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Watch now: Historic Sun Prairie bell tower restored downtown
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Watch now: Historic Sun Prairie bell tower restored downtown


More than two years after a natural gas explosion leveled a section of Sun Prairie’s Downtown, a replica of a historic bell tower was installed Wednesday atop a building that was battered during the blast.

Just after sunrise, a team of workers from J.H. Findorff & Son construction company used chains and a crane to hoist the bell tower on top of the three-story tower base attached to the old city hall at 100 East Main St. Findorff created the feature in its shop and then transported it to Sun Prairie, where it fit like a puzzle piece.

Sun Prairie Bell Tower

Workers with J.H. Findorff & Son lower a reconstructed bell tower atop the historic former city hall building in Sun Prairie on Wednesday, about 2½ years after an explosion leveled a section of the city's downtown. Destroyed by a fire decades ago, the bell tower was assembled off-site by the company, and its placement is part of a larger renovation of the 1890s-era building.

Although the original bell tower was removed decades ago after it was destroyed in a fire, its replacement is a “nice story of recovery” for the downtown after the July 2018 explosion, said architect Douglas Pahl, a partner at Aro Eberle Architects, which worked on the restoration project.

“It’s great to see that building coming back to life,” Sun Prairie Community Development Director Scott Kugler said. “It’s been sitting in a damaged state for a while.”

At about 7 p.m. on July 10, 2018, gas from a main breached by construction workers was ignited by a still-unknown source, causing an explosion that killed Sun Prairie Fire Capt. Cory Barr as he was clearing people from the area, injured two other firefighters, flattened buildings and spread debris for blocks.

Sun Prairie explosion

The old city hall building is seen in the background of the aftermath of a natural gas explosion in downtown Sun Prairie in July 2018.

The old city hall building, located at the corner of East Main and South Bristol streets, was right on the edge of the blast radius. David Wilder, one of the building’s owners, said it was left with shattered windows, roof damage, split rafters, leaking pipes, destroyed cabinets and drywall that had been pulled off of the walls by the force of the blast.

“I’m sure it’s emotional for a lot of people,” said Nicole Plautz, a Sun Prairie resident and marketing representative for Findorff. “It’s nice to see this building still standing.”

Sun Prairie Bell Tower

Workers with J.H. Findorff & Son install the reconstructed bell tower atop Sun Prairie's historic city hall building Wednesday.

Plautz said the building dates to 1895. Pahl said it used to house the police and fire station, the jail and city hall.

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Old City Hall building Sun Prairie

The Sun Prairie City Hall in 1940. The building dates back to 1895. 

“I think it’s important,” Pahl said. “It’s meaningful to bring back a structure that was part of the original founding of the city.”

Wilder said he planned to complete some sort of restoration project on the building when he bought it in May 2018. Two months later when the building was damaged in the explosion, the need for repairs increased the urgency behind the project.

Wilder worked with the Sun Prairie Historical Museum to raise money, donating about half the funds himself, for a study to get the 100 and 200 blocks of East Main Street added to the National Register of Historic Places. That allowed him to secure tax credits to help pay for the restoration.

Flavors Wine Bar is the current tenant in the building, said Brian Wolfe, the building’s other owner. The wine bar, with eight wines on tap, is in the first floor. An event hall that can hold up to 125 people is on the upper floor.

Sun Prairie Bell Tower

Workers with J.H. Findorff & Son raise a reconstructed portion of a bell tower toward Sun Prairie's old city ahll building Wednesday.

The bell tower isn’t open to the public, nor does it have a bell — yet.

“With the right community support, and the right bell, we could get one back up there,” Wilder said.

Sun Prairie Bell Tower

Bystanders watch at the corner of West Main and South Bristol streets as workers install the bell tower atop the former city hall building. The tower's revival is a symbol of restoration for Sun Prairie after the July 2018 explosion that destroyed a part of the block. The historic city hall building survived the blast, but sustained significant damage. 

Wolfe said he hopes the building will become a community gathering spot.

“I think this is a staple for the downtown. Quite frankly, it’s a landmark,” Wolfe said. “We wanted to do our due diligence in making sure that it was a building that you would see and you could be proud to have in the community.”

Sun Prairie explosion: Read the original reports about the 2018 blast that killed firefighter, damaged downtown

Here's a look at all of the news coverage of a massive gas explosion and fire on July 10, 2018, in downtown Sun Prairie that killed a firefighter, injured another and destroyed several buildings.

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Verizon Wireless and a Kansas-based construction company said Thursday that they were responsible, through an as-yet-unnamed subcontractor, for work being done at the site of a massive natural gas explosion Tuesday that rocked Sun Prairie’s downtown, killing a volunteer firefighter and critically injuring another.

SUN PRAIRIE—Cory James Barr, age 34, died in the line of duty, for Sun Prairie Fire Department, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. He was born on Feb.…

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