It's been a whirlwind of a month. "Lets remodel this old diner into an art gallery" sounds innocent enough. And all told, the enitire project has gone just about as smoothly as one could possibly imagine when the property in question is from the late 19th century. That's not to say there aren't some little bumps along the way in a project as big as turning that diner into what is now Match Factory. If anything, the work is intense, and both physically and mentally (and emotionally!) exhausting at times. Communication is also essential, as well as setting deadlines and making sure everyone is on the same page. But we all know that, right? The bare bones of the building were so fantastically preserved, and while much of the town's buildings of that age are crooked after so long, thanks to that westerly wind, it was marvelously straight. It was endlessly inspiring to uncover windows that had been hidden behind walls for decades; original wooden floors and fantastic tin ceilings -- all 12 feet high -- and layers of gorgeous wallpaper from the early 20th century, covered up by 70s wood grain panelling for way too long.
These are the things that made the journey so exciting, and it's also one reason why Hortonville turns out to be one of those magic places where this can just sort of... happen. Just down the street, Claire's sister and her partner are renovating an old insurance company/bank building into a coffee shop with an apartment upstairs. A big old be-columned bank building across the street still has the word "BANK" in tile at the entrance. There is a gorgeous arch-windowed, brick opera house that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are some wonderful little bars, like Hardtails (a really friendly biker bar with the best wings in town -- especially on special on Mondays), and Studio Lounge (amazing craft beer selection, a mini cinema in the back, and walls lined with antique cameras), and Hortonville Lanes (your standard American bowling alley in all its early 1980s glory). And of course there's Otter Creek Sports Bar, which is the business we most appreciate for the owners' openness to allowing us to use their adjacent space, previously Patti's Place diner.
Everything in Hortonville seems to be going through a transition, or maybe some sort of awakening. The village demolished its crumbling midcentury library when it moved all of its civic activity to a new municipal building, and found potential in a new corner park (and an exposed 1960s beer advertisement on the side of the building -- which they are keeping!). Claire's live-work space, Standard Projects, sits at the bridge over Otter Creek in the old police station. A couple of vacant lots on the main drag present opportunities for parks as well, or new build. At only two solid blocks, the downtown is about as all-American as a village downtown can get. The corner BP gas station stocks farm fresh eggs from the owner's farm, and just around the corner there's a gift shop, a family-owned hardware store, and a standard Wisconsin supper club. Any of the country roads leading out of town are dotted with quaint houses and then gorgeous rolling farmland. It's hard to believe it's only 15 minutes from Appleton, which feels like a separate universe in comparison.
The reason I've fallen so in love with the Match Factory project, and by extension its home in Hortonville, is that it is a part of a community that finds itself rejuvenated, perhaps re-emerging. It was once the home of the first match light factory in the world (hence the name Match Factory), and there was also a toy factory here that produced wooden children's toys. There was a cannery (still present, but abandoned), and at every turn there's some blast from the past, like an old Standard gas station building at the back end of town, a fantastic 19th century general store, and feed mills along the once very broad railroad tracks. The people of Hortonville love it there. They make a point to go downtown.
The main thoroughfare is also a main artery through this portion of the state. By 2020 it will be rerouted into a major road around the village, and the downtown will inevitably become quieter. But no less interesting -- and perhaps for that reason, that much more inviting. Hortonville stands poised to be one of those little villages where you can stop for a cup of coffee before popping by the floral shop to get a table arrangement, and grab lunch at the retro drive-in, Charlie's, down the road, see some art, take a workshop, see a show, and grab some dinner and a beer.
I get a little wistful, but I tell myself that it's good to dream: adding art spaces, activities, and programs to this village adds a new dimension to it, a way to highlight local, talented people, and help facilitate other projects and businesses in town.
We're soon going to be holding an interest meeting at Match Factory and invite artists, organizers, and local businesses to join us in making the space and its programs as relevant and diverse as we can. I'll post more information about that soon.
Additionally, I've been playing with the idea of a spring Young Space open call exhibition again, and as soon as I have more concrete details worked out, I'll of course announce that as boldly as I can.
I hope you'll consider checking us out at Match Factory if you're in the area. We're open now 12-4pm every Saturday with additional special events which can always be found on Facebook.