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July 18, 2019

7/11/2019 2:12:00 PM
New creamery owner brings blood, sweat and cheers to landmark's second 100 years

The expansive interior of the long-abandoned Alme-lund Creamery is much more solid than you’d expect. Judging from its shattered windows and non-existent roof this cavernous structure ought to be crumbling.   But the 40 foot central columns and footings are solid, and there’s no wobbly appearance at the upper reaches of the brick-block walls.

This 100-year-old Chisago County landmark will not become a pile of rubble, at least not on Mike Vath’s watch.  Vath was just granted county and township permits allowing him to follow-through on business plans for the site.  He closed on the 6.6 acre parcel last month. He got rezoning for the site at #95 and Park Trail from commercial to Rural Retail and is allowed to continue to use the separate dwelling as a home.   

This summer’s job-1 is site clean-up and constructing a creamery roof, according to Vath.  Once the brush and junk clearing is done on the parcel,  the single family home obscured by wild vines and scrub trees should become visible.  Vath said he will take the early 1900s house down to the studs inside and make it habitable. It’s obvious from  emptied cat food cans strewn all about that it was filled with felines at some point.

Vath unlocks an access door and upon stepping inside the creamery you are met by a half-ton of terracotta shards strewn across the creamery main floor-- remnants of the ceiling that succumbed to gravity.  

But, porcelain tiles still cling like wainscotting around the main room,  and being the optimist that he is, Vath points out how cool these will look when the ground floor is artisan retail space.  The building actually contains a few nice architectural touches,  like glass block walls and heavy duty industrial fans and plates, but they’re offset by some major hurdles.

“It’s alot of work if you aren’t prepared for it,” Vath acknowledges.

It’s easy inside here to imagine clanging milk cans as dairy farmers delivered product to be tucked into the creamery’s cool space.   As a crossroads between Taylors Falls and North Branch,  Almelund was where people did business:  at the creamery, the old post office, a grain mill, they also sent children to the (preserved) schoolhouse and attended church.  Perhaps it can be an economic hub once again.

Vath says everyone he’s come across, has been so supportive.  Merchants, residents and township officials love the creamery and enthusiastically want to see him succeed at rehabilitating the site.

One of Vath’s passions is  making custom furniture out of primitive and industrial-type materials.  (You can contact him at durgan shop.@gmail.com) He resides in Stillwater now, where --surprise-- he’s been rehabbing an old home.  He’ll sell that place in part to help bankroll the Almelund project.  
One of the attractions with the creamery is it provides a large workspace for Vath to build his furniture pieces.  The Rural Retail zoning allows sales out of the main floor. Vath himself will live in the new upper loft of the creamery. He says,  “...living here,  if I can sell a couple pieces, I’ll be okay.”   He looks forward to when the creamery is a showplace for other artisans as well.

Vath explained that this site is between his Stillwater place and his parents’ house and that he’s been driving  past this creamery for about 10 years, waiting ‘til the timing in his life and the property price aligned.  Hopefully his patience pays off.

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