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RYAN BAKKEN: Keeping the past present

CROOKSTON - Jerry Amiot has been on both sides of historic preservation. As the Polk County auditor for 25 years before his retirement last summer, he understands that some historic buildings, such as the downtown Wayne Hotel here, are too deteri...

Ryan Bakken
Ryan Bakken

CROOKSTON - Jerry Amiot has been on both sides of historic preservation.

As the Polk County auditor for 25 years before his retirement last summer, he understands that some historic buildings, such as the downtown Wayne Hotel here, are too deteriorated to be salvageable.

However, as a retired auditor and current president of the Polk County Historical Society, he recognizes that preservation has its place, such as with the Carnegie Library here that was built in 1908.

The stately brick library closed in 1984 and was replaced by a one-story, functional, bland-by-comparison facility. The old library has remained intact, although bruised by time, with many of its shelves filled with encyclopedia sets and other hard-covered books.

"The Carnegie Library is an important part of our history, serving a purpose not only for research but also for its role in the development of the area," Amiot says of his commitment to restoring it.

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"It's important to remember where we come from and the progress we've made."

'In progress'

The historical society took ownership of the building in 1989 and has made improvements to the roof, windows and floors that their limited resources have allowed.

"It's definitely a work in progress," Amiot said.

The plan is for the downstairs to be a research library while the upper floor serves as an arts and heritage center for gatherings. Doing the entire renovation, however, will require "several hundred thousand dollars" while its improvements' stash of money amounts to tens of thousands.

Its strategy of pursuing grants carries no money guarantees.

Amiot longs for a repeat of the Thief River Falls' Carnegie Library, which has been restored behind three six-figure donations. In contrast, he cites Grand Forks tearing down its Carnegie Library, with the downtown site now occupied by a parking ramp.

"We can't save everything," Amiot said. "But it's important to save things that are part of our early history.

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"Many say, 'why bother with this?' Others see the beauty in a building that was built so well and lasted so long."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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