"It is interesting here in the frontier: Who were they trying to impress?" — Timothy Brumm via Green Bay Press-Gazette
Warren Gerds, of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, shares with us a building that might otherwise be relatively insignificant if it was elsewhere in America. The Fort Howard Hospital is a Late-Federal-styled building in Allouez, Green Bay, Wisconsin. The story is what makes the building particularly interesting.
"Starchitecture" is usually defined as buildings and follies wrought-to-being by a computer-scripted composition littered with fantastical shapes from cathartic fractals to abstracted crystalline shards to yet-to-be-named distended-and-distorted spherical blobs. But, "starchitecture," as another concept seems to transcend both style and time if one were to define "starchitecture" purely in terms of architecture that embodies emotion, speculation and alienation; architectural objects that essentially should not or could not exist referentially to their neighbors and time periods.
Fort Howard Hospital is one of those objects. The hospital was built in 1834-1835 at the mouth of the Fox River in Fort Howard. Fort Howard, described as one of the first "white" American settlements in Wisconsin, was primarily important for two reasons: trade in primarily in fur then minerals and being one-of-two forts that guarded the Fox–Wisconsin Waterway. The waterway, used since by Europeans since 1673, was the only means of traveling between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River until the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848.
For a brief period of time, the fort was abandoned due to a malaria outbreak in the early parts of the 1820s. Despite tensions with local Native Americans, the Fort rarely saw any significant military action. In the later parts of the 1820s, the original Fort Howard, built of logs, had seriously decayed and was no longer habitable. The fort was rebuilt in the early 1830s and featured the Fort Howard Hospital.
The Federal-styled hospital has some unique features compared to other U.S. Army buildings in the area— especially large divided-light windows, thick Tuscan-order columns, five dormers, milled-wood siding, cedar shingles and shutters. Fort Crawford, on the opposite end of the Fox–Wisconsin Waterway, has attributes similar to Fort Howard but less severe in style and adornment. Nearby Fort Winnebago no longer exists but the scant images found also suggest a similar pattern to building.
This could be construed as speculative building by the Army as the Fox–Wisconsin Waterway was a potential source of great economic use. At the time of new construction, the Erie Canal had been in operation since 1825 and was known as a extraordinary success. Steam-powered trains and ships were a new invention and held promise for geographically-favored points such as Fort Howard— projects were in the works throughout the 1840s and 1850s that included widening, adding locks and a rail line.
With the no area longer under threat, Fort Howard was abandoned in the 1850s and later became the city of Green Bay. Now a widely-known 100,000-plus person city, the city's success maybe be in part to the stately Fort Howard.
"Who were they trying to impress?" asked Timothy Brumm. The better question might be, "How do we attract a few thousand people to a foul-smelling, malaria-infested bay in frigid Wisconsin?" The answer to that may very well be, "with good architecture, of course."