Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record

223 N 4TH ST

Architecture and History Inventory
223 N 4TH ST | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
NAMES
Historic Name:Union High School
Other Name:Union Place
Contributing:
Reference Number:16195
PROPERTY LOCATION
Location (Address):223 N 4TH ST
County:Jackson
City:Black River Falls
Township/Village:
Unincorporated Community:
Town:
Range:
Direction:
Section:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
PROPERTY FEATURES
Year Built:1871
Additions:
Survey Date:1975
Historic Use:elementary, middle, jr.high, or high
Architectural Style:Second Empire
Structural System:
Wall Material:Brick
Architect:W.H.J. NICHOLS
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished?:No
Demolished Date:
DESIGNATIONS
National/State Register Listing Name: Union High School
National Register Listing Date:1/20/1978 12:00:00 AM
State Register Listing Date:1/1/1989 12:00:00 AM
National Register Multiple Property Name:
NOTES
Additional Information:A 'site file' exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Historic Preservation. 3-STORY FRENCH SECOND EMPIRE BLDG W/CENTRAL TOWER RISING SOME 3 1/2 STORIES; GABLED DORMERS; SEGMENTAL MOLDS OVER 1ST FLOOR WINDOWS & SEMI-CIRCULAR SHAPED 2ND STORY WINDOWS. BLACK RIVER FALLS' FIRST BRICK HIGH SCHOOL BUILT AT A COST OF $30,000 TO MEET NEEDS OF EVER EXPANDING SCHOOL DISTRICT.

WHEN THE SECOND HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING WAS COMPLETED IN 1897, THIS BUILDING WAS CONVERTED INTO AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

THE SCHOOL WAS CONVERTED TO ELDERLY HOUSING IN THE 1990S.

In the 1840s, millwright Jacob Spaulding and his partners built a sawmill at the 20-foot cataract known as Black River Falls. Eventually a large complex of saw, shingle, lath, and grist mills and a sash and door factory supported a prosperous town. About 1905, the pinery was finally exhausted, bringing economic decline. Then in 1911, a flood washed out a series of dams that had been built to control the Black River for logging and milling, and a wave of destruction swept away most of the downtown.

Union High School was one of the few survivors. Perched atop Price Hill, visible from every direction around, the former high school dominates the local skyline. Today the schoolhouse’s Second Empire design, the work of a La Crosse architect, seems especially old-fashioned, the kind of architecture we associate with haunted houses. But when the school opened in 1871, Second Empire was a sign of sophistication, urbanity, and prestige. The style originated in France during the Second Empire, the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870). By the 1860s it had spread to the United States. It became so popular for public buildings during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) that some have nicknamed it the General Grant style.

Union High School is an elaborate example for such a small community, suggesting the high value that the townspeople placed on public education. The three-story brick building culminates in a boxy attic mansard, the telltale mark of the style. Gambrel-roofed dormers light the attic, repeating the rhythm of the windows below. On the second story, a brick stringcourse runs around the schoolhouse, bouncing over round-arched windows. A central four-story bell tower rises high above the rest of the building, ending in its own mansard, this time with an iron widow’s walk. The tower’s top story features trios of arched windows and is trimmed above and below by pronounced cornices with scroll brackets. At one time, tardy children looked up anxiously at the clocks in the tower’s gambreled gables, but the round clock openings have since filled with brick nogging.
Bibliographic References:MELROSE CHRONICLE 4/13/1994. BLACK RIVER FALLS BANNER JOURNAL 8/21/1996. Buildings of Wisconsin manuscript.
RECORD LOCATION
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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