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Libby building from pioneer period coming down

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| November 11, 2009 11:00 PM

The building on Mineral Avenue went up around 1906 when booming downtown Libby boasted its first cement sidewalks, electric lights and water systems. More than a century later, it’s coming down.

C.B. Remp won the bid to dig the basement and it was the coarse hands of Libby men that processed the thousands of bricks that were eventually stacked to form its walls.

The historic building that shares a wall with Cabinet Mountain Furniture and sports an incomplete rock façade is now being demolished – and no one appears to mourn its loss.

“It’s an old building,” said Ruth Miller, who spent much of her youth in what was once her parents’ grocery store. “It always leaked in the basement. I’m glad to see it go down.”

The current owners, a couple out of Florida, purchased the building with ideas of restoring it.

“When the owners bought it, they thought it was a better building,” said Lee Disney, who is in charge of the demolition. “But the engineers checked it out, and it needs to come down.”

The water damage was irreparable and the brick walls were falling apart.

“The roof had leaked for years,” Disney said. “About a third of the building as I’m taking it apart is rotten. It was just in really bad shape. After I got into it, the brick walls are really poorly built.”

Disney said he’ll fill in the basement and perhaps when the economy improves, the owners will build something new on the lot. The historic bricks are being salvaged to somehow reuse in a future project.

The building, which has a full basement and is an eighth of a city block, first belonged to John P. Wall, a former New York merchant who moved to Libby in 1891. The man owned the entire block and set up one of the town’s first mercantile shops.

Shirley Hirst, a local history buff, says that the building is one of the oldest in town, but can point out about a dozen houses, churches and downtown businesses that were built at approximately the same time.

Surprisingly, Libby has no listings in the National Register of Historic Places. Troy has two entries – the Troy Jail and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge. The status protects them from demolition and provides incentives and benefits for preservation, such as federal grants.

Even so, the immense cost of preservation can be prohibitive.

“Unfortunately, anymore, it’s so costly to renovate,” Hirst said.

Soon a vacant lot will occupy the space that Libby old-timers recall inhabiting a grocery store. Miller’s parents, Doris and Leonard Sleizer, ran Sleizer’s Grocery from 1944 to 1969. Before the purchase, her dad worked the grocery store under owner Jimmy Krall.

Miller recalls her family boxing the groceries and delivering them to homes with their delivery wagon.

“I spent many hours there my teenage years working at the grocery store,” Miller said.

The building became the Eagle’s Club in 1969 and then traded hands often.