Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

East Third Street Residential Historic District

Washburn City, Bayfield County, WI

The East Third Street Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The East Third Street Residential Historic District is an architecturally significant district that is located adjacent to the historic commercial core of the city of Washburn. The resources within the District include Queen Anne, Prairie School, American Craftsman, Bungalow, Dutch Colonial Revival and Colonial Revival styles.

The Residential Historic District is an architecturally and historically significant collection of single family residences that together constitute a well-defined and visually distinct geographic and historic entity within the city of Washburn.

The period of significance of the district extends from 1885 to 1950 and is defined by the dates of construction of the district's oldest and newest resources built during the historic period. It is an intact grouping which constitutes a concentration of Washburn's architecturally significant residential buildings. The great majority of these resources were built between 1916 and 1918 by the DuPont Company to house employees at their nearby Barksdale TNT manufacturing plant. Earlier buildings include examples of Washburn's Queen Anne buildings while later examples represent the lengthy popularity of the Colonial Revival style.

The East Third Street Residential Historic District contains Washburn's only concentration of architecturally significant and intact residential buildings. The district contains four duplexes and twenty-seven single family houses, the earliest of which are four Queen Anne style and Front Gable Vernacular form houses that were built in the 1880s and 1890s, while the latest contributing one is a Colonial Revival style house that was built in 1950. When one considers the length of the period of significance, it might seem surprising that the district's resources do not exhibit an equally wide range of styles. The reason this is so is that after the first four houses in the district were built, most of the land within its boundaries remained undeveloped until 1916, when the DuPont Co. began building dwellings there to house managers and other workers who were employed at its nearby Barksdale, Wisconsin TNT manufacturing factory. In the two years that followed, the DuPont Co. built a total of twenty houses (sixteen single family houses and four duplexes) on lots within the district's boundaries. All but two are fine examples of the Bungalow, Craftsman, Prairie School, and other progressive architectural styles, and most of these were built in a single year, 1918, when production at the DuPont Co. factory reached its peak. The district also contains five Colonial Revival style residences, one of which, the DuPont Co. Factory Superintendent's House at 229 E. Third Street. It is both the finest example of this style and the finest Period Revival style house in the city. In addition to the houses, the district contains the DuPont Co.'s Dutch Colonial Revival style Haskell Club building, located at 12 E. Third Street. The original portion of this building was completed in 1918 as a social club for supervisors at the DuPont Co. factory. In 1922 it was purchased by Dr. Albert Axeley who converted the building into a hospital. It was expanded twice in the late 1950s, both times in the Dutch Colonial Revival style, and has since been converted into apartments.

Washburn is the county seat of Bayfield County, Wisconsin's northernmost county, and is situated on the west shore of Chequamegon Bay, which opens into Lake Superior. Small settlements of one or two buildings are known to have existed in this area prior to the creation of Washburn but the area that is the site of Washburn was essentially unpopulated and heavily forested prior to 1883.

What finally brought development to this area was the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad Co., seeking a location for an easily developed deep water port somewhere on the Wisconsin side of the Lake Superior shore. What they found was Vanderventer Bay, a small bay located on the western shore of the much larger Chequamegon Bay that possessed the qualities they were looking for. Unlike most of Chequamegon Bay, which is relatively shallow, the shoreline along the west shore of Vanderventer Bay was well protected and the water there was also deep enough to permit Great Lakes shipping to come up almost to the shoreline. This, then, became the site of the city of Washburn.

The earliest construction in Washburn occurred along the lakeshore and was directed at developing the town's transportation and shipping infrastructure. First to be built was a large coal and merchandise dock that was constructed at the foot of what today is Central Avenue. In order to facilitate this construction process and the concurrent development of the railroad tracks that were moving northward from Ashland towards Washburn, housing for the workers doing the construction was built and so were the first stores in the community. The key element in all of this, of course, was the railroad. The railroad guaranteed that the products produced in the region could be shipped to customers outside the region and it also guaranteed that goods from the outside, such as coal, could be brought in. Once Washburn's shipping and transportation infrastructure was in place, others began to look at the natural resources, such as the abundant timber and brownstone in the area, as potential sources of profit.

The concentration of so much new economic activity in Washburn produced a "boom" period that was to last for the next twelve years. By 1885, Washburn's population had grown from 300 to 741 and this rapid rate of growth continued and even accelerated in the years that followed. Not surprisingly, this growth resulted in considerable changes to the town site itself during this period. The logging of the white pine forest began almost immediately after initial settlement. By 1886, this tree cover had receded to the margins of the original plat, leaving a vast field of stumps that remained in place until building activity dictated their removal. Fortunately, several fine historic photos of the townsite that were taken during this early period have survived in the collection of the Washburn Historical Museum as has a Bird's Eye View of Washburn printed in 1886. These images show that at that time almost all the commercial buildings in the town were either one or two story, wood frame Boomtown style or Front Gable vernacular form buildings and almost all of the residential buildings were small one and two story wood frame Front or Side Gable vernacular form houses. The only exceptions to this were the two story brick-clad King Block and Aune & Overby's first Opera House Block, both of which were Commercial vernacular buildings that were located opposite each other on the northeast and southwest corners of E. Bayfield Street and First Avenue East. In addition, the size of the town site itself was expanding.

By 1890, Washburn's population had mushroomed to 3,039 people and this rapid growth created a great need for more buildings of all types. Buildings continued to be constructed of wood and remained small, one or two story Boomtown style or Front Gable vernacular form commercial buildings and one and two story Front or Side Gable vernacular form houses. Exceptions were becoming more common, thanks both to the increased prosperity of the village and to accident. For instance, when a large fire destroyed an entire city block of wooden commercial buildings and houses that fronted on E. Bayfield Street and E. Omaha Street in October 1888, several of the commercial buildings were rebuilt on a larger scale out of brick and locally quarried brownstone. This created a trend that lasted into the mid-1890s resulting in the construction of most of Washburn's architecturally significant commercial buildings, the best of which, fortunately, still survive today. Houses designed in the Queen Anne style began to appear in Washburn and while these were also built of wood, they were larger and more architecturally distinguished than the smaller vernacular houses that had preceded them. The growth of the village resulted in several new churches and schools being built during this period, and when Washburn became the Bayfield County seat in 1892, a new brownstone-clad Neoclassical Revival style courthouse was built in 1896 on the site of the former Pioneer School. The county courthouse remains in use today.

An event that occurred in the area near Washburn in 1905 would ultimately bring a second, very brief "boom" period to the city. This was the E. I. DuPont Co.'s decision to establish an explosives manufacturing plant in the Town of Barksdale, which is located in Bayfield County just to the south of the Town of Washburn. The DuPont Co. factory was developed here to supply the needs of the mines located in the Mesabi Iron Range area of Minnesota and the Gogebic Range in Northern Michigan and Wisconsin. The risks involved in the manufacture of explosives such as dynamite made a rural setting such as the Barksdale location a good choice for the DuPont Co. Barksdale also had the advantage of being located midway between Washburn and Ashland, two economically depressed cities located just eight miles from each other each with a large pool of available labor and both communities located on a railroad line. The creation of this plant was welcome news to those in Washburn who were struggling to reconstruct the economy of the city. While the number of workers at the plant in the first decade of its existence fluctuated, it appears that from three to four hundred workers were employed there at any one time from the year the factory opened until the beginning of the war in Europe. The start of World War I, however, had a major effect on U.S. manufacturers of explosives, of which the E. I. DuPont Co. was the largest, and by 1915 its Barksdale factory had already begun to shift its manufacturing emphasis to meet the new demands.

To house its factory administrators and their families, the DuPont Company purchased existing houses in Washburn. The Queen Anne style Francis H. Hartshorn house at 101 E. Third Street was purchased prior to 1915 to house the factory's superintendent. In 1916, the Company hired contractor Charles Bloss of Ashland to build a series of new houses in the 100 and 200 blocks of E. Third Street. These houses are all located within the district, and were intended for the top management of the Barksdale factory. These include the Colonial Revival style Factory Superintendent's House at 229 E. Third Street and the Prairie School style house next door at 213 E. Third Street for the Assistant Superintendent, each of which is Washburn's best example of these particular styles.

Nor was the DuPont Co. the only entity to develop housing in this area. Washburn resident H. H. Peavey also began purchasing lots in this area and he was soon building vernacular form rental houses, two of which were built in the district in 1915 and are located at 222 N. Second Avenue E. and 221 N. Third Avenue E.

The entrance of the United States into World War I in April of 1917 created a huge new demand for explosives and for T.N.T. in particular, and as a result, thousands of additional workers poured into the Washburn area. Growth of the DuPont factory created a critical need for housing that the DuPont Co. finally took upon itself to resolve. Some 2,000 of the unmarried new workers were housed in tar paper-clad wood barracks that the Company built at the factory site itself and many more lived in the nearby city of Ashland, but most of the Company's permanent, highly skilled workers and their families lived or wanted to live in Washburn as did the factory's managers. At first, the Company rented whatever rooms and houses it could find to house these especially valued employees but by 1918, the need for additional housing had become acute and the DuPont Co. therefore decided to embark on a much larger scale building program. The first buildings to be built were the houses that now make up the core of the East Third Street Residential Historic District.

The East Third Street Residential Historic District contains Washburn's most significant and concentrated collection of intact early twentieth century single family and duplex residential buildings. These buildings are fine representative examples of their particular styles and they are also notable because most of them were pre-cut catalog houses that were purchased from various manufacturers by the E. I. DuPont Co. to house the managers and the most highly skilled employees who worked at their TNT-producing factory in nearby Barksdale, Wisconsin. Two of these residences are also Washburn's finest examples of their particular styles: the excellent Prairie School style DuPont Company's Assistant Superintendent's house and the equally excellent Colonial Revival style Superintendent's house. Most are representative examples of the various Progressive styles such as the Bungalow and Craftsman styles. The district contains twenty-five contributing single family houses, four contributing duplexes, and a single contributing non-residential building that was built by the DuPont Co. as a clubhouse for its employees and later converted to a hospital. The four earliest houses in the district are Queen Anne style and Vernacular form buildings that predate the DuPont Co.'s history in the area, while the three newest ones were built between 1937 and 1950 and are good representative examples of the Colonial Revival style. Most of these houses are still highly intact today and they provide an excellent opportunity to explore the stylistic transition that was taking place at the beginning of the twentieth century when the Queen Anne style was giving way to newer Progressive styles such as the Craftsman and Bungalow styles. After the end of World War I, these styles gave way in turn to the various Period Revival styles and to the Colonial Revival style in particular. In addition, those buildings in the district that are associated with the DuPont Co. also provide an insight into the ways in which this company set about meeting the enormous demand for workers housing that accompanied its efforts to satisfy the huge need for munitions that accompanied the nation's entrance into World War I.

The two oldest contributing buildings in the East Third Street Residential Historic District consist of a small Queen Anne style house and a small Front Gable vernacular form house that were both built in the late 1880s at 13 and 23 E. Third Street, respectively. Next oldest and one of the largest buildings in the district is the fine Queen Anne style Francis H. Hartshorn house located at 101 E. Third Street, which still retains its original carriage barn, and there is another Front Gable form house in the district that was built in 1898 and which is located at 117 E. Third Street. All four of these nineteenth century houses date from Washburn's first "boom" period and while the earlier of the two Queen Anne style examples is essentially a vernacular expression of this style, the two-story-tall hip-and-gable-roofed Hartshorn house is one of Washburn's best Queen Anne style houses. This house has a rectangular plan, a two-story bay is located to the rear on its east-facing side elevation, its full basement story has walls that are composed of large brownstone block, its first story is clad in clapboards, and its second story is clad in wood shingles. In addition, the house's main facade also features a full-width front porch.

Colonial Revival style buildings in the district were constructed between 1916 and 1950 a length of time which is representative of the extended period during which the style was popular. The Colonial Revival is a style influenced by the revived interest in American architectural traditions. The style incorporates elements from the colonial Georgian, Federal and Dutch architectural periods. Colonial motifs such as broad classical porches, gables, decorative swags and pediments were often incorporated into Queen Anne style houses. Builders also diverged from the Queen Anne and used these design themes in a more traditional way, creating Colonial Revival style houses that reflect the simplicity and symmetry of the early prototype and include classically correct motifs.

Almost all of the rest of the buildings in the district were built between 1916 and 1918 by DuPont Company to house its most valued employees and this was the direct result of the increased demand for explosives that was generated by World War I. As was noted earlier, the DuPont Company's Barksdale factory had been developed as early as 1905, but up until the beginning of the war most of its employees lived in their own homes located in the nearby cities of Washburn or Ashland and they commuted to the factory on daily railroad trains that ran between the two cities. Such company-owned housing as existed during this period appears to have been limited primarily to already existing buildings in Washburn that the Company purchased to house the factory's senior administrators. A prime example is the Francis H. Hartshorn house located at 101 E. Third Street, which the Company purchased in 1913 to house the factory's superintendent and his family. Once World War I began the increased demands for explosives resulted in the rapid expansion of the Barksdale plant and with this expansion came an equally great need for additional workers. Most of the newly employed workers were male and were housed in rubberoid-covered two-story gable-roofed dormitories (non-extant) that were built at the factory site itself, but their rapidly increasing numbers soon filled every available vacant house and apartment in both Washburn and Ashland.

This situation lasted up until the nation's entrance into World War I, but the even greater demand for explosives that this created required an even larger work force at the Barksdale factory, and since the existing building stock of Washburn and Ashland could not meet the new demands that were being placed upon it, the DuPont Co. decided to build housing of its own to house its permanent married employees and their families.

‡ Timothy F. Heggland, Consultant for the City of Washburn, East Third Street Residential Historic District, Bayfield County, WI, nomination document, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
North Second Avenue East • North Third Avenue East • Third Street East