A walk through Rhinelander?s architectural history
Members of a little known city commission with a big name are taking on an even bigger task. Officially called the City of Rhinelander, Historic Preservation Commission, the group is planning its first ever Historic Homes Open House. That may be a feat in itself, but the purpose of the event is to raise money to provide historic properties and grounds with a plaque commemorating a Local Historic building or landmark. It was the process of rewriting the city ordinance to define a locally historic designation, working with the Wisconsin Historical Society, and wading through paperwork and red tape that has proven to be a big undertaking.
Commission chair Dawn Rog said there was a lot of back and forth with the Wisconsin Historical Society to restructure the ordinance to meet their criteria. “We have to regularly submit our meeting minutes,” she said, “to oversee our actions and discussions.” The state and national registries require more paperwork and much more detail than the local designation the Rhinelander commission is focusing on.
So far, the only building designated as a Local Historic Building is the beach house at Hodag Park according to Rog. “It was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1938, and there aren’t too many of those structures around these days.” Rog also said the Historic Preservation Commission is not funded by the city, so charging a fee for the tours is a way to make those signs a reality.
Unlike previous historic home tours in Rhinelander, this event’s participants will be able to walk inside the homes to witness the interior architectural details. “There will be volunteers stationed throughout the homes,” Rog said, “to pass along information about the architecture, significant events that may have taken place and maybe some history about previous homeowners.”
One of the homes that will be open to visitors is the colorful and easily recognized Queen Anne style home on Rives Street. According to records, the home was built in 1893 for Levi J. Billings, the first Oneida County district attorney. The wrap-around porch was added in 1910. Another home down the street has the tile roof and symmetrical façade of what is referred to as the Italian Renaissance variant of the Mediterranean Revival, built in the early 1920’s. Many of the homes included in the open house are 100 years old or more, and are within walking distance of the courthouse.
Raising awareness of national, state and local historic designations is another goal of commission members. People shudder when they hear those words, according to Rog, but contrary to popular belief homeowners are allowed to make changes to their living spaces, and there can be financial advantages of working for that designation. “There are state tax credits available for improvements made to homes built before 1930,” she stated, “such as getting a new roof or a new furnace.” Plus, an architect can assist with building plans to add on to an existing historical home so that the new addition matches the original. There are experienced commission members to assist with paperwork and point interested homeowners in the right direction.
There are already plans in the works to make the home open house an annual event, and will likely look for different period homes for the next one. “There are some great mid-century homes in other parts of the city,” according to Rog, “and they have very interesting histories and architecture in their own right.”
The Historic Homes Open House is Saturday, Sept. 20. Homes will be open 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and can be purchased at Trig’s in Rhinelander. Tickets should be brought to 108 E. Davenport St. (Sand Creek Consultants) that morning, and a listing of homes will be provided.