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Repairs to Historic Calumet Inn begin, preventing shutdown of building

Pictured is scaffolding on the south wall of the Calumet Inn in Pipestone. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

PIPESTONE — The Historic Calumet Inn, first built in 1888, came within a day of being shut down by the city of Pipestone due to quartzite stones falling from the building’s deteriorated south wall.

After previous owners didn’t comply with city requests to make repairs to the wall, hotel manager Tammy Grubbs officially took ownership in August, and contractors began tuckpointing work on Aug. 27.

The timing, it turned out, was just right.

“If the contractor hadn’t been hired to repair the stones that were falling off the building, it would have been closed on the morning of Aug. 28,” said Doug Fortune, Pipestone building and zoning official.

The goal is to get everything done by the end of the construction season, and everyone, including Fortune, is hopeful it goes to plan.

“The freeze-thaw with moisture and water getting behind the stones was actually popping it off, so we couldn’t allow it to go into another winter and repairs hadn’t been made,” Fortune said.

Fortune started dealing with the building’s previous owner — Texas resident Hermann Bauer — in August 2017 when he noticed loose mortar on the south wall. Fortune said he asked Bauer to make repairs in October to no avail, then sent a letter in December saying the building could be closed — again to no avail.

In January 2018, Fortune found stones in the alley that had fallen from the wall. The city swiftly barricaded the accompanying alleyway, as well as the service and delivery entrance in the back of the building, and declared the area hazardous.

In early June, the Calumet had a new owner — Vanda Smrkovski — who later transferred the building to Grubbs.

Grubbs had been searching for a contractor since the winter, but couldn’t get one to commit to the project. She eventually hired Ronning Companies of Sioux Falls, S.D., which wasn’t able to start work until late summer.

“We had been in contact with the city about this, and they knew Ronning wasn’t going to be able to start immediately, as they were busy with other work,” Grubbs said.

Fortune said city officials, like most Pipestone residents, don’t want to see the historic building decay. If repairs weren’t made and the building shut down, the city may have explored measures to take control of it and make repairs.

Nonetheless, repairs are ongoing, and now that Grubbs is the owner and manager, she has more control over the situation. She applied for a grant from the city of Pipestone and paid the down payment for construction work.

Much-needed funds to make repairs will be provided by “Save the Cal,” a local group that doesn’t want to see the Calumet Inn suffer the same fate as the city’s former Central School. The abandoned school, built in 1917, could be demolished next year due to longtime decay and neglect.

Formed in June by area resident Susie Otto, the group began soliciting donations and selling items such as T-shirts and tote bags. It currently has more than $6,000 — money that will be used immediately to repair the building’s south wall and (hopefully) the also-ailing east wall in the future.

“With the wall coming down, that can be the end of a building,” Otto said. “We’re trying to keep the structure sound.”

Community support has been strong and has only become greater as time has gone on, according to Cassondra Whipple, an early member of the group.

“When you look at the previous owners, the only downfall as to why they couldn’t keep the business running was the repairs that were needed for the Calumet,” Whipple said. “They couldn’t get their business to where they wanted it because the building was taking so much from them. So I think the Calumet needs our help, and if citizens don’t come together to help get the building fixed, they’re going to pay with tax money to demolish it, just like with the school.”

Donations can be made to or to the group’s account at First Farmers & Merchants in Pipestone. Calumet Inn-themed T-shirts and tote bags can be purchased at the inn.

“This building is just so important,” Grubbs said. “People from all over the world come here, so it would just be a shame to lose to Calumet.”