Bid for addition to Cape historic district gets first nod

Thursday, April 17, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Rene Tomasino, right, and Terri Foley discussed the building that was Jeremiah's at 127 N. Water St. in downtown Cape Girardeau.

When Cape Girardeau's commercial historic district was created in 1999, it excluded 127 N. Water St. Three joined buildings exist at that address -- a grocery store and warehouses built by Irish immigrant Patrick Dempsey.

Historic preservation consultant Terri Foley worked with Southeast Missouri State University history professor Stephen Hoffman and state officials to correct the omission.

She presented a brief appeal to the commission during Wednesday's meeting, after which the board unanimously endorsed the bid.

"It's a mystery as to why it was left out," Foley said. "The best conclusion that we can come up with is that those buildings face Water Street."

The other buildings in the district face Main Street, but most extend to Water Street, which is not the case with 127 N. Water St. It is behind such Main Street businesses as Broussard's.

The application must be approved by the state historic preservation commission before the National Register of Historic Places will consider the application. Foley said the state will review the application in May; if it is approved, the federal decision is expected 30 to 45 days later. Getting the designation is worth money in the form of federal and state tax credits to aid rehabilitation and restoration.

Guy and Rene Tomasino, who moved to Cape Girardeau from Poplar Bluff, Mo., less than two years ago, bought the building last fall and are in the process of renovating it.

Rene Tomasino spent nearly three hours at the site Wednesday, talking with a designer about what color the cast-iron metal front would be repainted. She's leaning toward a shade of navy, something to lend more of a shipping tone, consistent with the porthole-style second-floor windows and the building's original use by Patrick Dempsey.

The store, which Dempsey built in 1870, had a small warehouse, called a one-part commercial building -- the only one of its kind remaining in Cape Girardeau. In 1896, a second warehouse was added on the store's south side. Like many waterfront shops, the wood floor was intentionally sloped, to aid draining floodwaters after the spring rains. The store and original warehouse feature sandstone elements and a decorative brick design, called corbeling. Three five-pointed stars on the brick face of the second floor are the tips of support beams that run the length of the building.

One warehouse door, sealed shut by concrete, was removed for renovation and will be reinstalled within the next week, Foley said. The building was deemed structurally sound by an engineer less than two years ago, she said.

A portion of the 6,000-square-foot building once housed the Cape River Heritage Museum before it was moved to a converted firehouse on Independence Street. Until last fall, 127 N. Water St. was a bar, Jeremiahs's. The bar closed after its liquor license was revoked and the Tomasinos bought the building.

The city's last remaining authentic cast-iron hitching post stands outside. Rene Tomasino said the post was one of a pair, but she despairs of finding an accurate replacement.

The Tomasinos see the site as a future restaurant.

"You can see the river really well from there, right over the floodwall," Rene Tomasino said. A mural advertising Dempsey Grocery Co. and flour is faded but still visible on a brick wall facing the patio.

Dempsey came to the United States with his parents and operated a hauling business before beginning to sell general merchandise, seed and hay. As Dempsey's business grew, he began storing products carried by steamboats.

His was one of five waterfront companies devoted to serving river-driven commerce. Dempsey's shop and warehouses and the building housing Port Cape Girardea restaurant are the only two that survive.

"He was really one of those people who came to this county looking for the American dream, and he achieved it," Foley said.

335-6611, extension 127

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