History of the Paine
The story of the Paine is rooted in the heritage of England and woodlands of Wisconsin.
The woodlands of Wisconsin provided both the source of the Paine family’s wealth and an inspiration for their estate. Nathan Paine grew up with the family milling business, and by the mid-1920s was president of the thriving Paine Lumber Company, which covered sixty acres along the Fox River in Oshkosh and employed over two thousand workers. Jessie Kimberly was the daughter of the co-founder of Kimberly-Clark, an ever expanding paper mill and products business in neighboring Neenah.
Since their wedding in 1896, Nathan and Jessie lived in a Victorian house in Oshkosh built by Nathan’s grandfather. In 1925, upon the recommendation of Jessie’s sister, Mary Kimberly Shirk, the Paines commissioned Bryant Fleming, an architect from Ithaca, New York, to design a Tudor Revival-style country estate. Both Nathan and Jessie’s ancestors were English, which likely inspired their selection of this architectural style and much of the interior design and furnishings.
The Paines' Intent
From the beginning, the Paines’ ultimate goal was to design an estate showcasing exceptional architecture, furnishings, art, and natural beauty that would be open to the public for educational and cultural purposes. They first purchased a site outside of Oshkosh on the south shore of Lake Butte des Morts. However, they realized that it would be difficult for the public to visit there and eventually decided upon the property on Algoma Boulevard.
Construction began in 1927, and the exterior structure was completed by 1930. As the Great Depression crippled the Paine Lumber Company, all remaining work on the house came to a halt by 1932. The property received only minimal care and attention until 1946 when Nathan and Jessie finalized legal plans to establish the estate as a museum for the public.
Opening to the Public
Nathan died in 1947 at the age of 77, and following his wishes, Jessie oversaw the remaining work which readied the house for opening to the public in 1948. Neither Nathan nor Jessie ever lived in the house, and they had no children. Until Jessie’s death in 1973 at the age of 100, she served as the museum’s president while residing in La Jolla, California, near her sister Mary.
Photo credit: Banner image at top of page by Weston Imaging Group