A local factory with a storied past is seeing its last days. Historically, it was a window and door manufacturer that employed thousands of hard working “Merrillites” over several generations and it was the breeding ground for several other successful millwork companies over the past century.
The former Anson & Gilkey(A&G) property, located at 401 S. Kyes St. along the Wisconsin River in Merrill, consists of a dozen buildings totaling 140,000 square feet on 15 acres with over 1,300 lineal feet of prime river frontage. The A&G property was acquired in 1980 by Development & Leasing Corporation (D&L) a local private investor. Over the past 30 years, it’s been partially occupied by Semco and related vendors. Semco is now consolidating operations on the west side of Merrill so it will be moving out of the last A&G building by the end of 2013.
The historic property is now undergoing one of the largest privately funded “green” deconstruction programs in the Midwest with plans to reclaim and repurpose over a quarter million board feet of rustic wood alone. Several other building components, such as industrial gauges and piping, are being salvaged and repurposed as well.
D&L hired ICE Realty Group of Glenview, IL, in 2011 to assess existing conditions, explore redevelopment options, determine the most cost effective demolition program, prepare a marketing program and procure funding alternatives.
“The plan to repurpose was an organic decision,” said Jon Malm, owner of ICE Realty Group. “D&L didn’t have the funds to take all the buildings simultaneously. We had to come up with innovative ways to generate revenue.”
The massive undertaking will position the property for redevelopment, most likely a mixed use plan given its size and location, Malm added.
“The goal for D&L is to sell this property,” Malm said, “which will allow it to be redeveloped. Also, we are exploring ways to make part of it available to the community, including a potential easement for the proposed River Bend Trail.”
Redeveloping the area will generate jobs and increase the city’s tax base, minimize deconstruction landfill waste and cost, preserve historic facets and incorporate public access to the riverfront, Malm said.
To date, the diverse project team includes over 20 Wisconsin-based companies and has involved several governmental entities at the state, county and city levels.
D&L and city officials began discussions in 2008 to address redevelopment ideas, city assistance, community involvement and cooperative strategies. The city and D&L have agreed on a targeted building deconstruction schedule to be completed in 2015.
“Ideally, it’ll be sooner,” Malm said.
D&L is currently implementing an environmental remediation program with the help of an EPA/DNR grant for Phase One and Phase Two reports. Sixteen environmental concerns were initially flagged, but only one situation was determined to be a problem. Wood preservative was discovered in the soil within a confined area which is now 90% remediated, Malm said.
“D&L anticipates the entire property will be 100% environmentally clean, completed and closed by the end of 2013,” he added. “Eliminating that small area of environmental contamination will allow all feasible land uses.”
ICE has been working closely with the Merrill Historical Society to identify various items for preservation and display in the new Pinery Room at its newly expanded museum. The items include lumber carts, fire pails, sales material and samples of the manufactured wood products. They are also building a new exhibit of post-logging era (1900 to present) products manufactured in Merrill such as windows, doors, shutters, fireplace mantels and front door entries.
ICE has assembled a team of specialists after interviewing and procuring proposals from several companies throughout the Midwest. It was determined that strategic “green” deconstruction, rather than traditional demolition, was the best approach to minimize landfill waste and costs – plus it repurposes as many building materials as possible.
“This approach also promotes the community reputation, creates jobs and reuses materials which bring value to others,” Malm said.
Malm said they are finding outlets for a wide variety of repurposed materials.
“There is a tremendous demand in the market for repurposed materials fueled by a generation of younger people who have learned the importance of protecting the environment,” he said. “Technology has advanced in ways that allow us to save that wood more effectively.”
Vintage windows were removed, restored and sold for wedding decor, home furnishings, vintage sunrooms, greenhouses and cottage restoration projects.
D&L engaged American Relics of Wausau, who has over 25 years of deconstruction experience to handle over half of the structures that contain the valuable reclaimable resources.
The first building to be deconstructed by American Relics was a free-standing rail served lumber warehouse constructed of structural steel with a wood façade. The wood is going to be repurposed in retail stores throughout the country for background displays. The steel was disassembled and hauled to Minnesota to be reconstructed into a warehouse again for a lumber company.
The second building to be deconstructed was the boiler house. Asbestos was removed, then all of the unique dials, gauges, switches and piping were harvested by American Relics. These will be sold to collectors or repurposed for “Steam Punk” style jewelry and/or decor, Malm noted.
Excavation was required to demolish the massive walls and remove the bulky boilers. Over 50 tons of various metals were then salvaged to help fund the excavation work. The only waste was limited to asphalt roofing materials. The remaining debris of concrete and stone will be used as fill for the old building basements.
The third building to be deconstructed is the multi-story warehouse. Asbestos was removed from fire doors, electric panels and piping. American Relics harvested all of the piping, light fixtures, elevator, vents to be recycled or sold to collectors. Now the wood building is being deconstructed one piece at a time to preserve its resale value. The structure is primarily composed of double layer Maple flooring plus slow growth Red Pine, White Pine, Hemlock and Douglas Fir joists. Ironically, most of the massive columns are Douglas Fir which were shipped to Merrill by rail from the Pacific NW in the late 1800s. Local White Pine was too valuable and scarce at that point in time. The basement includes unfinished Cedar “tree trunk” columns. Some of this high quality rustic wood is already on its way to projects in the Twin Cities, Madison, New Zealand and Japan.
The fourth building is the largest lumber shed and it’s the majestic grandfather of the bunch with its massive soaring columns, beams and joists. American Relics is busy dismantling it one jumbo wood beam at a time.
In the 1800s, the property was primarily used for log storage by the local saw mills. From about 1890 to 1910, a short lived furniture factory and then window sash and door factory operated on the site. Then in 1910, Anson-Gilkey & Hurd established a successful window and door millwork operation that flourished for decades.
Renamed Anson & Gilkey Company (A&G) in the 1930s, it succeeded in becoming one of the largest window and door manufacturers in America. The Great Depression almost put A&G out of business, but they recovered and thrived for decades. In the 1970s, A&G was sold to an outside private investor.
Over the years, several new businesses were spawned from the platform of A&G. Harry Hurd was an original partner and the General Manager of AG&H. He started his own millwork operation in Medford in 1919. Emil Semling worked his way up to be a partner and General Manager of A&G. He started his own millwork operation next door in 1941. Emil Semling’s son Don worked for A&G a short time before founding Wisconsin Window Unit and ROW in Merrill around 1940. Wisconsin Window Unit and ROW were sold to Hurd in the 1980s. Carl Bierman worked for Don at ROW before successfully launching Lincoln Wood Products in 1947. Stan Bauman also worked for ROW before starting Merrill Millwork in the 1950s.
In 1980, an infamous arson attempt by Chicago thugs was foiled by local police and investigated by the FBI. Arsonists were captured and convicted. The outside investors/A&G owners were indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of conspiracy to commit arson but were acquitted. A&G halted production, filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors shortly thereafter.