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No Paine, no gain

By Jan Basina

Carriage House Renovation and Addition for The Paine Art Center and Gardens, Oshkosh

The Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh serves as a museum for learning and inspiration. And I’m sure that’s what its founders, Nathan Paine and Jessie Kimberly Paine, envisioned for the home they started planning in the early part of the 20th Century. I can only imagine — back then it was a labor of love.

It’s the Roaring 1920s. Prohibition is the law of the land. Bootlegging profits are overflowing. The economy is thriving — as is the Paine Lumber Co. At the height of its prosperity, the company employed more than 2,000 workers.

That’s when the lumber baron and his wife decide to build their first home. The year was 1925. They contact Bryant Fleming — an Ithaca, N.Y., architect — to design a Tudor Revival-style country estate to reflect their English roots. From its inception, the estate was meant to be more than just the couple’s residence, but also a showcase for exceptional architecture, furnishings and art. The young couple plan to open their home to the public for educational and cultural purposes.

Construction begins in 1927.

But then the unthinkable happens: The Great Depression. Profits from Paine Lumber Co. plummet. And work on the house stops in 1932. The property is virtually abandoned and left in ill-repair until 1946. That year, the Paines establish their estate as a museum.

Builders construct the Paine Estate in 1927. (Photo courtesy of thepaine.org)

But before Nathan could finish the project, he dies in 1947 at the age of 77. Jessie, following her husband’s wishes, completes their vision. The mansion is finally opened to the public in 1948.

Eventually, Jessie moves to California, but she remained the museum’s president, until her death in 1973 at the age of 100.

Today, the historic estate’s Carriage House is in need of some tender care.

Bids are being solicited for various bid packages for the Carriage House Renovation and Addition project. J.H. Findorff & Son is the construction manager.

Although the couple was never able to live in the home they planned together, their legacy lives on — in the museum, the art work, the activities, the weddings and the numerous outdoor gardens featuring varied designs and thousands of plant specimens.

Jan Basina is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 414-225-1817.

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