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Fighting City Hall

Merrill City Hall

In 1889, community leaders in the city of Merrill had the foresight, and found the resources, to construct this beautiful monument to the city. Designed by architect T. D. Allen, it housed city offices, the jail and, for its first 20 years, the T. B. Scott Free Library.


Merrill City Hall before restoration

Later, as City Hall aged, it seemed inefficient and out of style to modern eyes. The city made a number of expedient changes to the building over the years, including unattractive, blocky vestibule additions, major changes to the interiors, and siding over the top of the clock tower. Then, in 1977, the city abandoned the building for newer quarters. Local preservationists, in an attempt to save the building, listed it on the National Register of Historic Places. The city sold it to a private owner for $312 in 1978, but no use could be found for the building, and it stood vacant and deteriorating for fourteen years. To publicize the City Hall's plight, the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as one of the ten most endangered buildings in the state. In 1991, in a last minute rescue from the wrecking ball, the Alexander Company, a Wisconsin-based development firm, stepped in with a proposal to convert the building to apartments.

Merrill City Hall, Merrill, WI - after restoration
City Hall apartments
after restoration

Just over a year later, the firm opened the building to their new tenants, having created seventeen very unique apartments. They had saved those historic elements on the interior that remained, incorporating ornate trim and even an old jail door into the units. The developer removed the unsightly vestibule additions and restored the arched transoms and double doors. They removed siding from the top of the tower and installed a new clock in its rightful place. City Hall is once again "a gift to the street," its tower marking the west side of Merrill's downtown, while the tower of the Lincoln County Courthouse marks the east. Together they are important landmarks that create a special sense of place in Merrill.


 

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