Gingerbread House captures oldest municipal building
Portage County’s Historic Fire House No. 2 is getting a bit of new life in holiday form this year.
Holiday Inn Hotel and Convention Center has replicated the fire house in gingerbread for local, regional and national visitors to view.
“It is the oldest municipal building in the city, and I think it’s nice that they honored the fact that we do have the one building left,” said Karen Zinda, secretary for Portage County Historical Society (PCHS) and member of the PCHS board. “They did a beautiful job on it.”
The display will be up through Jan. 1, 2017, and the lobby is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for non-guests.
This marks the fifth year staff at the Holiday Inn have created gingerbread house masterpieces, and Fire House No. 2 was chosen based off of “overwhelming community response” from last year’s pick: The Castle, another local landmark of the city. A French Second Empire design, built by Adam and Christina Kuhl in 1886, the twin towers of the Castle are 44 feet above the ground. Also known as Kuhl-Gurath House, it was added to the National Register of Historic Place Jan. 9, 1978.
This year, the Holiday Inn staff chose Fire House No. 2 with approval from the PCHS.
Located at 1941 Strongs Ave., Historic Fire House No. 2 was originally known as the South Side Engine House or South Side Fire Station. The wood structure was completed in November 1885 and the brick veneer was added the following spring.
At that time, the Stevens Point Fire Department was all-volunteer, Zinda said. The fire house primarily served the railroad and business districts in the southern part of the city.
“I like the history of the building,” Zinda said. “It’s totally unexpected where it is because at the time it was built, that was the outskirts, you could see the railroad tracks from the building. The primary reason they built the building was railroad fires.”
It initially housed a horse-drawn steam engine dubbed the “General Ellis,” and the engine room took up about half of the space, with stables in the other half. The building also contained two holding cells, Zinda said. According to reports, there also were four bedrooms and a hayloft. When the bell was tapped, the horses moved into position in front of the engine. Just 10 years later, a south wing was added.
In December 2005, a local resident sent a letter to former Mayor Gary Wescott requesting that the fire station be saved rather than sold or demolished. Three months later, the PCHS purchased the building for $1.
To fabricate the exterior design of the Gingerbread Fire House, Tony Paulson, the assistant chief engineer at the Holiday Inn, used a combination of wood and Styrofoam. The kitchen staff baked the gingerbread, which the maintenance team then cut to shape and glued to the structure.
The ingredients included 150 pounds of flour, 30 pounds of margarine, 30 pounds of brown sugar, four gallons of molasses, 50 pounds of granulated sugar, 48 pounds of powdered sugar and 20 pounds of egg whites.
It took the maintenance team about 15 hours to complete the structure, and then the Holiday Inn sales team and housekeeping staff decorated the fire house.
This year’s Gingerbread Fire House is 68 inches (about five and a half feet) tall, 79 inches (about six and a half feet) long and 32 inches (more than 2 and a half feet) wide.
For comparison, the hotel’s first Gingerbread House measured about four feet tall and was made from less than 11 pounds of flour.
The Central Wisconsin Model Railroaders Club donated the use of a model train for the Gingerbread Fire House display. The club will hold its annual model railroad show and sale at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Convention Center on Jan. 21-22, 2017. Admission for that event is $4 for adults, $2 for children (ages 12 to 17), and free for children 11 and younger. For more information about the train show, visit www.thecwmrarcticrun.com.
There is no cost to view the Fire House No. 2 gingerbread house.