Old, now demolished, school in Wisconsin

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin
Date added: June 27, 2023 Categories: Wisconsin City Hall School
West (front) facade looking east (1991)

The Town of Presque Isle originated as a sawmill and railroad town in 1905 when J.J. Foster built the first sawmill in what then came to be called Fosterville. Foster gave up the lumbering business in 1910 to William S. Winegar. Winegar renamed the town after himself. Winegar was entirely a self-sufficient company town. The mill printed its own currency called "ginseng" which could be exchanged for goods at the company store. The mill built houses for its workers and controlled the electricity for the town from one main switch. Nearly every man in town worked at the Winegar mill. When the forests were used up and the mill closed, the town lost its industry. In 1955, well after the mill was closed, the town was renamed Presque Isle. The town of Presque Isle had gone from a population of almost 2,000 to a population of 300. Present-day Presque Isle looks to tourism and the resort industry for its livelihood.

The Presque Isle State Graded School (Joint School District #1) and gymnasium built for the Town of Winegar (now Presque Isle), replaced a smaller wood frame two-room schoolhouse which sat directly behind the present site. In December 1938 at a special school meeting a resolution was passed that "the school board be authorized to make application for a loan of $4,500 from the State Trust Fund" for the purpose of raising additional funds to erect a school building and gymnasium so that a PWA project could be started by December 12, 1938. Leo Brod of Mosinee was hired as contractor, National Heating Company of Wausau, heating and ventilating, Cherne Carlson of Ironwood, Michigan, plumbing and fixtures, Albert Johnson, Rhinelander, electric wiring. The Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works concurred with Joint School District #1's decision to award bids to these contractors. General construction on the new $35,900 school designed by the architectural firm of Oppenhamer and Obel began on Monday, December 12, 1938. A letter from Contractor Leo J. Brod to school clerk, Mrs. Jerry Finnegan indicated that construction was "unusually" slow in getting started due to "unfavorable weather conditions" consisting of snow, blizzards, and a ground frost of 40 inches. Brod did not want to use blasting because of the close proximity of the wood frame school which was still being used. School records indicate that Joint School District #1 and the PWA corresponded frequently on matters of finance and schedule. As bills were paid or changes made the PWA and the school board were kept informed. The original PWA grant was for $14,318 but was amended to $16,094. The PWA felt the school district had not considered all expenses, legal and otherwise. The building of the school provided jobs to a good number of unemployed citizens of Winegar. The school board was instructed not to go to neighboring Rhinelander to employ men to work on this project but rather to select men from a list of Winegar residents. By November of 1939, the Graded School had been completed. The new school proved "to be quite a community center as a result of its well-built gym." At a school board meeting in 1940, the board decided to allow town meetings to be held in the school. They also decided to allow "fraternal, political, and civic organizations" to rent the facility at a rate of $5.00 a month for electricity and $2.00 a night for gymnasium use. The Men's Community Club, Women's Club, Lions/Lioness Clubs, and 4-H groups were some of the organizations that used the facility. The gymnasium was also the scene of men's basketball which was a popular sport in the community. Eventually, school children from four townships including Presque Isle used the facility because of its gymnasium. On December 18, 1970, due to the consolidation of school districts, the graded school closed its doors to education. The children of the area since have attended a newer and larger school, North Lakeland Elementary School in the Town of Presque Isle. However, town hall meetings are still held in the 1939 WPA building. The Graded School now is known as the Presque Isle Town Hall but remains a reminder of the early school days of Presque Isle.

The architectural firm of Oppenhamer and Obel of Wausau began in 1919 and continued into the forties. Oppenhamer and Obel designs were of "distinctive merit and inclusive of a variety of styles." "Sympathetically" adding onto existing buildings was a particular skill they possessed. Their designs in Wausau included a Prairie-style house built in 1920 at 706 Hamilton, a two-story commercial style Elks Lodge built in 1924 at 414 Scott St., and an ornately classical Grand Theatre at 415 Fourth St. built in 1927. Other accomplishments in the Wausau area included an addition on the Wausau East High School at 708 Fulton St. built in 1936 as a WPA project, an addition on St. Mary's Hospital on 7th St. built in 1940 and a large exhibition building at the Marathon County Fairgrounds built in 1924. The work of architects Oppenhamer and Obel can be seen in many of Wausau's schools, churches, hospitals, commercial and public buildings. The Presque Isle Town Hall is another example of a WPA project of Oppenhamer and Obel in the northernmost area of Wisconsin.

The building was demolished by the town in 1997.

Building Description

The Presque Isle State Graded School designed by architects Oppenhamer and Obel and built in 1939 with support from the WPA sits on a hilltop on the corner of Highway B (Main Street) and School Loop Street (Fire #8300) in the Town of Presque Isle. Originally, Presque Isle was accessible only from the north because the Presque Isle River surrounds the town on three sides, thus the name Presque Isle which is French meaning "almost an island." Today Presque Isle is accessible from the north and southeast on County Highway B and from the southwest on County Highway W. The Michigan State line is approximately two miles north of Presque Isle. The commercial and residential areas lie south of the graded school. To the west of the town hall directly across the street is a vacant building of boom town design. To the south is a single ridge pole house with an enclosed porch. The loop portion of School Loop Street is on the east (back) side of the building where the fire department building constructed in 1957 is located on the east side of the loop. North of the fire department are public restroom facilities that were built in 1983 and serve the playground and baseball diamond areas. Bleachers on the north lawn facing the baseball diamond were donated by the Presque Isle Lions and Lioness Clubs in 1986. A baseball diamond was always part of the field next to the Presque Isle State Graded School although it was originally very crude and about half the size it is today. Located northeast of the baseball diamond and up about an eight-foot rise is a playground. To the north is Shantyboy Hill, a historical cemetery where about 20 lumber mill workers are buried. There is no real development to the north of the graded school. The Presque Isle State Graded School is built on a 122 x 127' lot which was landscaped with the help of the WPA. A large lawn shaded by giant pines landscapes the front of the building and continues around the building. The lawn in the front slopes from the top of the steps down to the street and is level from the top of the steps to the front door. A retaining wall borders the ground-level entrance to the south side of the building.

The Presque Isle State Graded School was originally built in the Art Deco style as a two-room school and gymnasium. The building constructed of painted cement block and poured concrete is basically rectangular in shape (62' wide on the south, 55' wide on the north, 85' long) and contains 4,553 square feet of space. The exceptions to the rectangular shape are the front entrance which juts west toward the street and the gymnasium on the south side of the building which is wider than the classroom portion of the building on the north side. A special skill of architects Oppenhamer and Obel was to "sympathetically" add on to buildings to make an addition look as if it belonged to the building. Although original to the building, the gymnasium has the look of being "sympathetically added on." In elevation, the building is two stories high including the basement as the first level and is 27 1/2' tall from the poured concrete foundation to the flat asphalt roof. The roof supports a brick chimney with a cement cap centered on the north wall.

Cast cement caps run the perimeter of the exterior walls at the roofline. Another line of cast cement is 5 1/2' from the roofline above the windows and runs along the west, north, and south sides of the building. Although hard to define from the cement blocks, the cast cement is an interesting feature of the building. The 3 x 2 ft. windows on the foundation on the classroom side (north half) give light to the basement (first story). There are no windows on the foundation on the gymnasium side. On the second story, window openings were originally a rectangular 3 x 8 ft., wood frame and double hung, 3 panes wide x 4 panes high and symmetrically placed across the front of the building. In 1960, the original windows on the classroom portion were replaced with glass blocks. The windows on the front gymnasium side (south half) were made smaller than those on the classroom side by blocking in the bottom portion and filling in the top portion with glass blocks. Likewise, the windows on the south side of the gymnasium have been altered with concrete and glass block and are now shorter and wider than the original openings and the windows on the front (west) side of the gymnasium. The windows on the back of the classroom area (east side) are symmetrical and parallel with those of the front classroom area (west side). Smaller windows are situated above the front door (west side) and fire escape on the north side. The main entrance located on the west side is of double aluminum frame glass doors not original to the building. Above the door is a plywood sign identifying this as the "Presque Isle Town Hall." Beneath this sign metal letters denote this the "Graded School." The south door on the gymnasium side was originally a double door but is now a single steel door. The north side has two doors. One is a single door with a window on the upper half (the fire escape) and the other is a steel door that serves as an entrance to an enclosed stairwell leading to the boiler room. Decorative elements which contribute to the Art Deco style include pilasters on the south wall, concrete lintels beneath the windows, and cement extrusions bordering the top and sides of the west (main) and north entrances.

Upon entering the Presque Isle State Graded School through the main (west) entrance is a vestibule that is enclosed by the original glass and wood double doors. Directly in front of the doors is the stairwell. The north half of the stairwell descends five steps to the first (basement) story. The south half of the stairwell ascends eleven steps to the second story. A birch handrail with cast iron brackets and bannister serves these stairwells. The interior floorplan of the Presque Isle State Graded School includes a gymnasium that encompasses the first and second level on the south side of the building and a center corridor on both levels. On the south side of the corridors the gymnasium takes up about half the floor space and is accessible only on the first (basement) story. At the end of the corridor on the first story is the kitchen which still contains the original dishwasher. The kitchen is accessible from the gymnasium or from the lower level corridor and has a concrete floor with cement baseboards and two side-by-side serving windows on the south wall. The windows are equipped with shutters that can be raised or lowered to allow serving between the gymnasium and the kitchen. Off the main corridor on the first (basement) story are the public restrooms and two smaller corridors. The corridor to the north serves as access to the boy's locker room which was used as a music room, the boy's lavatory, and the furnace and fuel room. In the furnace room, the unfinished ceiling demonstrates the corrugated metal forms used to construct the floors out of concrete. The building has a central heating system which was updated in 1959. A second corridor to the north at the foot of the stairwell serves as access to the girl's lavatory and locker room. Most of the original plumbing fixtures are still in use in all the lavatories and locker rooms. On the second story doors with transoms lead to the former library and classrooms. At the end of the corridor is the Presque Isle Town Hall office which was once the school library. In this room an iron wall-mounted step ladder still leads to a trap door through which the roof and cord-pulled school bell were serviced. Off the corridor in the northeast corner is the Irma Stein Library which once was the classroom for grades one through four and in the northwest corner is a town hall meeting room which was once the classroom for grades five through eight. In the former classrooms are the original chalkboards, corkboards, and teacher and student closets. In the town hall meeting room, the closets are presently used as voting booths. Between the town hall meeting room and the Irma Stein Library is a corridor whose only function is to serve as a fire escape. On the south wall on both levels is a low-recessed water fountain. A wood wainscot cap or chair rail about 3 1/2 feet above the floor trims both the upper and lower corridors as well as all the rooms on the upper story except the gymnasium. Ceilings in the classrooms that were originally 91" now contain suspended ceiling panels. Missing panels show that original ceiling crown moldings above still exist. In the gymnasium, 1" x 20" x 72" wood and cement insulation board panels make up the ceiling. Light fixtures throughout the building are a mixture of both the original globe and newer florescent type. The floors on both stories are of concrete. In the former classrooms, library, and gymnasium wood flooring covers the concrete. Concrete baseboards surround the corridors but wood baseboards surround the former classrooms and library.

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin West (front) facade looking east (1991)
West (front) facade looking east (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin West (front) facade looking northeast (1991)
West (front) facade looking northeast (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin West (front) entrance looking east (1991)
West (front) entrance looking east (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin North facade looking south (1991)
North facade looking south (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin North and east facade looking southwest (1991)
North and east facade looking southwest (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin East facade looking west (1991)
East facade looking west (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin South facade looking northeast (1991)
South facade looking northeast (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin Presque Isle Fire Department looking east (1991)
Presque Isle Fire Department looking east (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin Public restrooms near baseball diamond looking northeast (1991)
Public restrooms near baseball diamond looking northeast (1991)

Presque Isle State Graded School - Town Hall, Presque Isle Wisconsin West (front) entrance looking west (1991)
West (front) entrance looking west (1991)