CROTHERSVILLE

The centerpiece of Crothersville currently is the center of attention.

Standing at the corner of Armstrong and Howard streets, the two-story brick building that over the years housed an Odd Fellows lodge, a library, a license branch and a pharmacy is undergoing renovations inside and outside.

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That’s much to the relief of town residents, who once feared the 2,030-square-foot building constructed in 1891 was unsafe and could crumble into the street. At one point, town officials considered demolishing it.

But since the town took possession of the building and turned it over to Indiana Landmarks to restore, the historic structure’s future looks promising.

Having the building restored and put on the market is one piece of the Crothersville Town Council’s mission to revitalize the downtown area.

Greg Sekula, director of the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional office in Jeffersonville, said he is glad to be a part of the revitalization efforts. That organization rehabilitates architecturally unique and historically significant structures.

“You’ve got several wonderful buildings all scattered throughout the community, and the key is to try to keep those there because I think long term, that will be an important part of the future strategy for qualify of life here in Crothersville and attracting new investment in the community,” he recently told the town council.

“Your close proximity to Interstate 65 is certainly an asset,” he said. “You can draw people in and see what kind of assets you have. I think that bodes very well for the strength of the community down the road.”

Since Indiana Landmarks received the tax deed on the building in November, it has overseen improvements to the inside and outside of the building.

About 90 percent of the masonry repairs have been completed. Two partially collapsed rear chimneys have been removed. Remaining work includes additional repointing on the west side of the building and in several interior locations.

The initial cleanup of the interior has been completed, including removal of interior debris and later partitions and drop ceilings in the rear of the building. Sekula said that resulted in filling a 30-cubic-yard dumpster and several truck trailer loads of material.

Interior structural work has been completed in several areas. That includes floor joist repairs in each of the rooms on the first and second floors and complete floor replacement to the sub-floor grade in a rear first-floor room. On the second floor, a ceiling beam was raised about four inches and tied back into the wall after brick repairs in that area, where a longstanding leak had occurred.

This week, contractors have been working on storefront repairs. The left-side bulkhead and window frame have been disassembled and reinstalled, and it is ready for a new storefront glass. A salvaged antique door also was installed on the U.S. 31 storefront to replace a door removed by a local resident with the previous owner’s consent.

Also, the original central doors on the U.S. 31 side of the building have been reopened, and decorative metal corbels and cast iron storefront appliques on the ends of the pressed metal cornice and storefront columns are being fabricated.

Twenty original double-hung sash windows have been restored to operable condition, Sekula said. In some of those windows, new glass was installed. All windows were reglazed and primed.

In the coming weeks, a new metal cornice will be installed at the top of the front of the building. Windy weather has prevented workers from completing that task, which requires using scaffolding and ladders.

Other work remaining includes adding a new dimensional shingle roof and replacing guttering, and bids will be solicited for exterior painting of storefronts and cornice once work in those areas is completed later this spring.

Council President Lenvel “Butch” Robinson asked Sekula about the stability of the building, particularly in the area on the Howard Street storefront above the main entrance, which appears to be unlevel.

The town donated $40,000 to use for stabilizing the building, and Indiana Landmarks also committed funding.

“We have done some footing work in that area,” Sekula said. “They have attempted to jack up that corner and could not do it successfully, so we believe and the mason believes everything is stable now, and we’re just going to kind of leave it in place, repoint and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, we could not lift that corner of the building.”

In terms of a completion date, Sekula said he hopes that comes sometime this spring.

Then in the summer, the plans are to start marketing the building. Sekula said he would like to work with town and county officials on that task.

When marketing a building, Sekula said people often ask about local incentives, including tax abatements and small grants.

“Obviously, our goal and your goal is to try to get that building into the hands of someone who is going to put a viable business there that will be good for the community,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a joint effort.”

A couple of town residents shared what they would like to see in the building.

“I hope to see it look like some original pictures that I have seen of it in the past, like putting a barber pole on the side like it used to be in the older days,” Geoffrey Walker said. “Also, I think it would be neat to see some sort of museum located in this building with Crothersville art and history or even a visitor center of some sort. It also would make a nice cafe or coffee and doughnut shop.”

Chester Jones said he would like to see the building used for entertainment purposes that would bring in people year-round.

“The building is starting to look better but still has a lot of work needing to be done to it,” Jones said. “I remember when the furniture store was there, the floor was needing some work done to it. They have been trying to repair it using some historic trim from the building. I would be interested in what the inside will look like once it’s finished.”

As work progresses on the building, town officials are exploring funding opportunities for revitalizing the downtown.

The town’s grant consultant, Trena Carter with Administrative Resources association, recently discussed some state programs the community could apply for to help in those efforts.

One is a Place Based Investment grant from a partnership between the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Carter said that grant, which helps improve quality-of-life issues in a community, has a fall application cycle.

The tourism office also will have some programs come out this summer that could provide funding opportunities, Carter said.

Hometown Collaboration Initiative is an option for long-term planning, but only a handful of applicants are accepted each year, Carter said. Administered by OCRA, it’s designed to provide assistance to strengthen the local economy, develop leadership and address the attractiveness and quality of life in communities with fewer than 25,000 people. Seymour currently is involved in that program.

Council member Brenda Holzworth asked Carter about OCRA’s blight clearance program, which involves collaborating with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to demolish blighted structures.

As a preservationist, Sekula said he always has been skittish about a blight program, especially if it involves tearing down historic structures.

“You’ve got some core historic buildings here in the community that I think are really important to the identity of your community,” he said.

“One of the things that I think is so important for the survival of small towns is your assets, your community character,” he said. “What you don’t want to do is lose that community character. That will be a very powerful tool for you in the future as you look to try to get people to invest and to live in the community.”

Sekula said the town could look into making the downtown area a historic district since it has several old buildings. He also determined the old Odd Fellows building is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

If those actions are pursued, it could open up other grant opportunities, Sekula said.

“Oftentimes, if a community has a project within a historic district, the community gets more points (with a grant application),” he said.

Federal rehabilitation tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic properties also are available.

“If we’re trying to get businesses to locate into downtown Crothersville and take some of these vacant buildings and breathe new life into them, owners can take advantage of these tax credits in the rehabilitation of these buildings,” Sekula said. “Having that as part of your toolkit in the community would be something that I think we could explore together and see if there’s a possibility there because these types of incentives can attract people to the community.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.