Bump in the Night
Oak Ridge – History and Overview
This medium sized Wisconsin town is located on the banks of the Oak River nestled among the hills of south central Wisconsin, and was first settled in 1826 by German immigrants moving west. It started as a small farming community but soon grew into a local hub of commerce with several mills located on the river and the small creeks that ran out of the hills. Influxes of loggers lead to the cutting down and clearing of most of the giant Oak trees that the area was named for. The cleared land was quickly turned into farmland growing large crops of corn and wheat. Soon mineral deposits were found in the hills and the town enjoyed a boom as several mining companies set up to take advantage of these mineral riches. Unfortunately the mines soon ran dry causing the town to suffer a drastic drop in population around 1861 as many of the miners entered the US Army to fight in the civil war as their jobs had gone.
Oak Ridge might have become just another small village if it wasn’t for a man named Fredrichs Auferhidee a German immigrant who set up St. Martin’s Seminary. Auferhidee selected Oak Ridge because of the beautiful pastoral environment around the town and he bought a huge plot of land a few miles to the north of town deep in an ancient untouched Oak grove. He used stone from local quarries to build a large castle like building that would serve not only for the classrooms, library and administration but also as the dormitories and living area for the students. Many of the locals were amazed by the size of the project because they did not think that a simple pastor should be able to fund such a giant project, bu8t when asked about it Auferhidee would just mention that he had inherited numerous gracious donations from supporters in Germany who wished to spread the light of God. Even beyond the scope of the funding St. Martin was different from other seminaries in that it had a large history department whose stated goal was to provide archeological proof of Biblical happenings. They would frequently receive shipments of archeological artifacts and ancient text books from abroad which they kept at the college.
It was less than a decade though before St. Martin’s Seminary was renamed St. Martin’s College and its main focus shifted to historical studies such as archeology and anthropology leaving only a very small and dwindling number of students who had any interest in biblical studies. This college soon gained a strong reputation and drew students from across the country, breathing new life into the town of Oak Ridge and saving it from a fate of stagnation. However in 1901 a fire started in one of the new dormitory buildings killing many of the students within and it almost spread across campus. This fire lead to a loss of stature at the college as many Ivy League competitors denounced it for its lack of safety standards. Within ten years the college had lost many of its students to other colleges and many of the professors feared for their jobs. A group of them secretly met with the governor and several key legislators to gather support from the state to open a new state funded university in Oak Ridge. Later that year they broke ground on the University of Wisconsin Oak Ridge Campus and St. Martin’s saw several of its tenured professors leave to teach at the new college.
While the new college hadn’t been needed by the state education system, the close political ties between the administrators and the legislature saw that a large operational fund was sent to it. This allowed the college to build state of the art science classrooms leading it to become a leader in the area for medical and physics education. The students from the college have frequently gone on to found new research laboratories in the town and it has pushed the steady growth of Oak Ridge causing the town to double in size.
Oak Ridge would continue to grow and it is population is considered to be one of the highest educated in the region. However the sights of urban decay are evident as much of the downtown area has fallen on hard times due to the urban sprawl of the new suburbs. The city’s down town district is now filled with antique stores, boarded-up old departments stores, used bookstores, a few run down theaters, and a large number of bars. In 1992 Bismuth Technical School opened up as a two year school aimed at providing a trained work force that could operate in the highly skilled laboratory environment. The is also a huge mall out on the edge of town which has built a strong commercial district around it. The housing burst of recent years has seen a huge number of McMansions built in the suburbs ad their low current price has added to the urban decay as more downtown houses and apartment buildings have gone empty.
Spotted around town are several graveyards, some of which date back to the founding of the town. A giant library sits across from city hall and serves the general public of the city while each college also operates its own library for its students. The town also has a small Aquarium that is operated by the Marine Science department of UoW Oak Ridge, and St. Martin’s operates a large Museum of Natural History. Most of the old mines have been sealed to keep the town children out but every few years a kid will still get lost and they are rarely found. Recently the UoW Oak Ridge has purchased an old asylum that sat on the outskirts of the town. Although it had been abandoned since the 60s the building was still in good shape and the university is paying to have it refurbished as a hospital of mental health. Currently they are operating in one wing that they have refinished, but the other wing is locked off and is waiting for refurbishing which will happen when new grants are given to the college.