Saving the T.B. Scott Mansion “tower”
TINA L. SCOTT
It once towered over the T.B. Scott Mansion, the cross at the peak a silent reminder of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross Hospital who once owned, and at various times lived in, the Mansion. That cross kept a silent vigil over the City of Merrill from the South side of the Wisconsin river for more than 100 years.
Today, it is a recognizable feature from the Mansion that Merrill residents are hoping to save, restore, and relocate so that they can keep and preserve a small piece of the history of Merrill’s beloved Mansion for generations to come.
“The voice of Merrill citizens and history lovers has been heard,” said Merrill City Alderman Steve Sabatke, who headed up efforts to save the tower and helped generate interest. “This will involve many up-front expenses,” Sabatke said. “How to cover those expenses will need to be organized.”
“The concept is to get the tower removed and transported to a safe place. Then proper time will be taken to have it lovingly restored,” he said
“Paul Russell is chairman of the Historical Preservation Committee. The plan is to have T.B. Scott Tower funds adminstered through this Committee,” Sabatke added. Russell is also the President of the City Council and is expected to be one of the primary contacts in facilitating this project from concept to completion.
Now accepting donations
A fund to save the T.B. Scott Tower has been set up at Park City Credit Union. All check donations should be made payable to Park City Credit Union with “T.B. Scott Tower” in the memo line. You can stop into any branch or mail donations to Park City Credit Union, 501 S. Pine Ridge Ave, Merrill, WI 54452.
Not long after area residents learned the T.B. Scott Mansion was set to be demolished, local interest in saving the “tower,” or cupola, on the Mansion took hold and grew. The project is rapidly evolving and moving quickly. As of early evening on Monday, Mar. 8, here’s what we know:
If acquired, the Tower will become part of Merrill Area Parks and Recreation property
• The Merrill Area Parks and Recreation Department, which is the City Department designated to accept property on behalf of the City, met last Wednesday, Mar. 3. During the course of that meeting, City Administrator Dave Johnson gave the following update on the T.B. Scott Mansion and the tower: “The way it works is C&D Excavating got the demolition contract, he sold the salvage rights to American Relic, and American Relic is removing everything and selling it, so they’re in the process now of gutting the interior. Once that is done, they will start on the outside of the building, and finally the tower will come off before everything is dropped. This started now two weeks ago; they have 45 days from the time it started to be done to get it done without having to get an extension on the demolition permit, so this is gonna happen fast.”
• Any and all costs associated with the purchase and acquisition of the tower, renovating and restoring the tower, and setting up the tower properly will be the responsibility of private citizens and the funds being donated at PCCU. The City will not fund the project. “There would not be any Park Department money that would need to be spent on the acquisition, restoration, or setting up of this. It would all come from donated funds. It’s not gonna come out of a budget that you don’t have,” Johnson assured the Committee. When asked what if donated funds fell short, Johnson said, “I don’t see that happening.”
• “I’m also a member of the Historical Preservation Committee,” Alderman Steve Sabatke volunteered. “We have $3,200 in non-lapsing funds that we will consider for this purpose also.”
• “The Park and Recreation has the one and only and final say on whether this is, if you want this structure,” Johnson promised. “And you have complete control over where it goes.”
• After considerable discussion about logistics, Joan Tabor made a motion to accept the tower from the T.B. Scott Mansion as an addition to City Park propery, and Alderman Jon Vanlieshout seconded the motion. It passed unanimously.
• Various locations for the tower were discussed at some length, after which Brian Artac made a motion to locate the tower near the Agra Pavillion, across the river from where the Mansion currently stands. Amanda Groth seconded that motion, and the motion also passed unanimously.
• At this time, arrangements are still pending for the removal of the tower, although it seems likely that it will be structurally secured and then removed from the building, using a crane, on Thursday, Mar. 11.
• Ownership of the tower is still pending, and as of the weekend, a buyer came forward who is interested in purchasing all of the architectural artifacts from the Mansion, including the tower, and so it may then be a negotiation with the new owner of the tower to aquire it. We do not yet have a price for purchasing the tower. We are still waiting on prices for everything according to Johnson. Dan Kearns of American Relics did say this is a beautiful piece and it wouldn’t be uncommon for something like this to sell for $25,000 or more. However, in the interest of keeping this piece locally in the City, the purchase price won’t be nearly that high, he said.
• The wooden tower structure is 135 years old or more, so if it can be successfully acquired, it will require some extensive restoration, and the plan would be to relocate the tower as close to the designated location as possible in order to save the cost and difficulty associated with moving the structure, according to Johnson. “If we can do it right on site, at least very close, we’re that much better off,” he said. “And it can be done outside. People paint buildings outside all the time. This thing has been outside for the last 130+ years. It’s not gonna hurt it to be outside. We did look at getting it into a building to restore, but it’s 13 feet square and 20 feet at least tall. Even if you lay it on its side, you can’t get it through a door even where semis load and unload, so that would be problematic for us.”
• Johnson already has transportation lined up. “I’ve already got somebody who said they would donate a flatbed to haul it to the site,” he said.
• Johnson said someone came forward and is willing to donate $1,000 for an interpretive panel to stand near the tower once it is installed, similar to other panels already on the River Bend Trail. The idea is that visitors can read the panel and look at the photos and look across the river to where the T.B. Scott Mansion used to be. The Park and Recreation Committee seemed to like the idea.
• The Park and Recreation Department would facilitate preparing the ground at the location for the tower, which may need some brush removed, but is fairly level and won’t require a lot of fill or excavation work. They will prepare a concrete pad so the tower is placed properly and not just sitting on the ground where it would rot. A base would also need to be built with treated lumber, on which to place the tower. A crane will likely be necessary to place the tower onto that base when it is ready. They are considering placing some kind of decorative fence around the actual tower to reduce the chance for people carving into or vandalizing the tower. And there is talk of incorporating some of the unique sandstone from the Mansion at the base of the tower, as well. But everything is still in the very early planning stages.
• Once complete, the Park and Recreation Department will maintain and care for the tower as a part of the City’s park property.
A beacon of hope …
Dan Langhoff and his wife, Bonnie, co-owners of In The Lite Electric of Merrill are getting involved, too. After learning about the tower project, they decided to volunteer to do the lighting for the project to make it something extra special for the community. In The Lite Electric is celebrating a big anniversary this year and is celebrating by doing 20 acts of kindness in the community. The T.B. Scott Mansion tower lighting is the first project they selected as their first act of kindness.
“We are excited to be part of this historic project, and we couldn’t think of a better way to kick off our 20 acts of kindness campaign,” said Dan Langhoff, co-owner and master electrician. “This is the perfect way to help preserve Merrill’s past while also illuminating it for future generations.”
In The Lite Electric has been in contact with the Park and Recreaction Department and will work together with Dan Wendorf as plans to acquire the tower come together and they can get into the specifics of the planning.
With a little bit of hope and a lot of community support, the T.B. Scott Mansion tower, in a new location, may become a beacon of hope for the future. And a reminder to protect our community’s history, before it’s too late.