The Neville Public Museum
The Neville Blog
First, hundreds of names are etched into the bricks, some dating back to the 1930s. Although it is technically graffiti, these marking are still a piece of the building’s history. It meant something to them to leave their mark in this historic place. Second was the astonishing engineering of a clock installed in 1911. The large clock face, hands, and mechanics of the special Seth Thomas Clock that still run today were mesmerizing. Another part of the project was to replace the wooden hands. When the wood gets wet they expand and become heavier which throws off the time on the face.
As work progressed we devolved a great relationship with the crew. They would call us when they pulled something they thought we might want for the museum’s collection. We now have in our possession parts of the copper dome, original wood clock hands, and a brick signed in 1937. We didn’t just collect these things to add them to our massive collection but to interpret the courthouse as a symbol and historic place in our upcoming exhibit celebrating the 200th anniversary of Brown County. Our Brown County is a celebration of two centuries of history and the people who have called it home. The courthouse has been a part of that story since 1911.
In 1908, plans and construction began for the new courthouse in downtown Green Bay on the same block as the new Federal Building. Architect, C.E. Bell was chosen. He was well known for designing grand governmental buildings. We even have his original blue prints in our collection! In 1909, the county board approved $8,000 more for the project to fund the murals that still grace the halls of the building.
As construction concluded, plans for a major unveiling of the new building were set into motion. On January 13-14, 1911 an estimated 10,000 people attended the public opening reception. The local newspaper reported that people were overwhelmed by the building’s detail and beauty.
The courthouse has gone through different renovations throughout the years including the addition of an elevator in 1940. Walls were painted over and some of the historic beauty marks of the building were lost. In 1976, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places to protect its historical nature and to honor its architectural place in Brown County history.
During the 1980s concerns over space and care of the building grew. In 1988, a $10.6 million project began that included additions to the south and west sides for Clerk of Courts, the Detention Center, and the Law Enforcement Center as well as restoration and renovation on the interior and exterior of the building. The project took more than four years to complete. In January 1993, 82 years after the first public reception, an open house was hosted for the public to view the completed project.
In 2008 and 2009 the lantern that sits on the very top of the dome was replaced. Finally this year the county finished the project replacing the copper on the dome as not just a way to invest in the key symbol of Brown County, but to help launch our 200th Anniversary where we will reflect on how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.
Preservation of historic buildings is a tough task that takes the cooperation of the Historic Preservation Commission and building owners. On Tuesday night a group of Green Bay residents experienced this first hand when they joined Alderman Mark Steuer for a special walking tour of the Fort Howard neighborhood after his talk on Architecture, Planning, and Politics at the museum.
Walking through the old homes in the different districts in Green Bay is a nostalgic experience that can speak to the building of our city and the development of our community. During the walk on Tuesday night, Steuer and company spoke with homeowners and were even invited into the original Blesch home in the Fort Howard Neighborhood on N Oakland Ave. This Greek Revival style home, built in 1905, is a rare find in Green Bay. The current homeowners spoke of the challenges in owning a historic home. When the home was bought in foreclosure a few years ago the homeowners had to go before the planning commission to talk about the repairs they were taking on.
Another home which has gone through a similar transformation is the old Joannes home on S Madison St. in the Astor Neighborhood designed in 1902 for Mitchell and Fannie Joannes. This Queen Anne style home, which was previously used as a multifamily home, was bought and renovated to reflect its original design. A 360° virtual tour of this home can be found in the current exhibit Building Our Community along with the original designs and floor plans.
There’s no shortage of beautiful historic buildings in our community. After collecting designs, histories and photographs of these structures with the help of the Berners-Schober Architectural Firm we decided to put together walking tours that people can do on their own to enjoy these historic buildings outside of a museum gallery. We hope that one beautiful day you’ll take a tour of Downtown, the Allouez Neighborhood, the Astor Neighborhood, or the Fort Howard Neighborhood and enjoy the historic beauty that surrounds us in Green Bay.
You can download these tours on our website or visit our Google Map site here. You can also find them and many more buildings in the current exhibit Building Our Community: 100+ Years of Architecture & Design in Brown County open through March 26, 2016.
Upcoming Building Our Community Events
August 5th- More dates TBD
$30 members, $40 non-members
August 11th at 7pm
This summer the Neville Public Museum is proud to host two amazing temporary exhibitions; Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America on loan from the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C, and Building Our Community: 100 Years of Architecture and Design in Brown County, which was created in collaboration with architects from Berners-Schober Associates.
As if the exhibits weren’t enough, the Neville is providing the following free public programs that explore the themes within our galleries in greater detail!
Architecture, Planning, and Politics
Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
Alderman Mark Steuer will discuss the development of the Fort Howard and Broadway districts, and the efforts of the Historic Preservation Commission to protect and maintain the city’s historic structures. After the program join Mark for a walking tour of Fort Howard!
America's Most Infamous Terrorist Organization Goes Mainstream: The Ku Klux Klan Marches Down Pennsylvania Avenue
Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 6:00 p.m.
Join UW-Baraboo/Sauk County professor Mike Jacobs for a presentation about the Ku Klux Klan, America's most infamous and formidable terrorist organization. During the 1920s the KKK tried to cast itself as the true expression of American patriotism and the American people. Millions of people agreed - joining the organization and diversifying their activities beyond their reputation of intimidation and violence.
Fear, Freedom, and Foreigners: Close to Home
Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 6:00 p.m.
Wisconsin reflected locally the national issues that this series, SPIES, TRAITORS, SABOTEURS: Fear and Freedom in America explores. Dean Strang, J.D. will present one of these local stories. A 1917 trail of Italian alleged anarchists in Milwaukee, in the first fearful days off this nation's fighting in WWI, became a proxy proceeding for the deadly, unsolved bombing of Milwaukee's central police station. That nearly-forgotten bombing killed more American police officers than any other act of terror until September 11, 2001.
Green Bay Architectural History
Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
Drawing on the architectural and engineering firm's 117+ year history, several members of Berners-Schober will hold a panel discussion on significant Green Bay structures. The panel will include Ian Griffiths, Libby Parrish, Derek Gruber, and Kristin Pritchard, along with other firm members who were involved in researching their current Neville exhibit featuring the firm's buildings. They will discuss the chronology of Green Bay's development through the work of the firm, and answer questions on historic business, public, and residential buildings.
When many of us hear that there is an exhibit at the museum about “architecture” we may not get overly excited, especially when we are looking forward to major traveling exhibits about spies and deep water exploration. When I was hired three months ago as the new Assistant Curator I was excited for Spies, Traitors, & Saboteurs (now open through September 6th) but I was also intrigued by an exhibit focused on one architectural firm and its body of work in Brown County. During my first 8 weeks on the job, my main focus was working with a team to prepare this “architecture” exhibit called Building Our Community: 100+ Years of Architecture & Design in Brown County. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the remarkable story this exhibit tells goes far beyond some old blueprints. This exhibit is an exploration of how one architecture firm, Berners-Schober Associates, has changed the landscape of Northeastern Wisconsin and how their work has touched thousands of lives throughout the last century. People live, work, and play every day within the walls of their designs. What this firm has created in their lifetime is deeply rooted in our community’s history and has shaped the way people of Brown County live their lives.
When you experience this exhibit you may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work the Berners-Schober firm has done since its inception in 1898, but the reality is that what is displayed here is only the tip of the iceberg. During the firm’s lifetime, they have been involved in thousands of projects; this exhibit only includes 175 of these undertakings. To get the most out of this exhibit you will need to visit more than once, and you will want to. These are buildings we all visit at one time or another; the Brown County Public Library, the Downtown YMCA, Bay Beach Pavilion, and East High School, just to name a few. If you live in Brown County it’s undoubted that you have spent time in at least one of these buildings.
While growing up in Brown County I spent countless hours in several of these buildings but didn’t give any thought about how they came to be or their architectural significance. After living elsewhere for the last 5 years I’m happy to be back in Green Bay and this exhibit process has been an opportunity for me to get reacquainted my hometown and its history. I hope it does the same for others and encourages visitors to stop and take a look at the architectural beauty that surrounds us in Brown County. Building Our Community is open now through March 2016.
Lisa Zimmerman, Curator
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