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Why Landmarks?

Many people ask about how local landmarks and the Whitewater Landmarks Commission began. Landmarks are protected under the city’s Landmarks Commission ordinance. Why Whitewater approved a Landmarks ordinance in 1982 had to do with the number of buildings demolished in the community during the 1960s and 1970s. In looking through the Whitewater Historical Society files, some of this demolition was recorded by Ruth Engebretsen Dorr in the 1960s.

Between 1850 and 1900, Main Street, between Franklin and Tratt Streets, was developed with large “Victorian” homes that were occupied by some of Whitewater’s most important business and industrial families. This neighborhood continued along Prairie Street. After World War II, with the expansion of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, old houses around the campus in this area began to be demolished for university buildings and even two streets (Graham and Case Sts.) were eliminated. One of the most significant alterations to Main and Prairie Streets was the demolition for a large addition to and parking lot for the Andersen library.

When the new Andersen Library was constructed in 1953, it had a relatively small footprint, but additions to the building radically changed the area. Demolition of houses for the addition began in the spring of 1964, and Ruth Dorr documented all of the buildings that were torn down, even the home of one of the most important Presidents of the college, Albert Salisbury.

In 1966, the City of Whitewater decided to build a new Fire-Police station along Whitewater Street. The block chosen was home to about six commercial buildings, including the historicCortland House hotel and a small, but decorative commercial building. Ruth Dorr also photographed these buildings right before and during demolition. The small, decorative commercial building was the Dierfield Block, the home of a long-time grocery store.

Recently, the late Alan Marshall and Connie Marshall donated the architectural plans and specifications for this building to the historical society. The building was designed by noted Milwaukee architect Henry Messmer, one of Wisconsin’s master architects.

The demolition of old City Hall (Center and Whitewater Streets) and the demolition of the Old Stone Mill (now a small park near the Baker Building on Main Street), Whitewater’s first industry, also in the 1960s, were controversial. With these demolitions, along with the continued demolition of buildings along Main Street and the side streets near the university in the 1970s, a group of citizens lobbied for a Landmarks Ordinance that they achieved in 1982.

Buildings that have not been given landmark status continue to be demolished, as recently seen in the old Olsen Funeral Home, a lovely Italianate house replaced with an ordinary apartment building. In contrast, landmarked buildings have not been demolished or significantly altered and a considerable amount of Whitewater’s built heritage has been preserved.

*If using this article, please cite, Carol Lohry Cartwright, “Why Landmarks?,” 2017, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.

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