University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Contest

There was joy and there was cheering that July night in 1893. The band played and cannon roared. The good word had flashed over the wire, and who cared that it was after midnight! People ran from their houses to the Wisconsin Central depot to join the celebration, for most everyone knew what the sudden commotion was about.

Stevens Point had won its fight, and the sixth Normal school in Wisconsin would be built there.

It must have been a rare individual who could sleep through the before dawn uproar that July 22, with several thousand people out parading and making a hulabaloo in the streets. The taste of victory was sweet for the Pointers that night.

It had been a fight that was indeed a battle royal. More than a few cities wanted the school and there had been much political maneuvering and pressure, but in the end a weary Board of Regents located the school at Stevens Point.

It took 101 ballots to reach that decision, and it was nearly midnight on July 21 before a telegram could be sent to the hardy and anxious campaigners who waited up at Stevens Point for the outcome of that now historic fight.

"To the boys at Stevens Point - We have won, the world is ours!" Those were the words wired home, welcome words that set a city to celebrating in the middle of the night.

Stevens Point, Wisconsin was a small community in f893, and those who lived and worked there were well aware of the economic advantages as well as the educational and cultural that could be theirs if their city secured this institution of higher education.

Stevens Point competed with at least twenty Wisconsin cities to win the Normal. The Board of Regents was royally entertained with banquets and grand tours of available sites as members toured the state to study possible locations. Some years earlier a committee looking for a Normal school site had visited Stevens Point, but had been greeted with such indifference that the city, at that time, was not considered a desirable spot for the school.

But this time was different and the interest was avid. The Regents found quite a different spirit prevailing in 1893. Many Stevens Pointers involved themselves personally in the all-out effort. Owen Clark was chairman of a meeting for citizens interested in getting the school. On record as having been directly involved in that meeting were these citizens of Stevens Point:

A. W. Sanborn , E. D. Glennon, C. H. Grant, F. B. Lamoreux, J. L. Barker, Mayor S. E. Karner, W. B. Buckingham, E. M. McGlachlin, P. H. Cashin, T. H. Malone, W. J. Clifford, Prof. Simonds, the then Supt. of Schools, Rev. M. J. O’Brien, Dr. John Phillips, M. Wadleigh, John A. Murat, Will Taylor, W. W. Mitchell, Jas. Reilly, George A. Whiting, Alex Krembs, W. W. Spraggon, James F. Wiley, Benjamin Burr, Rev. Father Brooks, N. Gross, A. J. Agnew, F. F. Fuller, H. P. Max field, Frank Wheelock, a Mr. Oberly, John H. Brennan, Hon. G. W. Cate, Rev. R. H. Weller, P. Lloyd Jones and D. J. Gardner. Harry Haywood of Marshfield also supported the efforts at Stevens Point.

Wausau was the chief opponent for the "woodchuck" as the prize was referred to by one orator of that day. Wausau interests had gotten a low passed in 1891 that would place the sixth Normal school north of Portage County’s northern boundary. Stevens Point objected with vigor, since that demarcation neatly eliminated the city at its county line, and the city was not going to be read out of contention that easily. Neal Brown of Wausau who had sponsored the original legislation also introduced the amendment in the next legislature to eliminate the geographic limitation. We were not able to determine the reason for his change of heart; but when the limitation was removed cities from many parts of the northern half of the state jumped into the fray with applications. But when it came down to the wire, it was Wausau and Stevens Point, neck and neck.

Why was Stevens Point chosen over Wausau? That question has been asked often, for Wausau has a population of 31,943, much larger than Stevens Point with 17,837. However, in 1893, the northern neighbor was not much larger, having only 9,253 people compared to Stevens Point’s 7,896.

One telling factor in the contest outcome was the greater number of high school students at Stevens Point compared with the number enrolled at the larger Wausau. To the Regents this seemed to indicate a greater student potential from the Stevens Point area, a matter of some concern to the Regents in those days. There was little question that both cities would draw from the same larger area.

Politics and persuasion, of course, played a part in the final decision, and it was a close draw. There is no doubt that Stevens Point had a definite asset in Byron B. Park, one of its ablest attorneys, who sat on the Board of Regents, and he certainly deserves great credit in helping to secure the school for the city. Mr. Park, (later to become Judge Park) put up a gallant fight against all comers; but he had sturdy support on the home front. The city had had men on the Board of Regents before Mr. Park, but now the teamwork of the able Regent and of influential Stevens Pointers paid off.

It was customary in those days for the local community to provide the site for the school as well as funds for the initial building program. Stevens Point voted $50,000 in municipal and county funds and gave the Board of Regents a choice of several sites.

Eighteen ninety-three was a year of financial reverses and the state treasurer, John Hunner, was fearful of local bank failures. To allay that worthy gentleman’s fear and to get the cash into the state vault before voting took place, Atty. Park, George L. Rogers, Emmons Burr, G. E. McDill and Andrew Week, all highly respected citizens, personally toted the $50,000 to Madison in two satchels. In the cornerstone of Old Main are two receipts from the state treasurer, one for $30,000 made out to G. E. McDill, chairman of the Portage County Board of Supervisors and one for $20,000 made out to G. L. Rogers, city treasurer.

To say that the good people of Wausau were incensed at the decision to locate the Normal at Stevens Point is understatement, if the repercussion in Wausau newspapers is true indication of local sentiment at the time. There were charges of bribery, and some name-calling - none of which was unusual in that free wheeling age of personal journalism. What was written expressed the natural anger and chagrin of a community, which had put forth equal effort to get the coveted Normal.

You may be sure that during the contest the Stevens Point journalistic barbs had been equally vituperative. Small wonder that the losers called "foul play".

But now the deed was done. The sixth Normal school for the State of Wisconsin was built at Stevens Point.

The E. D. Brown homestead on east Main Street was chosen for the Normal site on a plot of about three acres. Two more acres, acquired from the well-known local firm of Boyington and Atwell, were added to the north. The Brown’s house and barn were sold by the city and removed from the premises. Boyington and Atwell donated a fifty-foot strip on the north side of their property and the same on the east. For many years Main, Reserve, Fremont and later High Street would mark the boundaries of the entire campus which today covers some 350 acres.

There was some difficulty in getting construction started. The original low bidder declined to sign the contract because the Board of Regents wanted a local superintendent of construction. The building cost $51,900. There was also some difficulty in selecting plans, but what was finally built is now the central section of Old Main. Perkins and Selby of Chicago were the architects. The east and west wings would be added later.

On the first floor was a Model school, with the Normal itself on second. Laboratories were on third floor. In the basement were a gymnasium, a playroom for the Model school and the janitor’s apartment.

 

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