A potential buyer for the historic Israel Stowell Temperance House has backed out because of costly repairs the building needs, increasing the likelihood that the structure will be razed.
Delavan Historical Society President Patti Marsicano told the city council Dec. 16 that she had met with a prospective buyer, who said he wanted to save the temperance house.
“That’s probably the most positive thing we’ve had at all,” Marsicano said at the meeting.
The buyer looked at the property with a real estate agent and was given more information about it. The agent later called Marsicano and said the buyer seemed serious.
Two days later, the buyer told Marsicano repairs would exceed the historical society’s estimate, and he could not afford them.
Delavan was founded as a temperance colony—a Christian community that outlawed alcohol—around 1836. The Israel Stowell Temperance House opened its doors as a meeting place and hotel in June 1840.
The property’s condition has deteriorated over the years, and the last owner donated it to the historical society in 2010 in an attempt to save it.
The society can’t afford to save the temperance house on its own, and fundraising has not brought in enough money. The house is currently priced at $99,900.
Several residents spoke about the issue at the Dec. 16 council meeting, and the council voted 4-2 to issue a raze order Jan. 15.
The order gives the historical society 30 days to fix the problems, but city officials said they might be willing to extend the deadline to 60 days.
At the meeting, Alderman Gary Stebnitz expressed concerns about the building and its pricey repair list.
“I think that’s where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “I’m not sure that someone’s really out there to put that $400,000 to $500,000 to create a building that carries on the memory history as opposed to the building history,” he said. “I’d love to see it, but I’m not sure it’s there.”
Under a raze order, the council must decide the next steps if the conditions of the order are not met.
Alderman Ryan Schroeder, vice president of the historical society, said he still hopes a buyer will emerge.
“It is our duty to preserve this history because once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “It’s not there for future generations to learn from, to appreciate and explore.”
Schroeder said city taxpayers would save money by not razing the temperance house. Saving it and allowing visitors to learn from it would be the best option, he said.
“There’s potential there to actually bring more people here, and more people will be likely to come here when there’s a historic structure there,” he said. “There’s a glimmer of hope. Hopefully it’s legit and they follow through.”
Schroeder told The Gazette on Friday that he hopes more people will ask about the property and consider buying it.
The historical society likely will consider offers that are close to the $99,900 asking price, Schroeder said. He has given a couple of tours to people asking about the sale.
Resident Jesse Hurst said at the meeting that he understands why some people think the temperance house is an eyesore, but he thinks the city should try to save it.
“I’ve heard it said that we lose nothing by getting rid of it, and that is just a flat-out falsehood,” he said. “We lose a piece of ourselves by getting rid of it, a piece of what makes Delavan special.”
Other residents believe razing is the right choice.
Chris Phillips, a local real estate agent and former alderman, said the city needs to do something about the house, which is a safety risk.
He said the community and historical society have had ample time to save the building.
“It’s now been almost two years, and so therefore I am still up for razing the temperance house, and I do believe it’s an obligation on the city to raze the temperance house,” Phillips said.
Mayor Mel Nieuwenhuis wants to keep the temperance house standing, but he said the city can’t wait forever.
“At some point in time, something needs to be done. I hate to see it go, but I think there’s been plenty of time for the historical society to save it.”