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CARTERVILLE — A half a dozen men are standing in front of a building, two on a scaffold as they scrape at paint on the wood frame of a 100-year-old building.

They've scraped enough paint off the metal supports, which support the three buildings that make up half the block on Division Street in Carterville.

The suite of buildings, unused and closed up for at least 30 years, are beginning to see a new life, as they are rehabbed and refurbished by Jeromy and T.J. Fricke of Irons in the Fire.

The couple purchased the buildings in the fall of 2015 and have been working to restore them since.

Though this is their passion, they also make it their mission to share how these older buildings need to, and can be, restored and used again in contemporary structure. Co-owner Jeromy has a background in metalworking and a degree in art from John A. Logan College. He also a degree in computer aided design from Logan.

The couple spoke against demolishing a 120-year-old train depot in Murphysboro, speaking in support of renovating it and trying to help its owner get the building in enough shape to stop it from incurring citations for violating city housing code. Jeromy Fricke grew up in Murphysboro, his wife, in Herrin.

T.J. said the couple has been in the restoration business for about 11 years, working on every home they've lived in, with her restoring a home-turned-business of her mother-in-law, a certified public accountant in Carbondale.

For years, they've scoured the region, rescuing historic items from buildings and homes that are getting rid of them or that are scheduled for demolition.

They said that's how they first encountered Martin Schaldemose, the man who owns the 120-plus-year-old former M&O train depot in Murphysboro. The couple contacted him about buying the original windows to the train depot when they saw that he'd taken them out; he told them that they were taken out and he'd planned to put them back in.

T.J. said she's seen other people buy older buildings that they plan to restore and don't often trust others with helping them with their renovation projects.

"They want to save them, but they don't always have the money and time" to devote to it, she said.

The Frickes have volunteered their services to help the train depot owner, she said.

"There is just a lot of work that can be done," she said.

Business incentives available

At the April 25 committees meeting in Murphysboro, T.J. Fricke told the board that these buildings and their owners can and should be supported through incentives like that offered by enterprise zones or TIFs, Tax Increment Financing districts.

Such incentives in Carterville led to the couple getting a $20,000 public improvement loan, which helps them renovate the buildings, especially the facades. The loan means the couple, in effect, is borrowing the money at 0 percent interest, T.J. said.

In addition to its public improvement financing, Carterville offers incentives through its Enterprise Zone and its TIF district that covers more than 30 acres.

First major renovation undertaking

This is one of their first major building renovation projects this couple has undertaken. When they purchased the building and moved in to work, they had to climb through mounds and mounds of items, as the buildings had basically been used as storage space. Several chairs, tables and other items on display in an events room in the old Knights of Pythias building at 114 N. Division St. were rescued from rooms on the top level of building 112, T.J. said.

T.J. Fricke gave a tour of the suite of buildings, which are actually three separate buildings: the one at 114 N. Division and others at 112 N. Division and 110 N. Division St. The buildings take up almost half the block.  The entrance to the couple's business, Irons In The Fire, is around the corner, at 113 Jersey St. The Frickes are tearing down a wall between this building and the next, creating an entrance to the top-level floor where T.J. said a "brothel" once operated.

Sheri Hunter and Jennifer Spence, co-authors of "Carterville, Cambria and Crainville: A Look Back at Our Towns," said they have no proof that a brothel ever operated in that location; the two said they believe an off-hand comment made by an auctioneer might have fueled that speculation.  Spence said she believes the space might have been used a space for boarders who might have worked on either a local train or local coal mine.

The first building, the one their office is in, is the old "K of P" building, where an apothecary was on the street level and a fraternal order — the Knights of Pythias — on the top level, the couple said. Upstairs in the couple's office, around the corner from the Irons in the Fire office space, is a huge sheet of plastic, which T.J. lifts up to show the hole being created for a doorway to lead to the middle building: There are eight brown, individually designed screen doors to each room, which has a pocket door that can slide into and out of a niche space in the wall, creating a subdivided space.

The hallway is split by a long staircase, going down to the front of the street and one to the back of the building. After descending the front stairs, T.J. turns around and points out what she calls "peep holes" in the stairway — which she presumed people used to know who was coming in and leaving the property. It was buildings like this, with front and back stairs, that were thought to have harbored brothel-type businesses, Spence said.

The middle building is one that T.J. believes was added sometime after buildings on either side of it was constructed.

The third building she believes was a shoe store, based on a painted-on ad that was uncovered under paint, on a wall believed to have once been the exterior of the wall; that building once occupied the Selz Royal Blue Shoes, which closed its doors in the 1940s, Spence said.

Carterville's Paw Prints has moved into the space and plans to announce its grand re-opening soon. T.J. showed off the original tin ceilings, walls and flooring and showed off the skylight — which is a glass floor. She also showed how the couple used reclaimed material, such as wood from an old barn, to build a new change room and bathroom. What was once the building's coal room, a brick enclosure near the shop's back, will now be used as a cashier's area.

Both Hunter and Spence applauded the work the couple is doing.

"I’m cut out of the same cloth as they are," said Spence; she renovated the building that now houses the city's Heritage Museum and is restoring the building next to it to open as a bakery. "I think it's very import to preserve our past and I think that downtowns are really the charming part of any city."

Spence, who worked in tourism in Nashville, said travelers often look for destinations with "cute little places" to shop and eat. She sees the couple's renovation of the building as helping to mark the area, a few miles within 30 area wineries, as a destination location.

"I’m glad that it’s just more than having business in the building," she said. "I’m glad that it’s being restored — it’s got to tell a story.”

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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