We know Minnesotans love their history — the Minnesota Historical Society was established in 1849 — before we even became a state. And we love our houses too — apparently we lead the nation with more than 75 percent of us owning our own homes. So combine those facts and there’s probably a historic house museum at the end of your street. They’re everywhere!
For the next three columns I’m going to investigate house museums. I’ve come up with three general types: 1. Houses that are museums themselves, filled with period furnishings often from the families who lived there. 2. Museums that are in houses. The exhibits might have a partial focus on previous inhabitants, but there can be other topics too. 3. Farm houses — the rural counterpoint with agricultural significance.
We have dozens of these lovingly cared for museums throughout the metro area. Some are only open very occasionally so I’m only going to include ones with regular hours and those in the metro area — I don’t what to overwhelm you! Happy house hunting!
Ard Godfrey House*: In 1847, Franklin Steele brought Ard Godfrey from Maine to build the first lumber mill at the Falls of St. Anthony. That lumber was used in Godfrey’s house that was originally located just behind Pracna on Main. Godfrey and his wife raised five children in the house and also boarded travelers who had few options at the time. This is the oldest wood frame house in Minneapolis. (Located in Chute Square; corner of University Ave. SE and Central Ave. SE. Open Saturdays and Sundays, 1–4 p.m. Free.)
James J. Hill House*: Tour the massive 1891 pile of sandstone that until just recently was the largest and most expensive house in Minnesota. Run by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), tours are offered on a regular basis along with lots of special programs, chamber concerts, and changing gallery exhibits. (240 Summit Ave., St. Paul. Wed.–Sat., 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1–3:30 p.m.; Closed major holidays. $9 adults, $6 children, free for MHS members. )
John H. Stevens House John and Helen Stevens moved to the Minnesota territory in 1849. They built their home beside the St. Anthony Falls where the post office is today. Many historic events took place inside the house including the naming of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. Church services, school classes and judicial trials took place in the house as well as plenty of deliberations over street planning, river transportation, and water power. A street and neighborhood are named after these pioneers. (4901 Minnehaha Ave. S., Mpls. Sundays and holidays, noon–4 p.m. Free.)
Charles H. Burwell House*: Built on the north bank of Minnehaha Creek in 1874, this Victorian-style house is furnished with Eastlake family pieces and other furniture on loan from the Minnetonka Historical Society. Also on the 5-acre site are a millworker’s cottage, Mr. Burwell’s mill office, a woodshed, and an ice house. (13209 E. McGinty Road, Mtka., Open Tuesdays, 12–3 p.m., Wednesdays (except July 3), 6–8 p.m., and Saturdays (except June 29), 12–4 p.m. Free.)
Gideon and Agnes Pond House*: These two missionaries left the shores of Lake Harriet and headed south to Minnesota River’s bluffs where they staked claim to land and in 1856 built a house of bricks make from clay dug right there in the river bottoms. (401 East 104th St., Bloomington. Open Sundays, 1:30–4 p.m. Free.)
Purcell-Cutts House*: Architects William Purcell and George Elmslie worked for both Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright before establishing their own firm in Minneapolis between 1912–1921. They were second only to Wright in Prairie School Architecture commissions. Their distinctive work is sprinkled throughout Minneapolis and the Midwest. This home was designed and built in 1913 for Purcell himself and is a fully restored masterpiece. (2328 Lake Place, Mpls., Open the second weekend of each month. Tours by reservation only. Buy tickets online at artsmia.org or call (612) 870-3000. $5 adults, free for MIA members.)
LATTE BREAK: Enjoy a relaxing break in the most quaint of all Dunn Bros. Coffee Shops. This one’s in the 1877 Smith Douglas More house with a wide front porch, vast lawn, and lots of Victorian rooms. 8107 Eden Prairie Road, Eden Prairie.
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* Listed on the National Register of Historic Places