The Eschweiler Buildings on the County Grounds have a long and storied past. The buildings were originally erected as a agricultural school in the early 1900′s (emphasis mine):
In 1910, Milwaukee County’s rural population was the second largest in the state. For this reason, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors established a high school of agriculture and domestic economy, one of the state’s first ventures into technical education. Graduates would meet University of Wisconsin entrance requirements and would also gain education in improved methods of farming and in homemaking skills.
Alexander C. Eschweiler designed the school’s buildings including a residence hall and buildings for dairy, poultry and horticulture studies. When the school opened in 1912, Milwaukee County residents were admitted free, and non-residents paid tuition of $27 per month. The Milwaukee Taxpayer League reported in 1916, however, that the cost of the school was not justified by its small enrollment. World War I veterans increased the student body for a time, but by 1928, the county’s rural population had decreased and the school was closed. A total of 215 students had graduated from the school in two, three and four year programs.
Since then, the buildings have had many uses, the most commonly known as being the TB Sanatorium for the County. There have been a number of other uses for these buildings, including being the home of several businesses.
In 1978 the buildings were designated as a historical landmark.
Unfortunately, in more recent times, the history that goes with these grand old buildings have become ignored and the buildings themselves are in a state of severe neglect.
There are many people that feel that Scott Walker and the County is purposely neglecting these buildings in hope to have them eventually condemned and razed, in order to build something much more commercial.
In 2006, then Mayor of WauwatosaTheresa M. Estness sent a letter (note the first picture of the link, which shows the back of the administration building, especially the terrible shape the roof is in) to Robert Dennik, the former campaign staffer that Walker promoted to the County’s Director of Economic Development, bemoaning the condition of the buildings:
Using Federal Community Development Block Grant funds, the City expended $50,000 in 2004 toward rehabilitation and repairs on the S-5 building. This enabled the tenant, Land Information Services, to turn that building into a usable, revenue generating property for the County. Given the subsequent removal of the tenant and possible long-term abandonment of the S-5 building, I am concerned that this may be a misuse of federal funds. Due to this concern we are now speaking with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to get a clarification on whether it is necessary for the County to reimburse these Federal funds.
In late 2004, the City of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee County agreed to split the costs of sealing the Eschweiler Administration building for the purpose of preventing further deterioration of the building from elemental, animal, and human encroachment. This partnership resulted in the City and the County spending $13,430 each for interior clean-up and removal of large amounts of debris and animal waste from the interior of this property.
In light of this past cooperation, including promises from me and the County Executive and the tax dollars spent to help preserve the Eschweiler buildings, I am sure you agree that at a minimum it is folly and at worst, a waste of taxpayer dollars, to see these buildings further deteriorate. This is especially true because so much time and money was spent to prevent just that.
Further abuses on this historical landmark were inflicted in 2007 when Walker allowed SWAT training exercises happen in the buildings.
The claims of intentional neglect seem to have more substance of late.
After seeing a reference to a problem with the Eschweiler buildings in a post by James Rowen, I made some phone calls and emails and was able to confirm that a tree indeed had fallen on one of the buildings. It sat there for over a week before enough citizens called it in and someone moved it. Sort of.
Based on this new information, I chose to take advantage of the first bit of sunlight in a long time and go for a walk on the county grounds.
As I trudged across the snow-covered, wind swept grounds, I contemplated the catacomb-like maze of tunnels that scroll all over under the county grounds. I cannot even begin to understand the amount of work that it will entail to locate and account for all of these tunnels, much less make accommodations for them as they lay the infrastructure.
I was also a little surprised about the amount of traffic the grounds still see, even in winter. There were tracks, both human and canine, crisscrossing the grounds. During the hour I was there, I saw half a dozen or so people and a handful of dogs also out to enjoy the beauty of the day and of the area.
As I neared the buildings, I saw different colored markers alerting people to the underground steam pipes, electric lines as well as surveyor markers. It was depressing to see these bright colored flags and markers standing as quiet omens of a sad future, like tombstones standing over empty graves.
As I closed in on the buildings, they first appeared to be OK, but as I got closer, I noted that there were signs of vandalism and neglect throughout the campus. Almost all the windows and doorways of all the buildings were boarded up, but many of the boards had holes in them, even those on the second story and higher.
I made my way through the campus to the westernmost building, which I had been told was the one that was damaged. As I rounded the corner of one of the other buildings, it was very easy to tell which tree it was and that someone had pushed it off the building. Well, most of it:
While looking around, I saw other signs of neglect and other abuses:
I also noticed one of the buildings had the boarding over a window ripped down and the window in itself was broken. My curiosity won over my better sense, and I climbed up one of the treacherous, ice-covered stairs to look inside. It was obvious that people had been there with cigarette butts on the floor and a lot of vandalism:
It is not surprising that Scott Walker would let these building fall into ruin, whether to have them razed for new development or other purposes. He is not from this area and does not share our pride of our history or understand the significance of these grounds. Furthermore, he is as shallow as only a life long politician can be, and only sees the grounds as something to be used to advance his own personal agenda, his political career.
UPDATE: I was just notified that there may be further problems with the grounds and the Eschweiler Buildings. From the The Business Journal:
Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler designed the buildings nearly a century ago to house the county’s School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. The buildings are listed on state and national registers of historic places.
To help UWM offset the cost of restoring the buildings, the County Board approved the addition of up to three new residential buildings near the Eschweiler buildings. Gilbert said the foundation is working to determine how many apartments will be part of the 850,000-square- foot engineering campus development.
The funny thing is, with everyone I spoke to, no one could remember permission being given for even more buildings, since the one they wanted to build was already encroaching on areas that were supposed to be preserved.
It is starting to look more and more like Walker and company, as we have been warning anyone who cared to listen, never had any intent on preserving the natural habitat or these historical buildings. Again, they just see the grounds as something to be profited from and don’t care at all about the ecological importance or the history of the place.