Archive for the ‘Minnesota Historic Homes’ Category

The Maud Hill House

Sunday, July 21st, 2019
475 Portland Avenue, Saint Paul

This beautiful home was built in 1888, and while homes are usually recognized for the person who built them, 475 Portland is more famous for one of its residents. From the years 1933-1963, Mrs. Louis Hill, Sr., known to many simply as Maud, lived in the home and helped shape it into the masterpiece seen today.

Maud Van Cordlandt Taylor was born in Staten Island, NY in 1870 to a very wealthy family descended from early colonists. While living in Saint Paul with her family, she met Louis Hill, son of railroad tycoon James J. Hill, and married him in 1901. Over the next four years, she gave birth to four children, and spent time in their grand mansion on Summit Avenue and their farm in North Oaks. When she separated from her husband in 1934, she took up permanent residence at her “updated” Portland Avenue home.

Originally the front parlor

In her early tenure, Maud expanded her garden space by having the home next door torn down. The delicate wrought iron fencing that surrounds the property was purchased in New Orleans, with local craftsman replicating additional pieces to completely enclose the gardens. She also altered the home significantly by having the front entrance relocated to the side, and the western walls expanded by four-and-a half feet to make the living room acoustically perfect for the many concerts held there (in the attic, you can still see the original roofline and window frames). The tradition of holding concerts in the home continued when another owner hosted singers from the Minnesota Opera and other groups during the 1970s, including Carol Channing .

The home is reportedly haunted, so if you happen to visit this home and see a lovely lady sitting at the piano or standing at the back of the living room, you could be seeing Maud Hill. She has been witnessed by guests at several events over the years but is quick to leave once noticed.

William Sauntry Mansion

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019
626 4th Street North, Stillwater

This beautiful Queen Anne historic home in Stillwater was built in 1881 by William Sauntry, a local Stillwater lumber baron. The Recreation Hall sitting directly behind the mansion was built in 1902 in the Moorish style (now a separate residence) and was designed after Alhambra Palace in Spain. Both buildings are on the National Registry of Historic Places.

House and Recreation Hall circa 1906

Sauntry was christened in Ireland in 1845, the youngest of eight children, to a poor Catholic farm family. When his father died in 1848, the family was most likely suffering greatly due to the Great Potato Famine that lasted from 1845-1849. His mother immigrated the entire family to New Brunswick, Canada, and sometime in the mid 1850’s they immigrated again to America. It was in Stillwater that he learned the lumber business working as a young lumberjack and river driver.

While not a pioneer of the lumber trade in Stillwater, William Sauntry learned his craft from the best, the Timber King Frederick Weyerhaeuser. Weyerhaeuser took Sauntry, who is first cousin to Bing Crosby, under his wing where Sauntry flourished. Sauntry directed the Ann River Logging Company which cut most of the last logs in the St. Croix River Valley. When logging dried up, Sauntry put his money into mining on some lands he owned on the Mesabi range. Not knowing a thing about the mining business, he ended up losing what money he had earned from logging. On November 10, 1914, at the Ryan Hotel in Saint Paul, he committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. He was 69 years old.

It is estimated at the time of his greatest wealth, he was worth $2 Million. In today’s dollars that is equivalent to $53 Million!



The home now operates as a successful bed and breakfast and is For Sale

The Hans Mo House

Friday, May 24th, 2019
110 Burnside Street SW, Sleepy Eye

The Hans Mo House was built in 1895 in the small, southwestern Minnesota town of Sleepy Eye, named after Chief Sleepy Eyes (Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba ).

Hans Mo immigrated from Norway to Minnesota in 1872 at 22 years of age, working for the railroads and as a clerk in a local mercantile. He served as the town’s postmaster for four years until he decided to clerk for the State Bank of Sleepy Eye. Ever an astute businessman, he bought a 1/3 interest in the bank in 1888, and eventually served as the bank’s President. He was highly regarded for his attention to the social and culture development of Sleepy Eye, and cared greatly for education, serving on the school board
for 20 years. Hans was also a life time member of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.

The home was built for his ever growing family and looked quite different when first built. At some point after his ownership, the eastern portion of the large lot was divided off and sold for development. The wrap around porch has been removed, but thankfully portions of it remain in the attic. Mo lived in the home until 1937, when it was lost to foreclosure, and passed away with family eight years later at 95 years of age.

Hans Mo House Circa 1906

The home is currently for sale. View more photos at the property website.

The Day – Lewis House in Hastings

Friday, April 12th, 2019
200-202 E 7th Street, Hastings

At the corner of 7th and Sibley in Hastings sits a piece of local history that has a mysterious beginning. The Day-Lewis House reportedly dates back to around 1860 when it was built in a simple Greek Revival – Farmhouse Vernacular style. The fact that the home remains in a mostly unaltered exterior state is phenomenal, especially with its 6-over-6 double hung windows.

Benjamin Day hailed from the state of Maine, relocating to Hastings in 1856 and opening up a carpentry shop downtown. Though he purchased the lot the home sits on that same year, he never built a home there, but instead sold the lot to William Lewis in 1857. One would think that the home was then built on the lot, since historians believe the home was constructed around 1860, but records show no home was present until at least after 1867 (see map below).

1867 Bird’s Eye View Map of Hastings showing a vacant lot

Records show that the Lewis family also purchased the lot behind the home in 1867, thus giving the impression that he was preparing to build on the land. Knowing local history, it could be reasoned that no building happened on the land earlier due to the financial crises of 1857-1859, and then the beginning of the Civil War. It could then be guessed that the home arrived shortly thereafter 1867, either built as-is or being moved from another location in Hastings or the defunct settlement of Nininger (Nininger suffered greatly during the financial crisis and was largely abandoned by 1867). OR…the historians have the date of construction wrong and it actually was built circa 1868.

Having reviewed the pages of the original abstract, no mortgage was taken out on the lot by Lewis (which would indicate a home stood there), and according to an article about a previous owner, it was discovered that the house had no footings about 20 years ago when he decided to jack the house and install a basement. The only thing holding up the home was dirt, or a small stone foundation. If only more records existed to tell us how this home came to be! So for now, the home is keeping its original origin and year of construction a mystery…but we can still at least appreciate its will to survive.

An older photo of the home

As for William Lewis, he lived in the home with his family until his death in 1872 and it remained in the family until 1887. It has gone back and forth as a duplex or single family home, and is currently For Sale.

More photos of the home can be viewed HERE

The Thomas F. Cowing House

Thursday, March 14th, 2019
316 Jefferson Street, Alexandria

This lovely Gothic Revival home was built circa 1875 for Thomas F. Cowing and was originally surrounded by acres of farmland. It was constructed just a 1/4 mile from Fort Alexandria. Being one of the oldest homes in Alexandria, and known as the House of Seven Gables, it is a well preserved example of an early cottage home design from Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing changed the the perception of American architecture when his book “The Architecture of Country Houses” was published in 1850.

Cowing was born in England in 1841 and immigrated to Wisconsin around 1850 with his parents. They, wanting to open a stagecoach business and hotel, moved the family to Alexandria circa 1862, where the family and children prospered. After serving in the Civil War, Cowing moved back to Alexandria and opened a general merchandise and farm store. A few years later he became Douglas County’s first sheriff and first treasurer. By 1880, he was President of the village council.

It was in 1885 that Cowing moved his family to Fergus Falls to take up the position of Registrar of the U.S. Land Office. He sold the house to Gustave Kortsch, a German immigrant, who owned a local general store. The house must have provided luck to each of its owners for Kortsch’s store enjoyed such success that is transformed into a department store, and was bought by the Herberger Company in 1914. The home remained in the Kortsch family until 1948.

House circa 1876

It’s always exciting when an old photograph still exists that shows how much of a historic home exterior is intact, and how much has been lost. For the most part, the Cowing house is well preserved. As seen in the photo above, the decorative bargeboard in the gables and cutout wooden finials have been lost, as has the small balcony above the front porch, but the windows and two of the original porches still remain. Past photos of the interior show that much of the original character has been preserved as well.

The Peter A. Dague House

Monday, February 25th, 2019
2520 Stevens Avenue S, Minneapolis

A simple house sitting on a simple street in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. The home was built in 1893 by Pike and Cook for Peter Dague and his wife.

Peter Alexander Dague was born in Pennsylvania in 1829 to a family of eight children. The family moved a few years after his birth to Ohio, where Peter eventually met his wife, Margaret Frees, and had a son in 1853. A carpenter by trade, Dague moved his family to Minneapolis around 1855 most likely with the promise of work for a fledgling city that was still a Territory.

In 1871, Dague built a family home at 2418-2420 Fremont Ave S, a Greek Revival styled home that still stands today, but has been slightly modified over time and is currently a tri-plex. It still retains the front gable with broken pediment, oculus window, and narrow windows on the second floor (even thought the original double hung windows have been replaced in the last four years). Unfortunately it’s current owners have no idea of the history they possess – the home is the oldest surviving building west of Hennepin in the Kenwood, East Ilses, and Lowery neighborhoods.

After Dague’s daughter was married in the home on Fremont in 1880 and both his children moved away to Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, he decided to build a new home. A woodshop was built onsite in 1886, but construction didn’t begin on the house until 1893. Sadly, tragedy struck that Spring and his wife died at the age of 60. From stories found in my research, Peter’s will to live after his wife’s death greatly diminished, and he died 9 months later in January 1894.

Dague was an avid builder in Minneapolis and is noted for helping build a small town in the Minnesota territory into what we see today; however, only the two historic homes he built are believed to remain. He is credited with building the Free Will Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis at 7th and Helen (now 2nd Ave S), or 1st Ave S, since demolished.

Free Will Baptist Church, circa 1878

The Williamson-Russell-Rahilly House in Lake City

Thursday, November 29th, 2018
304 S Oak Street, Lake City

The Williamson-Russell-Rahilly House is a another great example of how historic homes change over time. Similar to the renovation of the Augustine Hawley House in Red Wing, this grand home began in the Greek Revival style when constructed in 1868. Built for Harvey Williamson by carpenter John Stout, the home was renovated in 1910 by the third owner, Patrick Henry Rahill, in the Neo-classical/ Classical Revival style.

Photo of Home in Greek Revival style, circa 1900

The very first home that was built on site was constructed in 1855 by one of Lake City’s founders, Samuel Doughty. It was purchased a few years later by the city’s first postmaster, Harvey Williamson, however, it burned down sometime around 1867. Williamson took the opportunity to build a new home on its foundation in the Greek Revival style. It featured 6-over-6 double hung windows, engaged columns, two small porches, and a side gabled roof with simple open pediment and wood frieze.

Williamson sold the home to Morris C. Russell circa 1882. Russell had an adventure type past. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1840 to a father who not only farmed his land but was the manager of his brother’s iron mines. From the age of 10, he worked on the farm, in the iron mines, and as a clerk in his uncle’s supply store. When he was 14, his father gave him permission to move to the Minnesota Territory, a wild region which 3 of his brothers had already moved to a few years earlier. It was on the Hamburg steamer, landing in La Crosse, that he survived a cholera outbreak that killed hundreds of passengers. Eventually arriving in Saint Paul, he worked for a few years as a flatboater, “polling” cargo up the rivers, and delivered the first piano into the Minnesota Valley. On one expedition with his brothers, delivering timber to Saint Paul from the Big Woods, his raft was windblown into a river bank due to spring headwinds. They spent a week living off bark, roots, and some spoiled herring until they were rescued.

Morris Craw Russell

Russell was well acquainted with many of the local Indian chiefs and served as a Scout in the Sioux Uprising of 1862. In 1872 he founded The Brainerd Tribune, the first newspaper on the Northern Pacific Railroad east of the Rockies. A few years later, he was associate editor of Lake City’s first newspaper, The Lake City Leader, and then started this own paper, Graph-Sentinel.

As for the house, he lived in it only a year, selling to the Buck family, owner’s of the city general store. It was in 1901, that the home was purchased by Patrick Henry Rahilly. He is best know for serving in the Minnesota House legislature for three terms, and as a State Senator for one. He is the reason for the home’s Neoclassical design seen today, commissioning local architect Charles Koch in 1910 to dramatically change the facade. Four 30-foot Ionic columns were added under a fully pedimented gable to the front facade as was a porte cochere to the side of the home (among other renovations as well). The original elements of the interior remained, including five fireplaces, four of Italian marble and one of blue African marble. Woods found in the home are mahogany, quarter-sawn oak, and walnut. The home remained in the Rahilly family until 1963.

Medayto Cottage, also known as Spicer Castle

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Spicer Castle on Green Lake

Medayto Cottage, Spicer, MN

Originally named Medayto Cottage, this grand home sitting on Green Lake in Spicer, Minnesota was built in circa 1895 by John M. Spicer.  To this day it is still owned by the family and, for the last 20 years, has been run as a Bed and Breakfast by his great-granddaughter under the name Spicer Castle. ( in Dakota “Medayto” translates to “Green Lake”)

John Mason Spicer was born 1841 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the son of a Swiss father and Irish mother, and the only boy in a household of nine children. In 1852 his family moved to Illinois where he later took a position as a clerk in a general merchandising firm. Eight years later he was transferred to St. Paul, Minnesota, but took up a position soon after with Ingersoll and Company. Looking to expand into Belle Plaine, he was offered a partnership with Ingersoll and became a manager of a new store in that area. While in Belle Plaine, he met his future wife, Frances Deming, and in 1871, moved to Willmar, and established a general merchandise and farm implement business with Andrew Larson.

As the local community grew, Spicer furthered his business ventures by organizing the Kandiyohi County Bank in 1879 with other investors (of which he was president of the bank until 1884) and also formed  the Central Land Company in 1882. It was in this same year that Spicer helped champion the idea of creating a railroad line through the county, connecting the region with Duluth and southwest Minnesota. The Lake Superior, Willmar, and Dakota Railroad Company was formed in 1883 with Spiced elected as its president. An astounding $1.25 Million was raised ($31 Million in today’s dollars) for construction of the new line. With James J. Hill’s support, the line from St. Cloud to Willmar was completed in 1886. Another line, from Willmar to Souix Falls was completed in 1888.

Having become a major land owner and developer in Kandiyohi County, Spicer built Medayto Farm on a large parcel of lakeshore  on the south side of Green Lake in 1885. Ten years later he built his summer home Medayto Cottage over looking the lake.

Medayto Cottage as originally built in the Queen Anne Victorian style

It was in the 1930’s that local fishermen began commonly identifying the home for locating fishing spots as Spicer’s Castle, and the name stuck. Now known as Spicer Castle, even though none of his seven children or grandchildren were allowed to call it a “castle”, the home was enlarged and redesigned in the Tudor Revival style in 1913 with the help of Minneapolis architect J. E. Mason. It sits on 5 acres of lakeshore and still has the original bee house, greenhouse, barn, and a small log cottage on the property, though all have been turned into private rooms for the bed and breakfast. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Below is a short video story of Spicer Castle with current owners, the grandson and granddaughter of John Spicer.

 

Here are some old photos of the home and property supplied by the Spicer family:

Medayto Cottage as originally designed in the Queen Anne Victorian style
Spicer's Castle shortly after renovation in 1913
Family sitting by the lagoon created on the property
View of beach with slide and boats
View of Medayto Farm

The Jonathan Grimes House in Edina

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Grimes House Edina MN

4200 W 44th Street, Edina

The Morningside neighborhood in Edina owes much of its land to an early pioneer who settled the area in the late 1850s. Jonathan Grimes,  along with his wife Elizabeth, were the first to settle in the Edina Mills district when they opened up a small nursery in 1858. Known as the Lake Calhoun Nursery, the business supplied boulevard trees in the city of Minneapolis, especially the Catapla tree, which the Grimes introduced to Minnesota. Grimes later became the first president of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society.

In 1859, Grimes bought the Waterville Mill (later renamed the Edina Mill), making much needed improvents to the dam and spillway. The mill supplied flour to the Fort Snelling Reserve during the Civil War and operated 24 hours a day during the early years of the war to keep up with demand.  Grimes sold the mill in 1867, and two years later, built his new home.

4200 W 44th Street, Edina

Side view of Home

Now the oldest standing home in Edina, the Grimes house is a great example of Gothic Revival architecture and is thought to be designed from a pattern book published in the 1850s. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and is a Heritage Landmark in Edina.

The Schillinger-Brings House in Saint Paul

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

178 Goodrich Avenue Saint Paul MN

178 Goodrich Avenue, Saint Paul

This simple stone house with it’s hipped roof was built in 1859 by John Schillinger of locally quarried limestone. The home originally stood at 314 Smith (Oak) Street and was moved to its current location in 1989 to save it from demolition. It is one of the last remaining Pioneer era solid stone buildings in Saint Paul. The home is a great example of how early Minnesota homes mixed styles: the 6 over 6 double hung windows point to Greek Revival, while the hipped roof shows Italianate influence. The front porch was added circa 1890.

The house circa 1900 as it stood on Oak Street, later to be renamed Smith Street.

Schillinger and his wife were born in Weggis, Swizterland in 1823 and 1830, respectively, immigrating to America and settling in Saint Paul. He was a skilled stonemason and it is believed he built the home himself. In 1863, the home was sold to Joseph and Lucia Brings, recent immigrants from Germany, for $1300. Joseph worked as a cooper and operated out of his new home for a few years. Ever the entrepreneur, he expanded his business to include a saloon, grocery, and feed store. The Brings family raised 8 children in the home until they sold the home in 1873 and moved to the second story of their store on Fort Street, now known as West Seventh Street.

There is an excellent article about the history of this long standing Saint Paul family published by the Ramsey County Historical Society in 2015 which can be read here.