Return of the Tin Man in Oregon, Wisconsin
It started with some flowers.
Randy Glysch planted them around the one-story brick pump house that sits in the center of Oregon, Wisconsin, a small village 11 miles south of Madison, Wisconsin, not long after he moved to town in 2013.
It was an attempt to beautify a local landmark. The pump house has been a fixture in Oregon since 1899, when it was built to house the pump, gasoline engine, and controls for the village’s well and 15,000-gallon wooden water storage tank, which was built that same year. In 1921, that wooden tank was replaced with a 30,000-gallon steel version, which locals affectionately called the Tin Man. But after two new water towers were built in Oregon in 1981, the Tin Man was drained, and the entire site was left vacant. For many years, the village’s public works department used the pump house as a storage facility, and both it and the Tin Man began showing signs of neglect.
So when a neighbor approached Glysch—a retired state employee, former president of his neighborhood association in Madison, and certified master gardener—about sprucing up the land around the pump house, he figured it would be a fun project. Local nurseries donated plants and other materials and soon, the long-underused building showed new signs of life.
“The local paper picked [the landscaping work] up, and then people starting saying, ‘Well, why don’t we fix up the actual building, too?’” says Glysch, who is a member of the Oregon Historic Preservation Commission. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve never restored a whole building before. But given the success of the landscaping, sure, I’ll try.’”
It wasn’t the first time the residents of Oregon considered restoring the pump house. They made numerous attempts throughout the previous three decades, though nothing ever panned out. In 2007, residents secured a spot for the two structures on both the state and national historic registers.
Word got out about this latest restoration attempt, and Glysch helped raise $80,000 in cash donations. Local businesses donated materials and supplies, and local builders volunteered their labor.
Restoring the pump house was no small feat. Its damp and humid interior caused the wooden floorboards to rot, and there were pests living inside.
“It was actually pretty scary inside there,” Glysch says. “We were afraid to let people go in, thinking they might fall through the floorboards.”
Nearly every surface of the building was redone. Crews tuckpointed the entire exterior and replaced the roof. Students in a cabinetmaking and millwork program at Madison Area Technical College built all new windows for the pump house. Inside, crews rebuilt the wood floors, re-plastered the walls, and replaced the old beadboard throughout the space.
On May 16, 2015, the village unveiled the restored pump house as the Oregon Welcome Center.
But Glysch’s work wasn’t over. With the pump house gleaming once again, people in town began eyeing the Tin Man.
“I guess in the back of my mind, I knew that was coming next,” Glysch says.
The Village of Oregon provided $88,000 toward the restoration, and another $30,000 was raised in private donations. Then the work began. After removing the lead paint that had long covered the exterior, work crews gave the Tin Man a fresh coat of paint before topping it with a new weather vane. Glysch secured permission from local and state preservation officials to install efficient LED bulbs on the tower for the first time so it could be illuminated at night.
The village hosted a lighting ceremony on June 6, 2017, to celebrate the completion of the Tin Man’s restoration.
“The pump house and the Tin Man—these are our icons,” Glysch says. “Everyone is thrilled to have them back.”
But Glysch’s work still isn’t over. A donor who had contributed to both the pump house and Tin Man renovations was so moved by the success of the two projects that she approached Glysch with a proposal: Build a new food pantry for the village, which had long been using an old, unheated storage facility to help feed local families. She presented Glysch with a $550,000 donation toward the effort. The new food pantry, located in a brand-new 4,000-square-foot building, is set to open in October 2017. Next, Glysch has his sights on building a new youth center for the village.
“It all really just snowballed,” Glysch says. “People saw what we could do as a community, and it grew and grew. I think this all really speaks to the community spirit. It’s been phenomenal.”