If I have not made it obvious, I work for Winnebago County as a maintenance technician and ensure our public buildings are running top notch. Besides learning new skills, I really enjoy learning about our buildings’ histories–especially our courthouse. Our department operates out of the former Winnebago County Highway Department shop, and I never really knew much of or looked into our shop’s past until recently. Our building was constructed in stages over the years–1938, 1940, and 1969.
The earliest discussion of building a new highway garage began in 1935. The county sought a federal grant through the WPA ( Works Progress Administration ) to build the new garage and to build on the existing county workhouse property on Knapp Street–just south of our present day location. Instead, 7.5 acres of land just north of the workhouse next to the Lutz Quarry was acquired for $3,000. The Lutz family had a delinquent tax bill, but the county’s purchase of this parcel was a credit towards it. This location was ideal because the railroad ran nearby–it’s no longer there–and could be used for hauling in materials ( salt, gravel, etc) to the new highway shop. Additionally, the new garage could be hooked up to city utilities.
The first portion to be constructed was the storage garage area in 1938. The cost to build rang up at about $40,000 and measures roughly 200′ x 80′ with a 20′ high ceiling down the center of the garage. Fluor Brothers Construction Co. of Oshkosh won the general contractor bid to oversee construction. There is a little irony in that because the owner of that construction company, Casper R. Fluor, built and lived in my current home. I work and live in structures built by the same guy!
The new garage was built to relocate and house the county plow trucks and equipment from its former Wisconsin Street garage. Some of the county plow trucks were also being stored in private garages due to the lack of space. By the time the garage was finished, the County Highway Committee was already looking to build a repair shop onto the new garage in the near future. A dedication ceremony and big dance–over 800 people— was held in the building to celebrate the county’s newest facility.
In Michael Goc’s book A History of the Winnebago County Highway Department and Its Roads he asserts that the Winnebago County Board had approved the garage to be built with salvaged materials from the former Winnebago County Courthouse on Otter Street. I was really excited to read that, but as I investigated further it turns out that his information is only half correct. There is mention of plans to look into salvaging the courthouse in county board’s meeting minutes from 1938. However, the garage, nor subsequent additions, was never constructed with any of the salvaged materials. The storage garage was completed by November 1938, and the old courthouse was not dismantled until mid-1939. Furthermore, the old courthouse property was sold to the City of Oshkosh in January 1939, and it was the CITY that pursued WPA funding to dismantle the building and salvage the materials to be used for city projects–I’ll have another post on that in the future!
In December 1939 the county board approved a $50,000 project to build a 104′ x 80′ repair shop onto the storage garage. The county broke ground in spring 1940 and completed the addition in fall of that year. The newest addition had all of the machinery needed to repair and maintain county trucks and equipment. Some of the features of the repair shop included two overhead cranes for moving heavy equipment–5-ton and 2.5-ton– as well as lathes, drills, and a paint booth. The new facility also added extra storage space, a committee meeting room, the shop superintendent’s office, and a sign shop. The final cost of the addition came under budget at $45,000.
The final addition to the highway garage was an office building to house all Highway Department staff under one roof. Since 1938 the highway commissioner and other office staff were located on the first floor of the county courthouse. County services and staff increases over the years made for tight quarters in the courthouse. The county board approved a $204,661 project to build an office addition onto the eastern portion of the complex. Ground was broken in January 1969, and the project was completed by the end of August that year.
In 1995 the Winnebago County Highway Department was relocated to the north side of Oshkosh on County Road Y–Near Highway 45 and I-41. The newer facility has a 85,000-sq. ft. main garage used for storage and repair. This area also has steam wash bay, sign shop, parts storage, 12 bay repair area, prefabricating & welding shop, overhead cranes, bulk oil room, offices, locker rooms, conference/training room and lunch room. The new location also has a salt shed and a storage building for equipment.
In 1998 the Winnebago County Maintenance Department took over the old highway garage where our crew of custodians, maintenance techs, and tradesmen work out of today. We still use some of the original equipment in the shop. The massive overhead crane is still used to move heavy materials and grounds equipment. The painting booth is no longer used for trucks, but it is setup to be used by our painter for small painting and staining projects. There is some pretty interesting history to be learned at my job. I never realized that our building had so much history!
Do you work in an older building? What interesting past does it have?