Historic preservationist reflects on restoration career

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In the late 1970s, Gary Goyette and his best friend opened a small business doing rehab and restoration in Milwaukee, Wis., called the Victorian Era LTD. From left are Gary, his former business partner, Tom Rebholz, and Tom's wife Barb. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Local historic preservationist Gary Goyette, who plans to move to New Mexico in the near future, recently looked back on his career and his time in Guttenberg.

Goyette was born in 1945 in Wausau, Wis. He was raised in Hartford and Mayville, Wis., during his formative years. His interest in architecture and historic buildings became a focus after he graduated from high school in 1964. 

Inspiration for historical preservation

Goyette commented, "In 1965 I entered the Architectural Drafting Program at the Milwaukee Institute of Technology. My time at MIT was stretched out by the need to work full time, especially after my marriage in 1969, followed by the birth of our daughter, Jennifer, in 1971. During this period I witnessed changes in the urban landscape due to what was most commonly dubbed urban renewal." He further explained, "There were many social and environmental issues affecting residents of large areas of many of America's urban neighborhoods. These were some of the issues that had a large impact in making me aware of becoming involved in saving historic structures. This interest was especially spurred after seeing many neighborhoods of fine historic residences cleared to execute modern urban tract housing apartments and single family dwellings."  

Continuing education

In 1972, Goyette returned to school at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (UWM) and focused on his interest in historic preservation. Goyette told The Press, "I took a rather indirect route. I started becoming interested by doing minor carpentry repairs on older housing. Well away from involvement from formal architecturally designed housing, to becoming involved in historic preservation and restoration at a grass roots level." He went on to say, "In the late 70's my best friend, Tom Rebholz, and I opened a small business doing rehab and restoration in Milwaukee called the Victorian Era LTD. This was primarily in response to seeing the continually developing need for experience in high-level quality residential preservation, craftsmanship, and restoration in the Milwaukee metropolitan area."

Taliesin and Old World Wisconsin

Goyette returned to school at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee-School of Architecture. "While there I took a six-credit historic preservation studio. The preservation studio rekindled my interest in historic buildings," he noted. "I took a detour from UWM to take a position with the Taliesin Preservation Commission in Spring Green, Wis. My position title while at Taliesin was Preservation Construction Specialist. My last salaried preservation position was 14-plus years as Restoration Maintenance Superintendent at Old World Wisconsin (OWW), located in Eagle, Wis. OWW is a living history museum with over 60 structures," he proudly shared. 

In addition to Goyette's formal training, a large part of his knowledge relating to preserving historic structures came through memberships beginning in 1992. Subscriptions to APT - Association for Preservation Technology Journals; Clem Labines - Traditional Building, and membership in the National Trust for Historic Preservation along with various books and magazine articles kept Goyette informed. He added, "Since then I have accumulated a reference library of books relating to building construction, design, trade manuals, historic preservation, building trade practices, landscaping, period furniture, and interior design, including a library of books on Frank Lloyd Wright. The focus on the books has historical styles, construction methods, materials and practice, preservation and restoration as their main themes. A large part of my knowledge came from performing hands-on work concurrent with self study and regular attendance at seminars and workshops."       

Reimer's office building

Over ten years ago, Goyette moved to Guttenberg where he put his knowledge and experience to work.

"I researched, to determine period match and re-plication, installation and painting of all original balcony components on Andy Reimer's office building in Guttenberg, including thorough restoration of the first and second floor window assemblies, including epoxy repair of the badly-deteriorated sills," he noted. 

Andrew Reimer, Financial Adviser, shared, "The first time I met Gary was in July of 2016. I came out of our old office and was walking down the street to where we are located now. I noticed a guy across the street by the bank watching Marc Kuempel work, and he was taking pictures. When I introduced myself he told me who he was and his passion for historical renovations." He continued, "Little did I know that he would be brought on as a 'technical adviser' for our overhaul of the Hartmann building. He fully restored all of the old windows, and then in early 2018, he rebuilt the focal point of our building, the balcony. The amazing part was that he did it by simply looking at old pictures. The knowledge that he brought to our project was priceless."

"He really is an artist and we were lucky to have him put his stamp of approval on many projects around here," Reimer added. 

Clayton County projects

Goyette was a member of the Guttenberg Historic Preservation Commission, and joined the Clayton County Historical Preservation Commission (CCHPC), and began identifying all the stone houses in Guttenberg using personal observation and the Sandborn Maps. The preservation commission's first major undertaking was the “Clayton County Stone Structure Inventory.” The group set out the parameters in April 2011 and assigned members townships. Goyette, as Preservation Restoration Consultant, created a building inventory form that was used to capture the information. CCHPC members recorded addresses, took pictures of the stone structures and engaged history students from Upper Iowa University to assist in putting the information together, and had Jansen Products create a website available at www.claytoncountystonestructures.com. 

Goyette mentioned, “Other work since my retirement to Guttenberg are replacing historic cedar shingle roofs on the bandstand in Monona and the smokehouse and cooperage buildings at Motor Mill. I did begin a complete restoration, including replacing the cedar roof and re-chinking of the log cabin in the Garnavillo City Park with Lee Lenth.”

Motor Mill Foundation

“Gary was invited to join the Motor Mill Foundation and did work many times with our volunteers, but felt it was a conflict of interest since we hired him, because of his expertise, to replace the roofs of both the cooperage building and ice/smokehouse at the Motor Mill Foundation National Register website,” said John Nikolai, CCHPC member. “In order to have these two roofs on the website comply with the National Register they needed to be roofed with Western cedar. This Western cedar is grown in Oregon and Washington State and requires unique fasteners and knowledge to properly install it to maximize its life expectancy,” added Nikolai. 

“I enjoyed involvement with the Motor Mill Foundation providing advice on the restoration of the cooperage, replacing cedar roof and issues relating to the Motor Mill,” Goyette shared.  

Clayton County Courthouse clock tower  

The CCHPC’s most recent project was the rebuilding of the Clayton County Courthouse clock tower. “Using local newspapers, Carter House information as well as libraries, Gary uncovered the time frame when the last work was done and who the contractors were on the clock tower,” commented Nikolai. “Most people looking from the ground had no idea the amount of deterioration of the entire clock tower structure. Members of CCHPC did a number of grants and volunteered many hours of work on the clock tower. Gary, because of his historical knowledge, was able to do a lot of the preparation to restore this Clayton County centerpiece as well as direct much of the restoration work,” he added. 

Goyette also excelled in stone masonry in addition to the work at Motor Mill, stone structures and Clayton County Clock Tower. “He would get calls from owners of stone structures to do restoration, repair and rebuilding of stone houses and adjoining buildings,” said Nikolai. 

“We will miss Gary – who with his experience and work ethnic has been instrumental in pursuing his Preservation Restoration Consult expertise growing Northeast Iowa historical roots. Our hope is that moving to New Mexico to be with family that Gary will be able to pursue his historical work,” Nikolai said with gratitude.

Goyette concluded, “I have enjoyed Guttenberg. Working in historical preservation helped me get to know a few people in town. I am at a point in my life where I need to be closer to my family. I am looking forward to spending more time with my daughter, Jen.”

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