Bicycles to Bakery and Beyond - Rehabilitating the Rouse-Hazard building in Peoria Heights
We are Jeff and Martha Huebner, owners of Trefzger’s Bakery.
We are, as most people know by now, moving into an old warehouse building in downtown Peoria Heights.
Many people have asked why it is that we would be moving after so many years in the same location and the answer is really pretty simple: the lease is up. We had been scouting out a new location for several years in anticipation of the day when we would be free to move into a larger space, which has been a need for the past ten years, and the day we saw this building, we both knew it was exactly what we wanted. It was truly love at first sight!
It’s an old building (yet we didn’t know just how old), we have an old business. A new structure would fit neither our personalities - we are both preservationists at heart - nor the quaint feel of our shop, something we treasure.
The layout is very linear, similar to what we have now and the brick façade is similar to that of our existing location and the previous location of Trefzger’s on Main street, where the Marriott Hotel now stands.
It has twice as much room on each floor as we have now. That is very exciting!!
Needless to say there have been some surprises along the way. Some pleasant, like the old beer cans and whiskey bottles we found hidden in the walls of the bathrooms. Some not so pleasant, like discovering the ‘highest concentration of lead’ the environmental paint tester has ever found. (and the added cost of removing it).
Overall, though, the process of getting to know this brick behemoth has been a wonderful adventure and an incredible learning experience. We would like to share some of the history with you now.
Imagine if you will the world of the late 1800’s:
The industrial revolution is in full swing; artists like Vincent van Gogh and Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec are changing the face of art; Sigmund Freud is discovering ids and egos, and bicycle fever is running rampant.
Here in Peoria, George W. Rouse and Sons have taken their very successful farm implements business and turned their attention toward the bicycle craze. They are, in fact, the first to sell bicycles on a payment plan without an extra charge.
The Peoria Bicycle Club is formed and grows so rapidly that Peoria becomes a major center for bicycle racing throughout the country and even on the international scene - so much so that the now Rouse-Hazard Company feels the need to build a new production facility. The new factory will be outfitted with all the newest and most modern equipment and the most talented and highly skilled craftsmen to operate it. With the capacity to produce 20,000 new bicycles each year, Rouse-Hazard would be out-producing its other three factories combined as well as any other bicycle manufacturer in the city.
It is in this new facility that the Sylph and Overlander bicycles are produced, those designed by none other than Charles Duryea himself, the creator of the Duryea Motor Car.
It is a bit ironic that the man who designed the new cycles would be a part of the movement that would signal the end of the bicycle craze of the 19th century…
By 1904 the bicycle market was over saturated and Rouse-Hazard had left the building.
It was then occupied by the Cereal sugar Company of Virginia, a distiller of spirits, and later by the Corn Products Refining Company.
Years later the building would be occupied by the Kramer Automatic Tamper Company, a manufacturer of brick-making equipment. There followed after that a long list of tenants including, but not necessarily limited to,
A construction company,
A builder’s supply house,
A plumbing supply house,
A dog training school,
A gymnastics academy,
An archery range,
A kitchen equipment sales and repair shop,
An exercise studio,
A boxing club,
An artists’ cooperative,
And a motorcycle service shop.
And also a target for young boys throwing rocks ; )
For over a hundred years this iconic building was passed from hand to hand, business to business. Partition walls were built between wooden posts, stairs and doors were cut in, wire and cords were strung every which way and windows were boarded over. Decades of tenants left their mark on this once great structure. True, at one point there was a coat of paint put on and some fresh windows installed, but nothing deserving of the history of the building.
For nearly two years we have been studying, surveying, planning, designing, and praying, and this fall Trefzger’s Bakery will be moving into a building that is almost as old as the bakery itself!
We are working alongside our project developer, Katie Kim, and architects, masons, electricians and builders to restore the building as much as possible to its original beauty. We have consulted with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to clarify the uses of some of the structural details. We have searched the history of not only the Rouse-Hazard company but as many of the other tenants as we can find information for in order to determine when certain changes have been made.
Our goal from the beginning has been to preserve and restore as much of the building’s original character and structure as possible while still making it a viable space to do business. At the same time, we plan to use the space to teach our guests about the history not only of the building itself but of Peoria and Peoria Heights.
Companies like Pabst, Hiram Walker, and Roszell’s Dairy will be highlighted in the store along with antique bakery equipment and small wares from Trefzger’s and other Peoria bakeries.
Rouse-Hazard Company will be represented more on the second floor in the Trailside Event Center, with an original Sylph cycle on display and also some prints of the building in its original state.
The beautiful, tall windows will be replaced to their original size, though we have been forced to give up our dream of having them replaced with historically accurate wood-frame sashes. We were fortunate to find a dozen or so original windows still intact, but decayed to a point that they needed to be replaced. We have so many photos of the beautiful old construction that we plan to share with the public in a rotating display, sort of a mini museum in the store.
Of course, there will be walls constructed inside for offices and restrooms, but for the most part the floor plan is wide open in order to show off the gorgeous brick walls. We even received a variance from the Health Department which allows us to leave the ceiling joists and the post and beam construction uncovered - that was wonderful news!
All in all, we feel our plans for the building will enhance not only our bakery- we could do that anywhere - but the village of Peoria Heights and the county of Peoria as a whole. The rich history of this building is one that we knew little or nothing of before starting this project and it is one that we are anxious to share with anyone who is interested in hearing it.