 1874 structure the new hall was capable of providing the full range of Turner activities much like the hall in downtown Milwaukee. With the general “de-Germanization” of so much in Wisconsin following the Great War the Turners were able to sell the building with its crenellated facade to the Wisconsin National Guard as its Company B armory. It served that purpose until the mid-1960s when the building was razed to make way for an auto repair shop. Today Jackson’s Glass Shop occupies the site.

Four years before he submitted the blueprints for the North Side Turner Hall, William Waters had drafted plans for another hall on the South Side of town. Located on the southeast corner of South Main Street and Tenth Avenue, it was an immense and grandiose wooden structure in the then popular Queen Anne style, sporting a soaring corner tower. It is said that an organization known as the Badger Club assumed ownership of the building in 1902 but before long the edifice was transformed into a warehouse for storing paper products. A fire destroyed it in 1920.

Pie on the Porch 2017

We have had a great start to Pie on the Porch this year!  We love our new location and the Karner family from Crescent Moon has been more than welcoming to us. In addition to our move in front of their store at 537 N Main, we have other news as well.  Thanks to a grant from 4Imprint we have new aprons with our Morgan House logo on them. Board members also received t-shirts. Come check us out!! Barb Herzog donated a new tent so we can use the other one for shade.  Jeanne Tondryk helped us with our first Strawberry Shortcake Day on July 1 in memory of John Allen from Allenville Farm. Thanks to Allenville Farms for those wonderful sweet strawberries and Pick & Save for donating the whipped topping! Allenville Farm has a booth right next to us so it was a great partnership. We sold over 50 delicious strawberry shortcakes in addition to pie!  This year we are also offering some new items to our menu such as decaf coffee, sugar-free lemonade, and bottled water.  Our Pie on the Porch volunteers have been awesome!!  We have had over 20 volunteers this year, many of them volunteering for the first time. They all said they want to come back because it is so much fun!  It’s not too late to help out by volunteering or making a pie.  Please let Brittany Martinez (brittanymartinez54@gmail.com) know if you would like to volunteer and let Lisa Zwickey (lzwickey@gmail.com) know if you can bake a pie.  No need to make a long-term commitment.  You can volunteer or bake as often as you would like.  It is a fun and rewarding atmosphere in which to work!  All profits this year will receive matching funds from the Kuenzl foundation and go toward preserving the Morgan House.

 

Oshkosh Student at 2017 National History Day Contest

Hello, my name is Michelle Lokken. This past school year I was a senior at Oshkosh North High School. Recently, on June 11th-15th, I went to the University of Maryland to compete in the national level contest for National History Day. I presented my documentary on the Oshkosh Woodworkers’ Strike of 1898.

National History Day is an academic enrichment program dedicated to improving the learning and teaching of history. This program is structured as a tiered contest containing regional, state and national levels. To compete in this contest, middle and high school students make a project on any historical topic of their choice. The project can be a paper, website, documentary, performance, or an exhibit.  Even though the topics can vary, all projects must connect back to an annual theme. This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand.” In Wisconsin, nearly 10,000 students made projects but only 36 advanced to the national level. My project won at state, qualifying me to go to the National Contest in Maryland.

Even though it’s called National History Day it is really more like history year. I first became interested in the Oshkosh Woodworkers’ Strike during my junior year (2015-2016), when my English teacher assigned an Oshkosh research paper. My security job at the Paine Art Center already had me interested in learning more about the Paine Lumber Company’s history. The Woodworkers’ Strike was an appealing topic because of my fascination with both the Paine and labor history. When the paper was done, I still wanted to know more. At the end of my junior year, I noticed that the National History Day theme for my senior year would be “Taking a Stand”.  I immediately knew that the Oshkosh Woodworkers’ Strike of 1898 would be the perfect topic. Then, in October of 2016, I got to work preparing a documentary for the regional contest in February.  My documentary was successful at the regional level which qualified me for the state competition in April. Between competing, participants are allowed to make improvements, of which I did. At the state competition, my documentary was again successful making me a Wisconsin finalist for the national contest.

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Nationals was an amazing experience. I enjoyed meeting students from across the country that had a similar interest in history. Having a local topic I was unsure how my documentary would rank against my competition. Many competing documentaries covered national or international topics. My project was received well by the judges. With 99 competitors, in the category of individual documentary, in the high school division, I made it to the finals round. Out of 100 entries, I made the top ten and ended up ranking 5th in the nation.  

Being selected to go to the contest was a great honor and I wanted to pursue this opportunity.  Since my travel and lodging expenses were not provided for, I reached out to the community to seek sponsorships. Fortunately, The Winnebago County Historical and Archeological Society sponsored me. Their generous donation helped pay for gasoline and lodging fees that it took to make going to nationals possible. I am so grateful and honored to have been sponsored by an organization that cherishes the history of Winnebago County. Truly Winnebago County has the utmost fascinating history. If you are interested in watching my documentary you can find it with this link https://youtu.be/-jMJAmRqMRM

2017 Museum Season Begins

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Mark your calendars! The Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society‘s summer schedule begins this Saturday, June 3. The historic John R. Morgan residence at 234 Church Avenue in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, will be open from 10am to 1pm every Saturday until the end of September. You can also stop by our Pie on the Porch bistro at the Oshkosh Saturday Farmer’s Market on Main Street in Oshkosh to buy a delicious slice of pie. All proceeds go to the society’s operating fund. Your support is appreciated!

If you haven’t been to the Morgan House you are missing out! This beautiful home was owned by one of Oshkosh’s pioneer lumber families. The Morgan family owned a sawmill along the Fox River for over a century. The house was acquired by the WCHAS in 1987 from Miss Constance Misky, who once lived in the home and ran a cosmetology school on the first floor. Since 1987 the society has beautifully maintained the property and furnished the home to reflect the living standards of the Morgan’s stature. When it was built in 1884, the Morgan’s had the most “modern” conveniences a homeowner could have in the city at that time. There was running water, both hot and cold, to several of the rooms in the house. The home was heated by steam heat, and electric bells were installed to summon servants and butlers to the Morgans’ every need.

While none of the furnishings on display are original to the Morgan family, you will see the original handcrafted wood decorations and original wallpapers that have adorned this beautiful Queen Anne style home since the day it was built. It is truly a treasure from Oshkosh’s lumbering heyday.

Tours of the house are always free to the public, but the society welcomes and appreciates donations which help to preserve this beautiful treasure. If you are unable to come see the home during open hours on Saturday, please call or send an email to set up an appointment to get a tour on a day that works for you.

Have you visited the Morgan House before?! Comment below to share your experience!

Christmas Open House

 

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Come visit the beautiful and elegant John R. Morgan House decorated for Christmas. This 1884 Queen Anne style home is a time capsule of a bygone era of Oshkosh. Come learn about the home, the Morgans and their lumber company and how the Winnebago County Historical and Archaeological Society maintains the house. You can enjoy refreshments, entertainment, socializing and take home a small gift ! The house is open 3-8 pm and is free to the public.

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Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society
234 Church Ave
Oshkosh, WI 54901