Rob Roy Kelly stands in front of the historic building in Canton that he is in the process of restoring.
CHARLIE WARNER/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP Rob Roy Kelly stands in front of the historic building in Canton that he is in the process of restoring.
Many abandoned buildings in area small rural communities are deemed useless, fall into disrepair and eventually succumb to the wrecking ball. A sturdy, old building that has sat empty for much of the past four decades in Canton is getting a new lease on life.

The white pine structure, with a limestone foundation just south of the Canton town hall, was originally built nearly 140 years ago as an office building for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul (CMSP) Railroad. This was about the time the CMSP Railroad was constructed through Fillmore County in the late 1870s.

The building has served myriad functions for Canton residents during its long existence, including as a pool hall, livery stable, a shoe repair shop, an outlet for locally produced honey, a storage building and, most recently, a combination dance/recording studio.

About a century after it was built, a 16-by-16-foot addition was constructed on the north side.

“The reason we know the addition was built in 1977 is because we found a National Inquirer magazine from July 1977 with Sonny and Cher on the cover stuffed in one of the concrete foundation blocks,” said Rob Roy Kelly.

Kelly, who moved to the Canton area from Mankato about a year ago, purchased the old building and is in the process of repurposing it to serve as his residence/computer software business.

Kelly purchased the building in 2016, and has been slowly, but surely, restoring the ancient structure.

“The main part of the building is very sound, especially when you consider how old it is,” Kelly reported. “We had to jack up the southwest corner a few inches, otherwise the floor was very level.”

The 16-by-16 addition was another story, according to Kelly. It was constructed on 24-inch centers, with a very weak foundation. “It was built so poorly, I don’t know what kept it from falling in on itself,” Kelly said with a laugh.

So Kelly had the stick-built addition lifted off the foundation, poured new footings and had a new foundation constructed. He doubled the number of floor joists, with the new floor now sitting atop 2- by 8-inch stringers just 12 inches apart. He poured a six-inch concrete floor in the basement of the addition and installed an overhead door.

“I’ll be able to store my garden tractor, all my tools and work benches in this basement,” he said, looking around at the ground-level basement.

The rickety front steps and deck that led to the front entrance to the building were removed. A set of stairs and a deck, twice as wide as the original ones, were completed last fall.

The interior walls of the main floor of the building, which actually sits about a half story above the outside grade, had been removed several decades ago. So the 20-by-40-foot main floor was one spacious room.

Kelly enlisted Lenora carpenter Bill Tate to frame up interior walls, creating a bathroom, utility room, office, customer reception area, large kitchen/dining area and living room/work area. The 16-by-16-foot addition will serve as Kelly’s bedroom.

The entire building was rewired, with new insulation and new plumbing installed as well. New thermal pane double hung windows and a new insulated front door will also make the structure much more energy efficient. Kelly plans to use in-floor radiant heat to keep the building warm during the cold Minnesota winters.

Kelly wants to retain the historic look of the building as much as possible. Cobalt blue siding and grey shingles are planned for the exterior of both the main part of the building and the addition.

The limestone foundation, which is quite prominent on the (walk out) south side of the building’s basement, will be tuck-pointed and restored back to its 1870s appearance.

New double hung windows are slated for the basement as well. And the original four-panel, wooden folding garage door is be replicated by a Canton-area Amish carpenter.

“When it’s done, I’m hoping people here will appreciate what we’ve done with this old, but very solid building,” Kelly said. “The 3,200-square-foot building I was renting at the Mankato location was sold and I needed to find another building. Moving to this area was a good plan.”

Kelly said he needed a location with high speed internet for his business, close proximity to a major airport for business travel and getting back to the Decorah area was a plus as he loves this part of the world.

He said it’s kind of hard to explain what he actually does with his business, but in simple terms, he’s a computer hardware engineer. He has two major clients, one near Pittsburg and the other located in Calgary, Alberta. He utilizes the internet and figures he’ll have at least a half dozen computers running all at one time once he gets his restoration project complete.

“This project has taken a little longer and cost a lot more money than I first anticipated,” Kelly said, shrugging his shoulders. “All the extra foundation work on the addition was something that needed to be done, but it did set us back a bit. I call it the Canton money pit,” he added with a laugh.

“But when you consider what I’ve put into this and what I’ll have when this project is completed, it will be a good investment. There is something to be said about getting up in the morning and already being at the office,” he concluded.