Student uncovers history in Menomonie’s downtown architecture

By University Communications
November 21, 2014
Honors student Maria Lewis stands in front of the Mabel Tainter Theater holding her self-published booklet.

Photo: Honors student Maria Lewis with her self-published booklet.

University of Wisconsin-Stout honors student Maria Lewis combined her photographic hobby with an academic assignment and learned a lot about the architecture and the history of the buildings in downtown Menomonie.

Lewis, from Birchdale, Minn., self-published “Menomonie, WI; Quiet Beauty Revealed through a Lens” to fulfill an Honors College requirement. Students are required to complete an independent study — honors contract — under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

Majoring in hotel, restaurant and tourism management, Lewis became inspired to examine her college town through the honors English class The Power of Place taught by Joan Navarre.

The course is one of five sections of honors English and is part of the composition sequence for students in the Honors College.

Included in the class was a walking tour of downtown Menomonie, and as a result Lewis started noticing the details on the downtown buildings.

“I was taking a class that was located on north campus at the same time that I was taking Dr. Navarre's English class. Every time I walked to north campus I noticed new things about the buildings in downtown Menomonie,” she said.

“As I thought more about these building features, I realized that I wanted to document them with my camera,” Lewis said.

The full-color publication of 22 pages includes architectural styles and terms with corresponding photographs of the architectural techniques on 19 buildings found on or near Main Street.

For example, acanthus leaf scrolls decorate the archway at the old entrance of the Mabel Tainter Theater. The architectural design imitates an acanthus plant.

In the publication, Lewis defines the eight architectural styles evident in the buildings and explores the history of each building reflected in its architecture.

Lewis spent time in the University Archives researching the history behind the buildings and how the architectural features complimented the businesses that once occupied them.

The Schutte and Quilling building, 630 S. Broadway St., was constructed by Prussian immigrants William Schutte and Albert Quilling as a banking and exchange general store in 1907. With its Ionic columns and Neoclassical Revival style, it emphasizes “a conservative and enduring image, one that compliments its use as a bank,” Lewis said, quoting her research.

The Marion Hotel, 544 S. Broadway St., was built in 1885 as the Royal Hotel. In its original Victorian Italianate Style, it had a balcony running the length of the second story, a covered portico and a decorated veranda. These were removed in 1926 by new owners to install fire escapes. The building features cornices, dentils and window arches.

Many of the buildings have the date they were built carved in brick or stone. The Pabst Milwaukee building, 315 Main St., formerly The Silver Dollar Saloon, has the 1909 version of a neon sign. The round emblem of the name, Pabst and its manufacturing town, Milwaukee, is engraved on the building. In the middle of the emblem resting on a carved leaf is the capital letter “B.” The emblem can be seen on both sides of the building.

In addition to spending time in University Archives, Lewis did research at the Dunn County Historical Society and Rassbach Heritage Museum. “I spent the summer working on the project, which took about 65 hours of work to complete,” she said.

“It was all very interesting,” she said. She was amazed at the resiliency of the area. “Even though they (buildings) burned down two or three times, citizens kept building new ones,” she said.

In the beginning of the fall term, Lewis also led a walking tour of the downtown area and was able to point out and explain architectural features.

Lewis isn’t sure of the future of her publication. Copies are in the Honors College office and in University Archives. She is considering checking with a local bookstore and Menomonie Chamber of Commerce to have the booklet available for sale.

The Honors College, which made its debut in 1994 as the University Honors Program, is celebrating its 20th year. In 2012 it was elevated to college status, making it only the second Honors College in the UW System.

“Students are invited to join if they have high ACT scores and are ranked in the top 25 percent of their high school class or have GPAs of 3.5 or above if they are unranked,” said Lopa Basu, director of the college.

Students who don’t meet the invitation criteria also may apply to join by submitting an essay, a list of extracurricular and community activities and leadership roles they have participated in, Basu said.

The college has 500 students this fall.

For more information about the Honors College, refer to