Merrill public speaks out to save Mansion from demo
TINA L. SCOTT
Two meetings of the Merrill Historic Preservation Committe were held within the last week, one on Feb. 17 and the other on Feb. 22. Both drew a crowd. Both had attendees who were shocked and upset to learn of the T.B. Scott Mansion’s impending demolition and who urged the City of Merrill to somehow, someway, save the Mansion from the wrecking ball.
Here are some highlights from the meetings:
Christine Martens, President of the Friends of Wausau Historic Landmarks, and also a member of the Wausau Historic Preservation Commission, is a central Wisconsin resident. “I realize that T.B. Scott sits outside the boundaries of the organizations I am part of,” she said. “However, as a resident of the area and as President of Friends of Wausau Historic Landmarks. I wanted to come to show support for the saving of this piece of central Wisconsin’s heritage. The T.B. Scott home is the stuff of legends. It has a rich story behind it, with a good many myths to go along. If you stopped and asked a few folks, you could collect innumerable stories of the place. It’s a cultural icon. It is an important piece in the identity of Merrill and its place-making. But beyond this, there are objective reasons to save this structure. Section 105-313 of Merrill’s Municipal Code lays out the need to protect Merrill’s history and it does it clearly.” Martens proceded to read the ordinance to make her point.
“And the Queen Anne home of T.B. Scott certainly fits most, if not all, of the criteria set forth in the codes to be considered an historic home, in the same sections of the codes.” Martens read those and effectively check each of those boxes as she did so.
“Now is the time to act boldly,” she concluded. “It is within your grasp to help ensure the citizens of today and tomorrow are given the opportunity to know and understand their community’s past. Historical treasures such as these are not a renewable resource. There are no second chances.”
“I also ask that current owners reconsider their proposal to raze this piece of the community’s heritage,” Martens added. She also called upon Ascension directly to consider the values their vision statement embodies and said, “I am hopeful that you will see how the preservation of the history of this community you are a part of is congruent to your stated vision.”
Kristen VanderGeest, a lifelong Merrill resident, talked about having the opportunity to travel to Germany 20 years ago. “It was the first time that I got a clear understanding of how important history is,” she said. “I got to see a chapel that was built in the year 400 … they talked about how even barely, what would seem insignificant buildings, would be taken apart brick by brick and put back together to preserve history. … I think about what it would be like today if we could drive through our city and the Badger Hotel was still around and the Lincoln House and Lincoln School and the sanitarium on 17 and … all the places I remember seeing as a child and visiting as a child. I did have the opportunity of being in the Scott Mansion several times since I was a child. And all that goes through my mind is that, imagine if we could go through our city and see all of the buildings that have already been torn down, and imagine what a travesty it will be if yet another is razed because something wasn’t done in time. I hope that we can do something in time to save the Scott Mansion.
“That’s an historical building,” Sue Tesch said, “And there’s not other building like that building. If you’ve ever been in it, it’s like walking into a different era, and they don’t make buildings like that anymore. We’ve started a petition, and we’ve got like 2,400 signatures on it already.”
Sherry Heath said, “I’ve lived in Merrill my whole life, worked at Bell Tower, been down in the tunnels, went in the Mansion, born at the Hospital … and it’s such history to lose. When you drive into town, and you look up on the hill, you always look at the Mansion, and you’re crossing the bridge, it’s the first thing you see. So if there’s any possible way that it can be saved, I think Merrill should attempt to try and save it.” Heath spoke of other losses and added, “There’s just so many things that maybe we could’ve saved, so it would be nice to try to save at least one thing, and I hope it’s the T.B. Scott Mansion.”
Jack Froom said, “I know one of the things that weighs heavy on people is what the cost would be. And I don’t think that should be a consideration. I think there’s avenues that haven’t been explored: social media, TV shows that would love to film this. I worked there about 20 years ago, and I was inside that building, and it amazed me when I walked around in there. I have a little two-year-old son here. I’d like for him to see that, too.”
Patty Wendt disagreed with Froom. She talked about her time in the community but doesn’t feel it’s an investment the community can afford. “I love history. I would love for the Mansion to stay, something for everyone to be able to tour and visit when at all possible. But unfortunately, if we as a community want to advance and build Merrill, I don’t see financially that we can take on the burden of doing that to preserve the Mansion. It is a great historic place, it has brought visitors to see it once in a while. I don’t feel that it’s a focal point of town. We still have our old courthouse (sic) that is right in the center of town that was renovated into apartments which is great that it’s there. We have great history, but my opinion, unfortunately, if we want to move forward and bring people to Merrill, I don’t think us as citizens can afford to stick the money into preserving, moving, remodeling, and taking on the debt of that when we can put the funds to something else to make us grow.”
But many speakers offered hope that area residents would chip in, not only from their bank accounts, but with their time and professional talents. And many felt fundraising could extend far beyond the boundaries of Merrill’s city limits.
Emily Peterson shared her fascination with the Mansion, which began in her childhood. “I kind of have had this little bit of a love affair with it since I was a kid,” she said. “… to try to save this Mansion, I think we need to do everything in our power to do it. Anybody in my age group that grew up here or even older than I am, has learned about this house and its history and the history of Merrill because of it, our whole lives. And I think that with as many things as we have had that have been torn down that are old memories and old history … I don’t want to see that happen again with this place. That is the shining jewel of Merrill, whether its in disrepair or not.”
Merrill’s Keith Boyce said: “I would challenge anyone that can provide a better example of what embodies Merrill’s history and its legends. I find nothing else that can come remotely close to that. … I understand there is such times that progress will override preservation of historical sites. But I have to ask, what are we gaining from the destruction of the Mansion? There is not a tangible sense. We’re not gaining another business, we’re not gaining taxable property or a profitable business. All we are is gaining a non-essential piece of blacktop.”
Having had the opportunity to work in the Hospital and opportunities to tour the Mansion, he added: “It’s a piece of the past. It’s essentially as if you were stepping back into time. If there is a will, there is a way to preserve this particular structure.”
While he understands the efforts to preserve artifacts from the property, “It’s not the same as seeing a full-size structure and beholding its unique architecture. … You’re not going to get the same effect looking at a mantle and somehow being able to describe the majesty of a building. … It’ll be very difficult to convey that sense of grandeur.”
“I understand that if there was no legalities that were declared at the time, well, that is one thing, but I also understand this, in a sense, belongs to the entire community, even though it may be legally bound by a sense of another entity such as the Hospital or other hospitals that wish to obtain it. I think we should ponder our best options … and I pray for wisdom in this particular situation,” Boyce said.