Sawyer Home and Grounds
The cornerstone of the Oshkosh Public Museum is the historic Sawyer home, an English Tudor Revival residence built in 1908-1909 for Edgar P. Sawyer, a prominent Oshkosh lumber baron and businessman, and his wife Mary. Edgar and Mary lived in a fine Second Empire style home on Algoma Boulevard, located on the site of the current Sawyer home, from 1872 until May 1908. The original estate encompassed almost the entire block and was on the outskirts of the city when it was constructed. At that time, Algoma Boulevard was called “The Gold Coast” due to the number of prominent, well-off families who lived there. In 1907 the Second Empire house, lovely as it was, was demolished to make room for a grand and modern new house, the structure that now houses part of the Oshkosh Public Museum.
The house was designed by William Waters, a prominent local architect, and built by CR Meyer, a local construction company. The local newspaper, the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, described the house as “by far the finest in this part of the state.” Built of Indiana brown brick and Bedford limestone, the grand fortress encompassed approximately 17,600 square feet and incorporated all the modern conveniences of the time – electrical and gas services, two telephone lines, a modern coal-fired boiler that brought hot water heat to all four floors and an electric elevator that also serviced all four floors.
The Sawyer home is a wonderful example of Edwardian elegance. The interiors of the home were designed by the prestigious New York firm of Tiffany Studios. Accents included stained glass, bronze grilles, light fixtures and wall tapestries. One of the most recognizable and beautiful Tiffany features of the home is the iridescent stained glass window on the landing of the grand staircase. Distinct hardwoods were used in each first-floor room: African mahogany, Central American primavera, American chestnut, maple and quarter sawn oak.
As a residence, the house consisted of 35 rooms. The first floor included a reception hall, parlor, dining room, library, den, sun parlor, pantry, kitchen and servant’s room. On the second floor were six bedrooms, a sitting room, sewing room and numerous closets, as well as an expansive balcony. The third floor contained a ballroom and servant’s quarters. In the basement were a laundry, billiard room and wine cellar.
Edgar and Mary took occupancy of the house in July 1909, but hardly lived in the home a year before Mary passed away from heart failure. The house remained open as a residence for the next 12 years, with several servants, although Edgar did not spend much time in the house from then on. In October 1922, Edgar donated the residence to the City of Oshkosh in memory of his wife. At the time, the value of the property was estimated to be $260,000 – or $3.5 million in current dollars. In November 1924 the building became the home of the Oshkosh Public Museum.
Today the Sawyer home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior of the building underwent extensive restoration after the Museum fire of 1994. The quality and accuracy of the restoration earned the Oshkosh Public Museum awards from both the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Association for State and Local History.