In the 1960s, a well-meaning effort to make the saloon appear “more western,” actually covered up the native stone exterior with stucco and installed a cedar plank wall around the entrance. When the Stonewall Saloon Museum board started this project four years ago, they sought professional advice to guide the removal of that material. They enlisted the services of local mason Mike Hofbaugher, whose work exposed the beautiful rock walls that were once favored by builders of the town’s 19th-century public structures. The front facade, however, was severely water-damaged and required reconstruction.
It is known within Saint Jo that when banker James R. Wiley purchased the building in the early 20th century, he redesigned its front entrance, but that change had later been concealed. As workers now took off the mid-20th century era stucco, they found remnants that revealed his alterations. Historic brickwork and iron posts that once held up a corner entrance gave physical evidence to when the structure served as the town’s community bank. Workers, including local junior high students, cleaned the decayed mortar from these salvaged bricks. Although the Stonewall Saloon team ultimately wants to return the building to its 1873 appearance, their objective now is to save the artifacts that tell of the property’s more than a century-old life by repurposing the architectural elements in structural work and even exhibits.
Restoration work also uncovered hidden history inside the building. Under layers of plaster and wallpaper, workers discovered an 1870’s mural (pictured below, left) behind the old bar that depicts urns with flowers and reeds. A historical art conservator informed the non-profit that traveling artists commonly decorated the walls of public buildings in that era. He recommended techniques to preserve the artwork and informed them about the original colors of the building’s interior. Using this information, Joel Hale, a local artist, was able to create a new rendering of the historical mural for the saloon (pictured below, right).
Through the support of an active and passionate community, historic integrity has been restored to the Stonewall Saloon Museum. With the exterior, first floor, and new addition now completed, the organization is preparing for the final phase of the project: reconstructing the second floor. The restored space will eventually house artifacts and pictures celebrating the history of an important stop along one of the state’s most famous cattle trails.