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Reviving Lagro

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LADDER: Workers have almost completely removed all of the trash that used to fill the courtyard behind the buildings. LCF wants to use the area as an event center or an outdoordining area by the end of summer.
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VAULT: A voulenteer is working to restore a steel vault door at the Citizens Bank of Lagro.
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BETH: Lagro Canal Foundation President Beth Gillespie shows off one of the top floor apartments in the Improved Order of Red Men buliding on Tuesday.

by ANDREW MACIEJEWSKI - amaciejewski@wabashplaindealer.com

Lagro Canal Foundation volunteers have filled four, 20-yard dumpsters with debris and sold two loads of metal and six loads of wood as they renovate three historic buildings in downtown Lagro.

The group purchased the old Citizens Bank of Lagro, Masonic Lodge and the Improved Order of Red Men building in tax sale last year, with a goal to renovate the historic buildings and revive downtown Lagro.

Current plans call for all three roofs to be replaced by mid-summer and for the courtyard behind the buildings to be recreated into an event space by September, LCF President Beth Gillespie said. Gillespie hopes to rent the first of three apartments in the buildings early in 2019.

The first phase of the renovation project is already complete. That phase included a building analysis and basic floor plan, created by Cornerstone Design.

Now, most the the buildings have been gutted. But much more work is needed.

The Citizens Bank of Lagro’s floor is caving in and the walls need to be plastered and painted, but the most substantial work needs to be done on the Masonic Lodge and Improved Order of Red Men Building.

Portions of the floor are missing in both buildings and the void left by the collapsed floor is full of debris and trash, even though volunteers worked tirelessly to excavate the area.

The group will resume their Saturday morning cleanups, from 8 a.m. to noon, once it hears back from the architect about what can be salvaged.

“The Lagro Town Board is very supportive of what we are doing,” Gillespie said. “The president of the board has been down here helping us when we’ve had our work days, and I think they are all excited to see the potential of businesses coming back into the community.”

The tentative plans for the buildings are to have three businesses occupy the ground floors and convert the top floors into at least three apartments.

Gillespie would like to see a local brewer or restaurant move into one of the buildings, but LCF does not currently have any prospective businesses that have shown interest in the properties.

The foundation plans to preserve as much of the historic features as possible. The goal is to keep the original windows and any flooring that is salvageable.

The foundation is currently restoring the old vault door at the bank, and current plans call to keep the old elevator door intact, too.

The buildings have tall, 15-foot ceilings. One of the top floors was previously used as an apartment, Gillespie said.

LCF Vice President Deb Strange said she is most excited about the possibility of having a local restaurant to replace the only restaurant the town had, which closed 6 years ago.

The foundation stepped in to purchase and renovate the vacant buildings last year because the properties were at risk of being demolished.

“I think some people, for a lot of years, they have just see the town steady decline, either losing one house after another or one building after another,” LCF member Justin Gillespie said. “It’s kind of a neat feeling to know that the history will be preserved and keep that going for future generations. It’s nice to know that there are some things that are starting to get saved.”

Justin Gillespie has taken on similar projects in the past. A few years ago, he said, he saved a home from being demolished. Now, he says the building is unrecognizable.

“If you could have seen what it looked like a year ago, it’s night and day,” he said.

In order to continue funding the project, LCF is having an open house from 4-7 p.m. on March 24 at Chapman’s Brewery in downtown Wabash.

In addition, Strange is working with officials to have the buildings added to the National Register of Historic Places, which she said will make the buildings eligible for receiving more grants.

The foundation is also working with Paul Hayden, a director at Indiana Landmarks who helped secure grants for the Wabash County Jail restoration project a few years ago.

The foundation was given $10,000 by the Wabash County Board of Commissioners this week, and Heartland REMC awarded the project almost $1,800 through its Operation Round Up grant. An anonymous donor has also agreed to match up to $20,000 toward the project.