Oshkosh’s lost amusement park history

South of Oshkosh across from the Oshkosh Country Club once stood an amusement park that had many names.

“Electric City,” “White City,” and lastly “EWECO Park.”

The miniature “Coney Island,” as locals referred to it, opened June 19, 1898, according to Oshkosh author Ron La Point who included a chapter on EWECO in his book, Oshkosh: Preserving the Past.

If you have not read it, the book is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Google Books.

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The park was an 18-acre money-maker for Citizens Traction Company, which operated an electric trolley in Oshkosh. Electric Park was a way to encourage riders with the promise of picnic grounds, a small amusement park, merry-go-round, dance hall, theater called the “Casino,” and an electric fountain.

One of the rides was a giant toboggan slide known as “Shoot the Chutes,” which funneled visitors into Lake Winnebago.

The park changed hands in 1906, and the name was changed from “Electric Park” to “White City,” which came from the fact buildings were all painted white, according to information from the Oshkosh Public Museum.

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A black & white lithographic postcard of White City showing the roller coaster at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Winnebago County in 1908. COURTESY OF OSHKOSH PUBLIC MUSEUM

The new ownership, J. Francis Miller of Chicago, also operated amusement parks (New White City) in Milwaukee and Chicago. He added a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and improved the building, a baseball field and covered a grandstand on the property for the 1906 season.

Miller’s “White City” lasted until 1910 when financial problems caused him to close a portion of the park, and dismantle the rides and baseball field.

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EWECO Park on a Sunday afternoon. COURTESY OF TOWN OF BLACK WOLF

The hall and theater continued until the property was purchased by the Eastern Wisconsin Electric Company in 1917.

A contest was held to rename the park and Adolf Menzel picked the winner, wrote La Point. He said the man nicknamed “Ole Menzel” used the initial of the company to name the park EWECO Park.

Trolleys ran to EWECO for the last time in October 1925, La Point wrote, beginning the demise of the entertainment center. The park continued as a dance hall until 1953.

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Side view of an electric street car or interurban of the Citizen Traction Company between 1902 and 1908. Two men are standing by the front and passengers can be seen inside. This particular car ran to the Electric Park or White City located south of Oshkosh. COURTESY OF OSHKOSH PUBLIC MUSEUM

Charles Maloney was the last owner of the Park, La Point writes. His book contains an interview with his daughter, Rita Malchow.

“My dad sold the park in April of 1954,” Malchow told La Point. “The driveway for the park was directly across the road from a gas station or mini-mart that is no longer there. I recall there was a motel right in back.

“Our driveway was between the Stanley Hall residence to the north and the road leading into Paukotuk to the south. The road went straight in and Dad owned the whole section that extended to the lake. Dad eventually bought Dr. Conley’s Paukotuk house but that wasn’t included as part of the park property.”

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Lithographic postcard of White City amusement park showing the open air dance hall at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Winnebago County in 1910. COURTESY OF OSHKOSH PUBLIC MUSEUM

For more about EWECO Park’s dance and band scene read La Point’s book. EWECO Park was a major player in the local ballroom circuit, which included Cinderalla Ballroom in Menasha, Waverly Beach in Menasha, the Raveno in Neenah, the Nightingale south of Black Creek, the Crystal Ballroom in Hilbert, and the Playmore on South Main Street in Oshkosh (also owned by Maloney).

Appleton and Oshkosh’s skating rinks were also popular, La Point writes.

National renowned bands played at EWECO in the 1930s and 1940s, including Harry Babbit and the Kay Keyser Band, which wrote the song “Pretty Little Miss Down in Oshkosh Wis.”

The song was played locally by the Pep Babler band at the park.

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Pep Babler. COURTESY OF TOWN OF BLACK WOLF

Other songs were also written about Oshkosh, La Point writes, including “Oshkosh,” written by Walter Crawford in 1950 and published by the Elk’s Club.

Margaret Collins Wood, 96, told La Point, the park could be risque.

“Nice girls weren’t supposed to go to EWECO Park,” she told La Point.

In 1954, the property was sold to Frank and Wava Chandlish of Fond du Lac, and sold off in lots in “Candlish Harbor.”

Conrad’s Oshkosh City Directory: 1919, included an insert that described EWECO Park in the summer of 1918 as a “pleasure resort at the end of the trolley line.” The Sunday attendance at the park was at record highs: up to 7,000 on Bastille Day, it said.

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Lithographic postcard of White City amusement park showing the open air dance hall at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Winnebago County in 1909. COURTESY OF OSHKOSH PUBLIC MUSEUM

The story of Oshkosh, Nebraska

Pioneers of the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin traveled west and used the namesake to found the city of Oshkosh, Nebraska in the 1880s.

While the city of Oshkosh was incorporated in 1853, not everyone stuck around.

At one time known as the “Sawdust Capital of the World,” for a thriving lumber industry — 47 sawmills, 15 shingle mills in 1874 — which grew following the impact of the dueling fires on the lumber industry in Chicago and Peshtigo between Oct. 8-10, 1871, Oshkosh had a population of around 12,000 in 1875.

But not everyone wanted to stay in one of the Wisconsin Territory’s most promising cities.

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Cattlemen continued westbound on the dirty, boring path (c’mon, have you driven through Iowa) through the plains until they reached the ever-changing Nebraska Territory.

The region held early fur trading posts, including Fort Kearny and Fort Mitchell (Scottsbluff), and for those who went northward (or played the Oregon Trail), Fort Caspar, Fort Halleck, Fort Laramie and Fort Sanders, in the future state of Wyoming.

Nebraska’s Territory included much of the original Louisiana Purchase, according to historical accounts. It was later whittled away into what we know as the State of Nebraska.

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An 1857 map of the Territory of Nebraska commissioned by an Act of Congress by H.D. Rogers in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.

Oshkosh, Nebraska was named after Wisconsin pioneers who traveled west from Wisconsin and founded the city in the 1880s. The first post office was set up in 1889, and a railroad (now Union Pacific Railroad) reached the city by 1908. It was designated Garden County seat in 1909, and incorporated a year later.

Geographically, Oshkosh has a total area of .67 square miles, all if it land, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city has 828 people, according to a 2015 survey, which diminished by 6.3 percent in 2010.

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The city of Oshkosh’s website lists “inspiration” as the city and county’s greatest asset: “brimming with inspiration; sunsets, rivers and lakes, fishing, wildlife sanctuaries that are world renowned to birding enthusiasts.”

For more information on the history of Oshkosh, Nebraska, read Helen M. Robinson’s: “Recollections.”

 

 

 

 

Wisconsinites were once Michiganders

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The Tourist’s Pocket Map of Michigan by J.H. Young. Published by S. Augustus Mitchell, 1835. Sold by Mitchell & Hinman No. 6 N. Fifth St.

I know (?_?) right?

Long before Wisconsin was a state, we were all part of the Michigan Territory. Tribal villages once dotted the map created by J.H. Young in 1835.

It was distributed as the Tourist’s Map of Michigan. Most major Wisconsin cities, such as Green Bay, Madison, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Neenah, Menasha, and Appleton didn’t come into existence (by name) until after the 1840s.

You are likely a Fox Cities reader if you are seeing this blog. Take a closer look at the map below to find out what your city used to be called:

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A look at the Fox Valley in 1835. (Screenshot from J.H. Young map of Tourist’s Map of Michigan)

On Wisconsin!

A candle that made Oshkosh merry

Decades ago, Oshkosh’s Christmastime decorations were second to none. Main Street was covered in tinsel, and Park Plaza had it’s famous candle.

(Editor’s note: Story has been revised, and updated to include one of the earliest photos of the giant Park Plaza candle)

When I was young… growing up in Oshkosh, one of my fondest memories involved lights.

Maybe living out in the dark wilderness at the bottom of the hill in the Village of Fisk made me appreciate bright things more.

It was just that time of year: Christmastime.

When you arrived in downtown Oshkosh after November the lights were the first thing you saw, extending from the Fox River (where the Convention Center is) down to at least Parkway Avenue (Legends Bar).

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The lamp posts were covered in sparkling red and silver tinsel, and a candle fixture. I don’t recall if this was part of the parade set up but it remained until the end of the year.

It was a tremendous display that dimmed out toward the end of the 1980s. I don’t know when they finally stopped setting it up, or who it was that made it. (If anyone knows please let me know: readcarlosm@gmail.com).

I feel like this would make a nostalgic addition to Oshkosh’s Celebration of Lights, which begins Nov. 25 and ends Dec. 31, 2016. The event is held at Menominee Park in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

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One of the earliest photos of the giant Park Plaza candle is seen in this clipping from the Dec. 26, 1973 Daily Northwestern. The candle was a staple of Oshkosh’s downtown decorations. The mall, which opened in July 1970, was owned by the Miles Kimball Company — Alberta Kimball — with Ted Leyhe serving as general manager.

Athens/Brooklyn merger formed city of Oshkosh

“Robert Grignon was in favor of Oshkosh; his influence with the half-breeds turned the scale and settled the name, and the last drink was in honor of Oshkosh.”

The ‘Sawdust City’ of Oshkosh got its namesake from Chief Oskosh, who ceded the area to the United States in 1836, according to historical essay by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2009.

The biography of Chief Oskosh says he was born in Nekoosa as a member of the Bear Clan of the Menominee Indian Nation.

img_8415 But before the city of Oshkosh (‘h’ was added later) honored the famous, sometimes troubled, Chief Oshkosh by naming the city for him, it was split into two parts: Athens and Brooklyn.

Webster Stanley, born in Hartford, Connecticut in September 1798, moved to Oshkosh in 1836, according to the “History of the County of Winnebago (Martin Mitchel and Joseph H. Osborn, 1856).

Stanley reportedly established a trading post, a tavern and an inn.

The book of the geographical and statistical history of Winnebago County shares accounts of “interesting incidents among the aborigines and pioneer settlers” written by early residents “with a census table from its first settlement to the present time.”

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Webster Stanley (Credit: J.F. Marrison)

Mitchel and Osborn’s account says that a Post Office was introduced in the city in 1839, and a general meeting was “notified” and attended at the house of George Wright, Esq. by English, French and “half-breeds.”

The meeting to name the post office was held to determine the most appropriate name for the the Post Office, and the new merging city (Athens/Brooklyn).

Oshkosh firefighters pose with their equipment in 1872. The Brooklyn Fire House No. 4, seen in the background, still stands. (Credit: Oshkosh Fire Department)

The historical account says Mr. David Evans furnished a box of cigars, a jug with necessary refreshments was behind a tree, and participates debated with “much electioneering from the diversity of opinions with regards to the most appropriate name.”

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Oshkosh firefighters pose with their equipment in 1872. The Brooklyn Fire House No. 4, seen in the background, still stands. (Credit: Oshkosh Fire Department)

The favorite names of parties present were: Athens, Fairview, Osceola, Oshkosh, and Stanford.

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Map of Oshkosh, 1858. (Credit: J.F. Marrison)

According to the account: “Robert Grignon was in favor of Oshkosh; his influence with the half-breeds turned the scale and settled the name, and the last drink was in honor of Oshkosh.”

The population of Oshkosh in 1840 was 135.

The Post Office was established in 1840, as well, and John P. Gallup was named  Post Master.

Milwaukee Journal, August 1, 1926.

ONLINE

Read the Geographical History of Winnebago County: http://bit.ly/1XKJGBF

Oshkosh’s first hospital: Alexian Brothers

 

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The Alexian Brothers.
The Congregation of the Alexian Brothers was an apostolic Catholic Order bound together by religious vows. The Brothers were dedicated themselves to live in a community and participate in a ministry of healing in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, according to their website.

They have cared for the “sick, aged, the unloved, the unwanted, the poor, and the dying.”

The Brothers purchased the home of J.J. Moore at 711 Jackson St. in 1879, according to a photo in the Oshkosh Public Library’s digital collection. The group whose Judeo-Christian beliefs were inspired by the founder of their congregation continue today.

 

They used the Moore property to build Oshkosh’s first medical center, founded by Paulus (Mathias) Pollig, in 1884. The hospital cared for only male and mostly religious patients.

It was later used as a nursing home for out-of-state patients and closed in 1965 when it was purchased by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to be used as a women’s dormitory, better known as East Hall.

The building was razed in 1971, and is now an athletic area.

More information about the Alexian Brothers in Oshkosh is available on their website.

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Alexian Brothers Hospital in Oshkosh, Wisconsin which was built in 1884 at 711 Jackson Street. The postmark on this postcard is 1909. (Credit: Oshkosh Public Library)

Black Oak School, Class of 1929

A photograph from the town of Nekimi’s Black Oak School was taken in 1929. The class had a total of 16 pupils led by teacher Mrs. Elva Sumpter.

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Black Oak School Class of 1929. Class teacher Mrs. Elva Sumpter. (Credit: Oshkosh Public Library Digital Collections)
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Class of 1929 key for photo. (Credit: Oshkosh Public Library Digital Collections)
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Black Oak School, 1929. (Credit: Oshkosh Public Library Digital Collections)