There were skeptics aplenty when Rhonda Dutton bought a well-weathered, century-old former firehouse in Kenosha nine years ago with plans to rehab, remodel and make it her home.
They underestimated her determination.
We last visited her inside what was the Kenosha Fire Department’s original Station No. 4 (“Up to the Challenge,” Kenosha News, Oct. 2, 2009).
The building, at 2508 52nd St., was yet to benefit from Dutton’s considerable carpentry skills and admittedly looked to favor the skeptics. But, even then, her vision of transforming the interior into a highly functional thing of beauty came across with clear-eyed confidence.
At the time, she was living out of an Airstream trailer parked in an engine bay and dating her then-boyfriend, Kenny Rottman.
Today, the Airstream functions as a guest bedroom, the couple are married and the rehabbed, remodeled building interior — particularly the second floor — is a marvel to behold.
Dutton said some tweaking remains to be done on the upper level. Some first-floor areas are done, but the lower level still has a ways to go.
“I bought it in 2008, and it’s been going hard at it up here the last two years,” Dutton said
She and Rottman point out unexpected detail after detail revealing the quality of superb craftsmanship and dedication that went into creating and building the staircases, the second floor kitchen, master bedroom, restroom, dressing room and living room/great room with its vaulted, tongue-and-groove, wood-finished ceiling.
From the refinished hardwood floors, wall sconces and hanging light fixtures, 1906-vintage handrails salvaged from the former Bain Elementary School and too many sundry other antique and antique-styled items to list, there are no half-steps here.
Real wood and bare brick walls enhance the warm feel.
Rottman’s late father served as Winthrop Harbor’s fire chief. Memorabilia from his father’s service — as well as items given to them by current and retired Kenosha firefighters — are enshrined in a first floor corner nook.
Off to one side, a polished brass firefighter pole descends from the upstairs ceiling through a circular floor opening ￼to the bottom floor.
The firehouse even served as the site of their 2015 wedding.
Rottman, a former volunteer firefighter, answered the wall-mounted alarm bell and rode the pole down meet his bride in the engine bay.
Dutton’s bridal march started from the three-story, hose-drying tower in the rear of the firehouse. Dutton’s dream, while still in progress, already has far exceeded not only her skeptics’ expectations but maybe even her own.
It has come to — or is coming to — fruition with some help from others. A neighbor helped Rottman strip original floorboards, baseboards, window sashes, doors, trim and other wood from the firehouse, along with wood salvaged from a 100-year-old farmhouse, a Chicago school and other sites.
Dutton’s sister and brother-in-law, Terry and Hardy Evans, helped as well. Terry created two stained glass windows; Hardy ferreted out quality antiques, some of them salvaged from buildings elsewhere.
Dutton, a retired union carpenter, said: “How much money we’ve got invested in it, I don’t have a real tally: 90 percent was our sweat equity; 10 percent was paying friends and family. We had a licensed plumber and electrician for permitted work, of course.”
They also hired a plasterer and a drywall crew.
Dutton kept the plans and schematics inside her head, didn’t put them on paper and turned them into reality little by little. In the process, she transformed her home into a diamond from the rough.
Said Dutton: “People said, ‘Why are you buying that firehouse? Look where it is.’ I said, I didn’t buy it for the neighborhood. I bought it for the firehouse.”
“Rhonda is very slow because she is meticulous,” Rottman said. “We had a place to live. So, we didn’t have to hurry. This is her passion. This is what she likes to do. She has a great eye. She picked out all these colors.”
Added Rottman: “Don’t doubt her. That’s what I’ve learned.”
“It took 10 years,” Dutton said, “but I knew it would get here. I wanted something I could live in and work on. And look at it now.”