Jan 3, 2012

Historic tobacco buildings could help revitalize downtown Edgerton

Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal
by Barry Adams

Steam no longer rises from the tobacco warehouses here.

Instead, there is hope.

Two of the brick and timber buildings are undergoing renovations. One will be used to expand the support programs and services of Edgerton Community Outreach, while another is being turned into apartments that could help bring more people and businesses downtown.

If the projects succeed, it could lead to more renewal for other empty warehouses that at one time used monstrous coal-fired boilers and heating systems to raise the temperatures in the buildings to 140 degrees so that tons of tobacco could be readied for market.

Now, the buildings could help revitalize the historic downtown.

“Anything that’s going to bring people into downtown is going to be a benefit,” said Mayor Chris Lund, a lifelong resident. “Any foot traffic has to be good.”

First, a little history.

The city was founded in 1853 and eventually became a tobacco center. At its peak, Edgerton had 52 buildings that cured tobacco from Dane and Rock county farmers who at one time combined to produce 27,000 acres of tobacco. Of the 52, just seven remain, but they no longer are used for tobacco operations.

Of course, finding a use for a non-insulated building with thousands of square feet isn’t easy.

In Viroqua, another former tobacco hub, an old tobacco warehouse is home to a 250,000-book collection and store called Driftless Books and Music. In 2003, in Madison, a pair of former tobacco buildings near West Washington Avenue and Proudfit Street were converted into apartments.

The tobacco transformation is providing reason for hope in Edgerton, a bedroom community between Madison and Janesville, just a couple of miles west of Interstate 39-90.

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