By CRISTINA JANNEY
PLAINVILLE — A nonprofit organization in Plainville is trying to save a building with rich history in the small northwest Kansas community.
Save Downtown Plainville is trying to raise enough funds to make repairs to the building at 217 and 219 W. Mill St. One of the oldest buildings in Plainville, it was built 120 years ago.
The storefronts look fine, but when you go around to the alley, you see the problem. Most of the original limestone that made up rear wall of the building has collapsed.
The building had been designated for demolition by the City of Plainville when the non-profit stepped in.
Bee Reif, a volunteer who is spearheading the restoration effort, said the damaged wall is not a load-bearing wall. Commercial Builders in Hays has agreed to take on the project of stabilizing the rear wall, with plans on the work beginning within the next 30 days.
The non-profit has been able to raise about $3,600 through a GoFundMe account and from local donors. The project has received another $1,000 from sales of Paul Albert's book, "The History of Plainville." The project received $60,000 from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation.
The whole project is estimated to cost about $160,000.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is helping the group apply for another $100,000 in grant funding. Plainville is Moran's hometown.
"The reason I've decided to step in and try to save these buildings, is becuase it is a huge part of our downtown," Reif said.
She said she is concerned other buildings may fail if the building at 217 and 219 are torn down, becuase the buildings in the block share walls.
"I think it would be devastating to this town if we lose this building," she said.
Reif herself is remodeling space in a building a few doors down for her digital marketing business.
Multiple generations of her husband's family have lived and farmed around Plainville.
"That's what it's all about is investing in my kids future — things to do in Plainville, places to shop in Plainville, having that small town, homegrown feel," she said.
Another nonprofit has purchased the building at the west end of the block, 223 W. Mill St. That buildings has already been renovated by local entrepreneur Chuck Comeau.
That group plans to create a co-working space in that building.
"We know people are moving to these small, rural communities," she said. "We just need reasons for people to be here. That is one of things we are focused on is bringing people downtown."
Comeau's holding company owned and renovated many buildings in downtown Plainville and Hays. Those buildings were sold in foreclosure sales when Comeau's furniture company, Dessin Fournir, and his holding company declared bankruptcy in 2019.
Reif said that was a difficult blow to the community, but two of Comeau's companies have reopened in Plainville under new ownership.
"There are a lot of positive things happening in the community, and I want these to be a positive too," she said. "As a nonprofit, we can operate businesses out of them, and we could also possibly offer housing if we can get it all taken care of."
History of the building
History courtesy of Save Downtown Plainville.
The building was constructed in 1901. The Modern Woodmen of America in partnership with the Yeagy brothers and Green family constructed the buildings. Limestone for the building was cut from the Green farm in the Twin Mounds area, according to Save Downtown Plainville.
The cornerstone for the building was laid on June 15, 1901. The Woodmen held a parade and ceremony to celebrate. A metal box was placed in the cornerstone. The box included a Bible that is a ritual of the Woodmen, gavel, constitution and by-laws of the Woodmen, some of last year's wheat, two copies of the Plainville Gazette , and one copy each of the Rooks County Record, Rooks County Journal and Western News.
The west store was the new location for W. R. Green & Sons general store. The east store hosted Yeagy Bros. Hardware. The upper level was the hall for the Woodmen.
Plainville Camp No. 1609 of Modern Woodmen of America was instituted June 19, 1892. Members were focused on caring for widows and orphans in the community. The Woodmen were active in Plainville until about 1940. The hall was also used by several other fraternal, veteran and church organizations.
Walter Green, founder of W. R. Green & Sons, was a farmer until taking the store manager position at the Farmer’s Cooperative in 1891. Green acquired the cooperative in 1895.
When Green moved into his new store in 1901, the family name on the door would not change for the next 97 years. The store would transition to his son, George and wife Mable, to his granddaughters Verda, Velma and Margaret.
The business would transition from a traditional general store complete with a pot-bellied stove for customers to gather around, a cracker barrel, high-button shoes and a large stock of groceries, to a clothing and shoe store, to a bridal shop.
The bridal business started in 1954 when the granddaughters outfitted an employee for her wedding day. Ten-thousand brides later, Velma and Margaret retired in 1998, drawing an end to 103 years of the business.
Brothers Romanus and Rufus Yeagy moved their newly formed hardware business into the east store of the new building. The business would only last for three years, but the Yeagy brothers remained in the community doing construction and farming.
James Sawyer moved his furniture and undertaking business into the Yeagy store building in 1904.
The store would later be occupied by Western Light and Telephone (-1951), Skogmos clothing store (1952-1976), Gary’s Western Auto (1976-1985) and Little Lambs preschool.