Historic limestone structure receives renovations

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Renovation of two one-bedroom units are near completion on the third floor of the Kuempel Hardware building. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker 

A hardware store has occupied the stone building at the corner of South River Park Drive and Herder Street in downtown Guttenberg since its construction in 1856.  The historic, limestone structure was constructed by Charles Falkenheiner and Bro., and intended for both commercial and single-family dwelling. 

The building represents an original intention on the part of the German settlers to make the town "a little Cincinnati" with buildings of similar scale. Many early German settlers were former residents of that Ohio community. The southeast corner of the building was flattened to conform to the lot shape

The historic landmark has experienced several hardware store owners, beginning with Jacob Falkenheiner; Mssrs. Minger & Kords; George Friedlein & Sons; Edward and John Kuempel; Jack Kuempel and Al Lake; Jim and Tom Kuempel, and most recently fourth-generation business owner John Finch of Meuser Lumber Company. Although a few things have changed, the hardware store continues to provide area residents with the same great products and customer service.  

Inspiration for historic renovation

Finch began renovations in the fall of 2018. He commented, "The location and stone exterior really called for something to be done, and I thought it would be a waste to pay for a building and only use one third of it." 

Finch, and his wife, Lisa, have tackled other restoration projects. He mentioned, "Lisa and I did another major renovation to a house on Main Street and River Park Drive about 15 years ago, along with many minor renovations to various rental units."

Hard work pays off

Finch  reported, "I, along with help from my family, did the initial gutting. It was a dirty job. We used a hammer, crow bar, sledge hammer, dust masks, safety glasses and hats for protection."

The second and third-story debris removal created a need for critical thinking. "I used a culvert that I got from Leo Wille for a debris chute that fed into a dumpster placed at street level. Bob Leliefeld assisted with throwing it down the chute. Some things had been salvaged from the third floor a few years before I purchased the building, but other than that we had to completely gut the building. The floor joists and one-by-six flooring were salvageable," he noted.

Finch and his crew have installed new plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and electrical. He listed, "Marc Kuempel did the stone and tuckpointing, Brandon Bries built the stairs, Craig Noack installed the windows and balconies, Paul Anderegg replaced and updated the electrical, Meuser Lumber replaced the plumbing and HVAC. Kevin Klaes hung and finished the drywall, and Lisa Finch, my wife, did all the painting. Don Bries did the trim work and installed the stairs and railing. I framed the walls and insulated and did whatever else needed to be done." 

Finch chose Gypcrete or gypsum concrete to level out the flooring. The light-weight product is commonly used in wood-frame and concrete construction for fire protection, sound reduction, radiant heat installation and floor leveling. "We hired Schuster from Dubuque to do the Gypcrete to level the floors and provide fire protection," he said. 

Third floor units

Removal and disposal of materials, along with working on the third floor, created major obstacles. "I am finishing the third floor now. It will have two one-bedroom units. I will be taking some time off before I work on the second floor to rest mentally and financially. We will be making the second floor into one two-bedroom unit and will also try to use other local carpenters to help with that," said Finch. 

"The third floor east unit looks great and has a fantastic view. We should have the third floor done in a month or two," he explained.

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