Sarsaparilla Restoration Efforts Gain Steady Ground

The Sarsaparilla building will soon be restored to its original appearance - including its famous decals - through the concerted efforts of Gary Young and Dave Seavey. (Left photo courtesy of St. Croix Historical Society, right photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson


One of downtown’s most iconic buildings – known widely as the Sarsaparilla for its one-time status as a manufacturing facility for the associated “cure” – is well underway to being restored, a dramatic difference from its catastrophic condition less than a year ago. After eight months of steady exterior renovation, the 1847 structure has been stabilized, though it was by no means an easy feat.

“I’m amazed at how much we have gotten done in such a short amount of time,” said Gary “Tex” Young, who, along with his partner, Dave Seavey, is tackling the project. Since the duo purchased the building on August 23rd last year, the building has been completely gutted, the roof has been repaired, and the exterior brickwork has nearly been finished.

The roof was the first concern for both the partners as well as city administration, which recognized the looming danger presented by the unstable upper walls and collapsed areas that had allowed decades of rains to pour in. “When we bought the building, there were about thirty 5-gallon buckets set up to catch the rain,” Seavey said.

The first step in fixing the roof was to build framing inside to stabilize it as much as possible. The rain damage was so extensive that the original beams are worn through in some cases, necessitating a support structure of 2x4’s around them. Where the beams couldn’t be saved at all, three 2x4’s were run together in their place.

The bricks supporting the roof were in irreparable shape, necessitating Young and his team to clear down approximately 10’ from the roof to replace them. “It was much worse than we thought, especially on the left side [facing Main Street]. That was a shocker.” He estimates 8,000 bricks have been used so far in the project.

The roof itself was installed by Steve McGouldrick and his team. “If it wasn’t for Steve, this building wouldn’t be nearly this far along,” Young said. Seavey concurred, adding, “We really relied on Steve.  Our local guys have really supported our work here. It was more than just a job to them.”

Along with McGouldrick’s team and Young’s workers, the project has been enhanced by the Stewarts of Coastal Glass. A total of 21 windows have been installed by the team, restoring an important facet of the building’s façade. “It’s made the building ‘come to life,’” Seavey shared.

The final major steps of the exterior will be to complete the tuckpointing of the bricks, to wash every brick individually to remove its original paint, and to install a gutter system. Once that is finished – which should be within the next two months – the scaffolding will be taken down and moved to the nearby McAllister building so that its exterior brickwork can be stabilized.

Seavey and Young are in the process of securing an artist to restore the original decals on the building. The building once read: “Dr. Thomson’s Sarsaparilla - Cures where others fail - The great English remedy”, and it bore the portrait of Dr. Thomson. A century ago, the third floor of the building was a laboratory and manufacturing facility for the medicine.

More recently, the third floor hosted no less than five apartments. Seavey and Young’s team have cleared everything from the interior, restoring the third floor to an open space of approximately 2,000 square feet. The amount of debris removed was staggering, comprising twenty 30-yard dumpsters.

For the interior, the leveling of the floors – some of which are heavily affected by bubbling from water damage – will complete the framing process. The first goal is to get the three storefronts in the building back into working condition. The second floor, which once contained three apartments, may be used for apartments once again. Seavey and Young do not have a definite plan yet for the third floor.

The three storefronts have ample charm. The demolition team recently exposed a unique archway spanning the halfway point of one of the storefronts. “That’s the crown jewel in here,” Young said. The archway will be fully cleared and restored for the lucky store owner that is able to feature it. Another of the storefronts contained portions of the original tin walls, but their condition is too poor to restore. However, the same storefront has an original window apparatus above its door that the team is hoping to save; it opens by being pulled down from the top and then being hooked in place.

Once completed, the projects will go a long way toward restoring character and potential to the downtown area. “There are four empty storefronts [between the Sarsaparilla and McAllister buildings],” Seavey said. “When the outside is done, we can start bringing people in. Then there will be four less empty stores downtown.”

Indicating how far down in the layers of bricks he and his team had to remove as a result of damage from the failed roof is Gary "Tex" Young. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

The "crown jewel" of the Sarsarparilla building's interior is this archway toward the back of the one of the first-floor storefronts. (Photo by Lura Jackson)