Like the trunks of trees, old buildings bear the markings of age.
But unlike the circles on a stump, which keep track of the clock of time, and are revealed only when a tree is axed down, brick and mortar structures tend to hold history as a precious asset, an adage of reverence.
Such is the story of the building at 213 E. Bremer Ave., in Waverly, known in historical annals as the Dr. William Barber building, but known to today’s townsfolk as the former home of The Refinery Salon and Boutique, which moved out of town last year.
Getting the building’s façade upgraded after the City Council last month disbursed $77,795 in grant money for the renovation of eight downtown fronts, Paula Stevenson, the building’s owner, had already started preparing the space for a new occupant, the Frayed Feather, a vintage and modern home décor store.
Stevenson had been awarded $14,000 to renovate the front, and was planning on making the design align flawlessly and contiguously with that of the space next door.
But on Wednesday, history stepped forward, as it often does, unexpectedly and often in the oddest of places, complicating the work of present-day craftsmen, but also eliciting a sense of awe with its very presence.
In the case of the Barber building, which is part of the Waverly East Bremer Avenue Commercial Historic District, it revealed itself in the form of a hand-painted glass sign with the words Poyner Food Mart clearly visible over the front window. It had been hidden for years behind a black wooden cover.
“Those aren’t stickers,” said Derrick Sunderman, the construction company owner doing the renovation.
With the caveat that he is not a historian or a window expert, but rather, an admirer of the enduring value of other craftsmen’s work, Sunderman ventured a guess that the sign may have been placed there in the 1930s.
“To think that it would last when the sun was hitting it every second of the day, until the sun went down for years…” he added.
Erected in 1884, the building had once served as a residence for Dr. William Barber, as recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.
In January of that year, a fire had burned to the ground four frame commercial structures to the west of the building, but partially spared the Barber residence.
Subsequently, Dr. Barber repaired his living quarters, which were most likely on the second floor of the building.
Since then, the building has served multiple purposes. From 1885 to 1897, a grocery store was located there, according to records. In 1905, a furniture store was housed there, followed by a confectionery and fruit store. In the 1940s, the “Independent Meat and Grocery Stores” were headquartered there.
Stevenson said she bought the building when she moved to Waverly in 1992 and opened “Picture This,” an art gallery she had started in Garner.
She closed the business in 2008, after the devastating flood, which took out many businesses and homes in the community.
But, she added, plans for closure had been in the works for some time prior to the historic 500-year flood.
Since then, the site has been the home for many home-grown businesses.
A maternity and baby clothing store called, “Bundle of Joy,” moved there for a short time and then a women’s clothing and accessories boutique called, “Jo Marco” followed.
Most recently prior to the façade renovation, The Refinery had operated there before moving to Cedar Falls.
As exciting as it might be for history buffs to see the painted glass sign, its discovery has thrown somewhat of a wrench in Stevenson’s plans to install an awning she has already purchased.
She is exploring what feasible options are available to her both to preserve the sign in some form and to stay within her budget and renovation goals.
“No decisions have been made yet,” she said. “This was just uncovered.”
Sunderman said he is planning to have the work completed by mid to late October.
At least one other person is looking forward to the completion of the project as soon as possible — Frayed Feather owner Valerie Aguilera.
“I am very eager to move in,” she said. “I am very ready and just excited to be a part of the business district in Waverly.”