A rewarding project

Woman works to preserve the old bank building in Milroy

Above: Sunny Ruthchild shows off the bank vault doors which now lead into a walk-in closet. She has been converting the old bank into a new apartment building ever since she bought the decrepit structure a decade or so ago.


A beautiful old building has been saved, thanks to the efforts of an area woman who hated to see it in disrepair.

Sunny Ruthchild, an area organic farmer and owner of Merryweather Farm near Walnut Grove, bought the State Bank building in downtown Milroy “for a song” about “10 or 12 years ago,” she said.

“The roof had caved in,” she said. “If something wasn’t done quickly to the building, it would have been a goner. It took 16 dumpsters to get rid of the debris. The brick on the outside was still good. The windows were good — boarded up, but good.”

Ruthchild said the building was built in 1902 of Italianate brick. She remembers seeing it when it was still in good condition.

“It was glorious,” she said. “I saw it when I was a kid. I lived 10 miles from Milroy. My aunt, Lucille Finger, worked in the post office which was in the bank building. It was a wonderful old building.”

The building is listed on the national registry, although the plaque, which had been affixed to the front, has been stolen.

According to http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com, the State Bank Building, located on the corner of Superior Street and Euclid Avenue in Milroy, was added to the registry in 1980. Its area of significance is exploration/settlement and period of significance is 1900-1924. Its former function is listed as commerce/trade with a historic sub-function as a financial institution. Then it was a government building with a sub-function as post office.

The remodeling is now nearing completion. Ruthchild rescued as many parts as she could from the building, from door handles to decorative door trim.

Slowly she has renovated and updated the inside into three apartments. One is already rented. A studio apartment on the second floor is ready for a tenant — it could be for a visiting doctor or professor because it is furnished. It has a modern kitchen with granite countertops, a large room with a bed you climb into on a step that doubles as a storage compartment. The bed is surrounded by wood that is salvaged from doors.

“Trent Baker of Walnut Grove made the bed,” she said.

The walls are exposed brick. Though a foot thick, the brick felt cold to the touch — “brick wicks heat out of the building,” Ruthchild said, so she researched how to make it warmer. She came upon a website from the Rocky Mountain Institute, which does research on the sustainable use of resources. She then purchased a substance that was developed by NASA as a heat shield and is said to make the room 20 percent warmer.

“The cells lock together,” she said.

She feels that the coating makes the room 20 percent warmer. The trade-off was the loss of the brick colors. The bricks have a whitewashed look over them now and still look attractive.

The building has geothermic heat and also radiant heaters installed for supplemental heat. Her electrician is Jason Schreier of Currie. Ruthchild said she could do a lot of the remodeling herself such as the painting, but still needed the services of an electrician, carpenter and a plumber.

She added an outdoor staircase for easy egress from the top floor.

The first floor has a large kitchen with hand-built cupboards by Dean Duscher of Milroy. The new bathroom has a pedestal sink which is a rescue sink that fits the era.

The first floor has rooms that could be bedrooms “or whatever,” she said. The former vault is now a large walk-in closet/dressing room.

“I painted it in the colors of money, so it’s gold and green,” she said.

She added a private entrance to the downstairs apartment.

“It could be used for a little business or a business with an apartment,” Ruthchild said.

It is zoned for commercial use, she said.

Other changes Ruthchild made to the building were new energy-efficient windows.

She restored the newel post on the inside staircase.

“It was in pieces,” she said.

She also saved wood carving pieces that were on the corners of doors and put them back together.

“Fancy little jobbies,” she said. “They used to do stuff like that 120 years ago.”