Archive for the ‘Fireplaces’ Category

The Historic Thompson House in Barnesville

Monday, July 6th, 2015

Located in the small town of Barnesville on the western fringe of Minnesota, and just 30 miles from Fargo, lies a beautiful historic home on almost 5 acres of land. Built in 1903 for Peter and Hannah Thompson, the home was designed by the Hancock Brothers, one of North Dakota’s most prominent architectural firms. It is historically significant as the only surviving property in Barnesville associated with the Thompson family, commonly known as the “founders” of Barnesville, and is locally a rare example of the Classical Revival style (also known as Neoclassical), not to mention one of the last remaining homes designed by the Hancock Brothers in Minnesota. Remnants of the original carriage house foundation can still be found behind the home.

The Thompson House Barnesville, MN

361 2nd Street NE, Barnesville, MN

Peter E. Thompson was a mercantile store clerk for George Barnes in 1878, a businessman who opened the first grain collection center years before 7 miles outside of present day Barnesville. By 1880, Thompson owned the store and it quickly became the core of the settlement of Barnesville. As Barnesville grew, Peter Thompson emerged as a prominent leader. He served as the first postmaster from 1878 to 1885 and was elected the first justice in 1881. In 1889 he became the first Mayor and in 1891, Thompson was elected to the Minnesota legislature and served two terms. Needless to say, he made a lot of “firsts” for Barnesville.

Sadly, two years after moving into their new home, Peter died at the age of 52. Hannah lived at the home until her death in 1920. They had seven children and were known to be very generous, often taking employees or ministers and their families into their home. They also donated real estate for the first school, a local park, and two churches. Two of the Thompson boys owned the home following Hannah’s death, the last living there until 1975.

361 2nd Street NE Interior

Fireplace and Staircase

The current owners have been renovating the home and property for several years. Most of the first floor woodwork has been restored, a painstaking process of stripping, sanding, and re-staining the floors, decorative trim, doors, and elaborate staircase.  The original dumbwaiter is still present, and there is a small ladder in the attic leading to the widow’s walk. For the kid in all of us, the third story bedrooms feature small doors and windows leading to “secret passages” between each room.

The home is currently For Sale with additional information located at the property website.

In 1996, the home was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. The photos below are from the 1993 application and show how the home looked when it still had the second floor balustrade and roof widow’s walk balustrade. 


Unique Historic Home Details – Nursery Rhyme Tile

Friday, March 6th, 2015

I haven’t come across them too often, but when I do, I always try and photograph the nursery rhyme tiles I find in historic homes. They seem to be in homes ranging across a huge span, from the 1890’s to the 1930’s (at least the ones pictured below). I have found them most commonly in fireplace surrounds, but also in children’s bathrooms. Of course I tell owners that they have something special and to preserve them in their natural place in the home. Ripping them out for some “new” trend borders on criminal (at least to a preservationist like me). No matter who seems them, the response is always the same…lot’s of ooh’s and aah’s from the adults, giggling like children at the site of these old nursery rhymes.

Nursery Rhyme Tile at New Victorian Bed and Breakfast

Bathroom Childrens Tile


The Problem with Historic Home Fireplaces

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Historic Homes are beautiful, especially their interior details. My most favorite feature to check out each time I tour a home is the living room fireplace. The amount of differentiation from one home to another is astounding, and I have never seen two homes alike. But for as beautiful as they are, they have one major problem….function in today’s world.

Historic Homes in Minnesota, at least those not log cabins, usually contain coal burning fireplaces. As we all know, coal is no longer an environmentally good choice when it comes to heating your home, and fireplaces are no longer used as the sole heating source either. Another problem arises because most coal burning fireplaces and their attached chimney cannot support the act of burning wood. So a homeowner of an old home with coal burners is left no choice but to cover up the opening with a fireplace cover, as shown in the photo.

But there is hope out there for all historic homeowners in Minneapolis and Saint Paul! I am actually surprised that no one has heard of this option because of the numerous people I have mentioned it to, I always get a “I didn’t know that” answer. If you have a coal burning fireplace and available gas service to your home, you can now have a gas burning fireplace and the ability to actually use the “artwork” which is taking up a wall of your room.

Grate Fires, an online business that specializes in replacement gas fireplace units for older homes, has a fantastic ventless gas unit that is small enough to fit any tiny Victorian fireplace. The picture above is the Ashbery, their smallest unit, measuring 19 inches in front, 13 inches in back, and 9.5 inches deep. You can get a remote control to the unit to turn it on, which I think is a fantastic option.

Now the important thing to remember is that this is a ventless unit. It is made to fit a coal burning fireplace that cannot accommodate wood. What happens is that the chimney will have to be capped outside and inside, as you won’t need it anymore. This not only will save on your electric bill from any cold drafts, but it will allow you to have a gas burning fireplace without the hassle of opening a damper every time you want to use it.

The only thing you will really need to consider is piping in the gas. If you have an old basement that isn’t used, you could easily pipe where you need the gas to go. When we rehabbed a 4000 square foot Queen Anne, with six fireplaces, we piped gas to all six so an Ashbery would fit in each one. Now each room could utilize a fireplace and not just have a big wall decoration on one side of the room. When installed, the fireplaces look amazing. The nice thing to is that if you order multiple units, you get a nice discount!

So if you are tired of looking at a beautiful historic fireplace with lovely tile surround, why not check out a ventless gas burner made to look like the original coal burner that came with your home a hundred years ago. Adding one or more is a great selling point, too, when it comes time to sell your historic mansion.

Trent Tiles

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

One thing I love about historic homes is the interior details that go into a home. I don’t think you could afford to build a home today like they use to a hundred years ago or more. The cost would just be too high, and the craftsman to do the work don’t exist.

When we were renovating one of the Victorian Queen Anne homes we bought, the double parlor had two of the most beautiful fireplace surrounds I have seen. This was my first experience with Trent Tile Company tiles. It is quite easy to distinguish them from others because the images are amazing. Below is the “God” image I fell in love with. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but if you were to look at it closely, you would find some beautiful work: the eyes have detailed pupils, and his hair has depth to it.

The second fireplace had images of a mother and a child, shown below is the mother. You can see it is just as detailed as well.

Trent also produced tiles of nature scenes, birds, flowers, etc. I have even seen an entire surround of cherubs. (I wish I would have bought it.) Trent was founded in 1882 and closed it’s doors in 1939. If you find some tiles, and they are free standing, that is not attaced to a fireplace mantel, then the words TRENT can be found on the reverse side to help with identification.