Library Park Historic District

Kenosha City, Kenosha County, WI

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Urban J. Lewis House,

Description

The Library Park Historic District [†] is formed by a group of residences, public buildings, and religious structures generally sited around historic Library Park in downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin. Kenosha is a medium-sized, primarily industrial city on Lake Michigan in southeastern Wisconsin. The moderately dense district is located just south of Kenosha's commercial center on a relatively flat expanse of land located a few blocks west of the lakefront. Settled at an early date, by 1861, the area around Library Park, historically called City park, Central Park, and The^Commons, was dotted with primarily small houses of middle-class and prominent individuals and families of Kenosha. But beginning in the nineteenth century, many of the district's lots were redeveloped, so that today, the district includes a mixture of small and medium-sized houses from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, large houses from that same era, large public buildings that replaced some nineteenth century houses, and religious structures, most on their original lots. Because this neighborhood underwent this type of development, the buildings that exist today have both small and large lots, have varied setbacks from the street, have many different styles of architecture and construction materials, and a variety of vegetation. Some buildings are sited quite close to the street, while others are quite liberally set back into their large lots. Most historic houses have mature lawns and trees, and there are many large, gracious trees located in Library Park. But some of the lots that were^rebuilt in the twentieth century have very little vegetation. The complexity of this district is largely what sets it apart from its immediate neighbors and the rest of the city.

The many types and variety of styles of the buildings in the district actually set this neighborhood apart from the areas of the city that bound it and give a definite impression that this is a distinct neighborhood. To the north of the district is Kenosha's downtown commercial district, with its commercial style buildings. At the northeast corner are a modern bank and apartment building. To the west of the district is a major north-south thoroughfare (State Highway 32, Sheridan Road) through Kenosha, along which a modern commercial "strip" has developed. The large Kenosha Hospital complex lies to the south of the district and the complex's several large parking lots bordering the district effectively divide it from the residential areas of Kenosha farther south. It is only on the east that the district abuts an existing residential neighborhood. However, there too, a definite break exists in the type, scale, and plan of the two neighborhoods. The neighborhood to the east of Library Park may have potential historical or architectural significance, but as a separate neighborhood not connected to Library Park.

One of the important features that distinguishes Library Park from other areas in Kenosha is the high level of integrity of the buildings in the district. Most of the residences, churches, and public buildings of the district have been well maintained, and many belie their mid-nineteenth century construction date. Some buildings have been, or are in the process of being rehabilitated, and it is surprising that so few of the district's buildings have had artificial siding applied to their facades. This factor, taken along with the fact that there are so many individually outstanding examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture in the district, makes Library Park a very special neighborhood. Still another factor in the cohesiveness of the district is the small number of non-contributing buildings in the district. There are only three non-contributing principal buildings in Library Park, and only three historic buildings have major non-historic additions. The individual buildings and additions to historic buildings are non-contributing because of their recent construction dates and lack of architectural distinction.

The Historic District is significant for architecture because it contains many fine examples of nineteenth and twentieth century architectural styles, and because one of the outstanding buildings in the district was designed by nationally prominent master architect, Daniel H. Burnham. It is, in particular, the concentration of so many outstanding individual examples of architectural styles in this district that makes Library Park one of the outstanding neighborhoods in the city; a virtual showcase of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century architectural design.

According to Wisconsin's Cultural Resource Management Plan, the Greek Revival style was the first national style to have wide ranging influence on Wisconsin's buildings. The style easily adapted to local variations, and in Wisconsin an important variation was brick and stone construction as opposed to the clapboard versions commonly found elsewhere. The hallmark of the style was that it was symmetrical, formal, and orderly, Even simple Greek Revival buildings have rectangular massing, symmetrically placed windows, returned cornices, and/or entries with transoms and sidelights.^" The Italianate style is also seen in great numbers throughout Wisconsin. Most examples were built between the 1850s and I8?0s and commonly featured wide eaves, brackets, low-pitched hipped or gable roofs, and square plans. Details of the style also included window hood molds or round arches, and bays. Examples were built with clapboard, brick, or stone exteriors. Three outstanding, very early constructed houses in this district express elements from both the Greek Revival and the Italianate styles. Both the Samuel B. Scott house (522 6lst St., circa 1855) and the Lucien Scribner house (6003 7th Ave., 1843) have the symmetrical, formal plan and massing of the Greek Revival style, yet also have details from the Italianate, particular expressed in their rooflines. Both of these houses are most outstanding because of their high level of preservation, belying their early construction dates. Together they illustrate the understated elegance of mid-nineteenth century design.

Significance

After the first settlers arrived in Kenosha in 1835ยป the land around Library Park was soon taken up largely by Charles Durkee, a New Englander, and George Kimball, a Canadian. At that time, 1836, their land was considered the south side of the pioneer village. Soon after they took up residence, they both donated a portion of their land for a New England type commons—Library Park. As much of the land transfer deeds show, most of the earliest residents of Library Park purchased their lots from either Durkee or Kimball. Gradually a number of the fledgling community's prominent citizens saw the beauty of living on a commons and begin erecting homes around the park. Most of these houses were small to medium-sized structures. The Lucien Scribner house (6003 ?th Ave., 18^3) and the Volney French house (60^ 8th Ave., 18^6) are good examples of this early construction. The 1850s saw increased settlement of the park and by 1861 the lots around the park were almost entirely filled. The houses around the park in 1861 ranged fron the modest residence at 530 6lst St. (circa 1855) to the elaborate Italianate Edward Bain House (610? 7th Ave., i860). Unfortunately, many of the earliest houses around the park have been lost as the district was redeveloped several times during the period of significance. Yankee names dominated the plat around Library Park, and prominent names such as Samuel Hale, Volney French, Harvey Durkee, Edward Bain, R. H. Deming, and Dan Head appear on the 1861 plat map.

It was during the ante-bellum period in this district that this area of Kenosha was reportedly involved in the "underground railroad," the informal transportation network that helped a number of slaves escape the south for freedom in Canada. Because of its location on Lake Michigan and its anti-slavery Yankee contingent in Library Park, Kenosha was apparently a stop on this invisible railroad. One of the most active Kenoshans in the anti-slavery movement was Reuben H. Deming, whose house was located about where the Louis Thiers house (602? 7th Ave.) is now located. The original house on the site of the William Farr house (6028 8th Ave.) was also reportedly a location for secreting slaves waiting to be sent north on ships leaving the harbor at Kenosha.

The Queen Anne era in the district was ushered in with the construction of the Frederick Gottfredsen house (711 6lst St.) in 1888. But the Gottfredsen house also shows how the prominent citizens of this district desired a unique interpretation of a popular architectural style for their residences, This is reflected in the Romanesque and Shingle style details that make this house unique in the district. Nathan R. Alien, Jr., a second-generation industrialist, built a large and impressive Queen Anne house (5918 8th Ave.) around 1890, and prominent surgeon William M. Farr rebuilt his house around 1890 in an interpretation of the German Rennaissance Revival style peculiar to Wisconsin's German population. The Urban J. Lewis house (6019 7th Ave.) and the Louis Thiers house (6027 7th Ave.) built in 1892 and 1893, complete nineteenth century construction in the district. At this time, Library Park was at the height of its upper-class residential ambience. With graceful and large homes from the mid and late nineteenth century, the area around the park was the most fashionable address in town.

The early twentieth century, though, ushered in changes for the neighborhood. Urban pressures and the district's closeness to the city's downtown commercial district forced ta densification of the neighborhood along with new construction that was more related to the commercial district than to a residential neighborhood. Large lots were further subdivided, and any remaining vacant lots were built on. The residences of this era were much smaller than that of the late nineteenth century, and some of the homes lacked architectural style altogether. Typical of this infill construction are the streetscapes of houses along the south end of 7th and 8th Avenues. Built during the first two decades of the twentieth century, they range in appearance from the plain Colonial Joseph Tacki house (6118 8th ave., circa 1900) to the simple gabled ell Charles Stuart House (6201 8th Ave., circa 1907), to the two well-maintained American Foursquare houses at 6118-20 and 6122-24 7th Ave., circa 190? and circa 1913, respectively. There were some stylistic houses constructed during this era, but they did not match the size and exuberance of the nineteenth century construction. Typical of these are the craftsman Arthur French house (6008 8th Ave.), built in 1908; the simple Colonial Revival Mary Alien house (6012 8th Ave.), built around 1904, the >Craftsman C. Ernest Dewey house (519 6lst St.), built around 1910; and the small Georgian Revival William T. Flatley house at 521 6lst St., built around 1930. Residents of the neighborhood were still mostly middle-class or prominent families, although as some long-time residents died, their homes were occupied by less prominent families or put to new uses. An example of this is the Edward Bain house (610? 7th Ave.), occupied by several families and a nurse's training school after Harriett Bain died around 1906. It was also during this time that one of Kenosha's most famous native sons was born in this district. In a flat in the house at 6ll6 7th Ave., Orson Welles, the noted actor, writer, and director, was born in 1915 "to parents whose ancestors were longtime residents of the district.

More important than the construction of infill residential housing, though, was the construction of large, public buildings in this district during the early twentieth century. The trend began with the Gilbert M. Simmons Memorial Library (711 59th Place), constructed in 1900. The library construction transformed City Park into Library Park. The Neo-Classical Revival design of the building was repeated in the Masonic Temple (80? 6lst St., 1924) and the Jewish Community Center (6050 8th Ave., 1927-28). These buildings were also responsible for the loss of several residences on Library Park. The Neo-Classical style was also used less elaborately in the two apartment buildings of the district, the Terrace Court Apartments (6207 7th Ave., circa 1928) and The Allis (6004 8th Ave., circa 1915), two buildings that also added to the density of the district. And, finally, the old YMCA, a massive Tudor Revival public building cleared away a number of smaller residences for its construction in 1930 at 720 59th Place.

Since World War II the district has stabilized, although the area bordering it has changed dramatically, physically separating the neighborhood from its residential neighbors. But overall, in the district, relatively little new construction or alterations have taken place. Today, this area has been identified by the Kenosha Landmarks Commission as a historic district that should receive historic preservation attention to maintain the unique mix of historic homes, important public buildings, and historic religious buildings it contains.

Adapted from: Carol Lohry Gartwright, Consultant, City of Kenosha, Library Park Historic District, nomination document, 1988, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
59th Place • 61st Street • 7th Avenue • 8th Avenue


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