Spencer travels back by going upstairs

Monday, May 8, 2017
One of the many tourists for Main Street's Upper Stories Tour glances out of a large window. The tour gave over 50 people a chance to view a part of Spencer that isn't often shown. (Photos by Joseph Hopper)

Many in Spencer are familiar with the mainstay businesses of Spencer's downtown district. Despite being familiar with what occupies the ground floor, many people have never had the chance to see what sits above their favorite shops on Grand Avenue. To remedy this, Spencer Main Street and the Spencer Historic Preservation Commission held the "Main Street Upper Stories Tour" on Saturday, which included the areas above Jimmy John's, the former Thrifty White Drug, the former Carrick's Hallmark, Brown's Shoe Fit and the former Emagine Marketing offices. Tour guides included "Mr. Spencer" Bob Rose; chairpersons for the Historic Preservation Commission, Sheriffa Jones and Brian Mohr; Spencer Planning Director Kirby Schmidt; and local business owner Dave Jacobsen.

Rose shared his interest in showing others how many businesses, offices and residences existed in Spencer at the turn of the 20th century.

"The benefit (of the tour) is having people see it, and the history in itself is interesting, 'Why did the original building owner put (their office) upstairs?' Well, because back in the '10s and '20s it was traditional for your doctor, optometrist, your lawyers to be upstairs," Rose said.

Spencer Main Street Director Nancy Naeve shared why the tour has been important in establishing a greater connection to Spencer's history with the citizens of Spencer.

"I heard from somebody that's lived here her whole life, and she said 'You know I really feel like I'm really going to learn a lot from this, I haven't been in the upstairs of any of these buildings.' ... We can't move forward until we preserve what we came from, so as part of Historic Preservation Month I think this is such a great way to kind of spark that historical seed in all of us. I think if it hadn't been for this tour you wouldn't have been able to get upstairs to a lot of these places," Naeve said.

Jacobsen explained that not only was the tour a way to learn more about local history, but a chance to explore one of the prime art-deco districts in the nation, an architectural rarity.

"A lot of our history is from the 1931 fire, as far as the downtown, because ... (after the fire) we've become one of the main art-deco downtowns or mainstreets in the nation, and that was of course at the same time that the Empire State Building was being built, so the same type of style," Jacobsen said.

Rose shared that not only was the tour a benefit for those looking to learn more about Spencer's history, but to show off potential space where possible businesses or residences might return in Spencer's future.

"It's a benefit when people realize what is in those upper stories and when they realize the potential for either business offices or residential, or something like that, you never know who might have the thought of investing in the downtown properties, making something really attractive. ... When you showcase what you have you just never know who is going to see it or who they are going to tell about a building that has potential," Rose said. "It's really gratifying to know that upwards of 60 to 70 people really took a look at our town on a different level."

While tours of Spencer's downtown have occurred in the past, Naeve hoped to share more of the downtown's rich history in the years to come with additional Main Street Upper Stories Tours.

David Jacobsen (left) guides a tour through the apartments that exist above the Jimmy John's restaurant on Grand Avenue for Main Street's Upper Stories Tour.

"I hope to do (the tour) every May during Historic Preservation Month, so next May we'll do it again with five different places, and eventually I would like to do a downstairs tour because there's a lot of history downstairs as well, but right now we'll keep it to upstairs," Naeve said.

"I was thrilled with (the turnout). Everyone was so appreciative that they got to go downtown, ... there was a lot of raving about it and that makes me happy." Naeve continued. "I'm so appreciative of all the people that came out and the volunteers."

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