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Upcycling at the old Schwai’s / Bibinger’s family tavern and dance hall

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There’s some historic upcycling going on in the Town of Polk as the old floor boards and ceiling joists from Schwai’s in Cedar Creek are being crafted into tables for a new restaurant.

Matt Nierode, 33, is the master carpenter at A.M. Construction on Stonebridge Circle; he has been working on the project the past month.

“The boards were obviously run through a band saw but the ends are all hand hewn,” he said.

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The wood harvested from Schwai’s, previously Bibinger’s, dates to 1856.

“You can really see the quality of the hardwood because of how tight this grain is,” Nierode said. “This oak is really, really hard because it didn’t have a lot of moisture.”

The wood is heavy.  When sample chunks are chucked on a nearby table they land with the weight of an anvil.

The lumber was harvested from Schwai’s by owner Kevin Zimmer and his wife Amy. The couple, who purchased the property in Cedar Creek in August 2014, have spent the past seven months contracting a major remodel.

The Zimmers added a cathedral ceiling  to the second floor and rather than toss the wood they’ve purposely recycled it.

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“We’re pretty confident this was milled in the 1840s,” said Kevin Zimmer.  “This is the original piece of wood used when Bibinger’s was built in 1856; this wood had to come from Cedar Creek.”

History notes from the Town of Polk indicate a mill was in operation in the mid-1840s as there was a “good water source.”

The red and white oak have been planed down. Nierode said it was an interesting process as some of the hardened nails had become part of the fabric of the wood.

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“These nails didn’t come out,” he said.

The square box  – hardened nails are the time capsules of the timber.

In April 2015, Zimmer discovered a Marie’s salad dressing jar buried in the west wall on the first floor.  That 12-ounce glass jar with a screw-top lid carried a hand-written note from former owner Lu Ann Schwai.

Since then the only secrets have come from dissecting the quality of construction.

“Remember how people said the floor bounced at Schwai’s,” said Zimmer. “This was the flooring structure and this pocketed into another beam;  this was part of the floating floor and that was the same as the floating ceiling.”

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Zimmer has since reconfigured the second floor. Reinforcements have been added with a strong eye to retaining history and adding art.

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The new tables are in the middle of a finishing process. Lined up along the wall in a building in the south industrial park in West Bend there’s a strong chemical smell in the air as the finished wood undergoes another coat of sealant.

 

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Each table top is defined by the character of its grain, scratch and paint. It now awaits its next life at an establishment in the cozy nook of Cedar Creek.

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