A beauty or a beast
The former creamery building in Norwalk has been part of the village’s landscape since it was built in 1902. Operated as a co-op owned by area farmers, the building with its towering chimney, produced powdered milk, butter and cheese until it closed in 1992.
Since then, the vacant structure has changed owners several times. It is currently in the hands of Scott Rodgers and his partner Christina Dodge, who live in the Twin Cities, where Rodgers owns a store that sells antique architectural pieces he salvages from old houses.
He and Dodge bought the building from one of Rodgers’ customers in 2008, with the intention of fixing it up.
“We loved the building,” said Rodgers. “It was a gorgeous building and when he needed to sell, we bought it from him. We just wanted to keep it from falling down.”
Some members of the village board disagree with Rodgers’ assessment of the building. A few months ago the village sent him a notice that it intended to issue a raze order on the building because they considered it eyesore.
The order would require Rodgers to demolish the building at his own expense. Rodgers attended the August village board meeting, where the board gave him six months to put a plan together indicating what he intends to do with the building.
Village President Levi Helgren said a raze notice is different from a condemnation, which is when a government entity condemns the property for public use. The creamery sits on a few acres of land next to the village park where the Norwalk Lions Club holds its annual tractor pull.
Helgren, who is president of the Lions Club, said the club has inquired about buying the property. He also insists he has divorced himself from the Lions Club in this matter and is operating with the villages’ interest in mind.
In fact, Helgren said he believes the creamery could be an asset to Norwalk.
“If (Rodgers) fixes the property, that’s more of a benefit to the village,” he said.
The building’s location on the Elroy-Sparta State Bicycle trail, which is a snowmobile trail in the winter, gives it a lot of potential.
Rodgers said ideally it should be an event venue, but his plans at this point seem to be fixing it up to save it from deteriorating.
“We own it because we love it,” he said. “We might just live in it in the end because it’s such a nice area.”
He said after the August village board meeting he had a dozen people approach him, saying it would be a shame to lose the old creamery.
“The building is in very good condition,” he said. “It’s a strong building, it’s just been abused for many years.
Rodgers has been putting some work into the building. He salvaged a roof from an airport hangar and installed it on the creamery with the help of Amish labor. Since last summer, he’s painted some of the outside and built and installed 12 windows.
Helgren said he sees Rodgers’ argument that it would be a shame if it were torn down, but “in the same sense, it’s a blight right now.”