Renovations underway on 1860s downtown limestone building

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The exterior of the building at 316 S. 1st St. is nearly complete, having been freed of its stucco and tuckpointed by Kuempel Masonry. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)

By Molly Moser

There are dozens of stone structures in Guttenberg, and one has just gotten a facelift. Andy Reimer, who grew up in a farmhouse built in 1912, has begun restoring the building at 316 S. 1st Street that formerly housed John’s TV Service. 

“There have been some surprises,” said Reimer of the renovations, “but the best surprise was the limestone.” One photograph (see inside) shows the building, labeled W. H. Scholz, with siding, and a 1910 photograph shows the building coated with the stucco that covered its exterior until June. 

Construction on the building began June 29, when Marc Kuempel and his crew with Kuempel Masonry began removing the stucco, tuckpointing the mortar joints beneath, and replacing minimal sections of the rock with stone from the Reimer Family Farm.

The Kuempel Masonry crew performed the same process on an interior wall, exposing what was the west exterior wall of the original limestone building. “You just can’t recreate this rock,” said Reimer. 

That original structure was built in 1860, and Reimer can point out at least three wholly undocumented additions to the building in the years that followed. Structurally, the building has remained the same at least in the last 40 years, while it was owned by John and Carol Hartmann. 

Inside, construction crews discovered 50-year-old newspapers used as padding beneath carpet and a collection of walnuts in the back portion of the second story, where squirrels had been passing the time. 

Reimer says he was encouraged to take on the project by his brother-in-law, who is a home inspector and confirmed the building was structurally sound. While history and real estate are hobbies of Reimer’s, he also had another motivation for restoring the building. “I’ve been selling insurance for 15 years and have never had a window,” he told The Press. “It was time.” 

So he decided to put his current office building up for sale and relocate his New York Life business to the newly renovated 316 S. 1st Street. Many local craftsmen have been hired to help with the reconstruction, including Jeff Hoeger of House to Home Remodeling, Aaron Reed and Brad Eglesder of B&M Electric, painter Dave Poggenklass, and Gary Goyette, who has over 30 years experience in the field of architectural restoration, rehabilitation, and conservation of historic structures. Meuser Lumber has been the source for the majority of supplies, and Meyer Mechanical has also been involved with the project. 

“We’re not cutting corners,” said Reimer. Crews have put up new walls, added a full bathroom with a shower stall, and more, all while preserving as much of the original structure as possible. 

Prior to its four decades as John’s TV Service and Hartmann Bed and Bath, the building was owned by the Nigg family who operated a grocery store and bar from the first floor. Former customers, many of whom remember playing cards in the back room, are looking forward to the results of Reimer’s renovation. “We’ve had a very positive reaction from people in town,” he told The Press.

“From what I learned about the Nigg building, it was one of the oldest buildings in Guttenberg,” said Mary Nigg Bartholet, whose parents purchased the building at 316 S. 1st St. in the late 1920s. “At the time the building had the grocery store downstairs with a room for an ice-cream parlor on the side of the store toward the hill.” 

“In the late 1930's after Prohibition was over, Dad converted the ice cream parlor into a bar where men stopped for a glass of beer on their way to their homes after a day's work.  Over the years during the 1930's, he had people working for him in both the store and later the tavern until the late 1930's/early 40's when people took on other jobs during World War II.”

Renovations on the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, are expected to be mostly complete this fall.

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