Homes in our Neighborhood With Historical Value

We all know of the immense historical value of buildings in downtown Northfield, most of which are situated on Division Street;   and many people in our east-side neighborhood, as well as in the wider communities of Rice County, deserve credit for educating us about this.

But not so many are aware of the deeply-rooted charm and value of homes of Northfield.    A few of us intend to do something about this, and beginning with the words now before you, we are bringing you one approach.     Through the patient and thoughtful work of Grace and Cliff Clark,  we now present a summary of the home they have inhabited at  614 4th St. E.   since   1971 , together with some photos to illustrate their text.

The Clarks in their handsome home

The Clarks in their handsome home

We hope this will inspire a number of responses:    1)  the willingness of many of you to submit to me your own brief histories of your home. If you have photos, those are especially welcome;    but I would be glad to visit and make photos as you may direct.     2)  An archive should be created, perhaps at the Northfield Historical Society, perhaps at the public library, perhaps other sites, to store these documents and to make them available to others who take pride in our neighborhoods;     3)   Suggestions to our Board as to how we might broaden and extend these kinds of educational and historical efforts, in order to develop further the great pride and interest we all have in living in Northfield, Minnesota.

Here, then, is our first presentation of this series.   The following text was prepared by Prof. Clark.    Please enjoy it and let us know of your responses.      Ed

January, 2009       Grace and Cliff Clark House,  718 4th St. E., Northfield, MN. 55057

Our house was built in 1917 for the custodian of the Carleton Chapel.   The style was often called Craftsman and sometimes four-square because the basic shape of the house started out as a 26 foot square footprint to which was added a front porch, a dining room bay window, and a one-story back room (bedroom or study) on the first floor.  Like the bungalows on the same street, the roof line comes down over the edges of the second floor to lower the overall house profile. The design creates a large dormer in the front and the back.  Like the bungalow design as well, the roof overhang is pronounced and is supported by large brackets.  The house has oak flooring and trim on the first floor, except in the kitchen where the flooring is maple, and maple floors and pine trim on the second floor.

View of home from SW

View of home from SW

The house was built in the Highland Park addition along East Fourth Street on lots that were platted and sold by William W. Pye, who was a local lawyer and built the English Revival Craftsman house at 615 Fourth Street East.  Houses in this addition were all set back forty feet from the street and eighteen feet from the side property line. The setbacks give this section of East Fourth Street a distinctive look. The house was built by a father and son carpenter team with woodwork ordered through the local lumber yard.  A single-car, detached garage was added in the 1950s.

The original house had three bedrooms and a full bath on the second floor, a living-room with small built-in book cases and French doors connecting to the front hall, a dining-room with built-in buffet a craftsman kitchen with a wall sink and small gas stove, small pantry, and back entry porch. The original kitchen contained no counters or cupboards.  Seven doors opened into it.  The basement originally contained a large hot air coal furnace (replaced in the 1950s), a laundry room, a pantry, a coal storage room, and a cistern for soft rain water, a necessity before water softeners became available.  (click here to continue.)

The original house color was white with grey trim and a green roof.  The Clarks changed the color to yellow in the 1980s with white trim and changed the roof color to mixed slate in 2006 after it had been damaged by the major hailstorm that hit the town that year.

The house was purchased in 1923 by Peter Olesen and Anna Dickie Olesen (later Birge).  Olesen, originally from Denmark, had been the superintendant of schools in Pine City and Cloquet, Minnesota.  He came to Northfield in 1923 to become a Professor of German and College Registrar.  They had one daughter, Mary, who married a naval official and lived in Washington, D.C..

Anna Dickie was active in Democratic Party politics, the Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the League of Women Voters.  In 1920 she served as floor manager for William Gibbs McAdoo (son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson) a candidate for President at the Democratic National Convention.  In 1932, she served as a delegate at large at that year’s Democratic National convention and made one of the nomination seconding speeches for John Nance Garner, candidate for vice president.  The following year, she was named acting postmaster general in Northfield but left that position shortly to serve as Minnesota state director on the National Emergency Council of the NRA.  She was influential in getting a new Post Office built in Northfield in 1936. In the house, she had signed photographs from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Olesen died in 1960. In 1961 Anna Dickie married C.A. Burge. He died the following year in Georgia.  She died on May 21, 1971.

The Olesens purchased the crystal chandeliers on the first floor and upstairs bedrooms in Czechoslovakia in 1936. Burge also had the interior plaster walls of the house sheetrocked over the plaster, and a pinchbeam install in the attic to raise a sagging bedroom ceiling.

View of living room and fireplace

View of living room and fireplace

Anna Dickie’s brother (85), from Waterville, MN, sold the house to Clifford and Grace Clark in 1971.  The Clarks remodeled the kitchen, installing a stained glass window in the kitchen that had been salvaged when the Odd Fellows Main Lodge was torn down in the early 1970s.  They remodeled the upstairs bathroom in 1971 and changed over all the plumbing to copper that year. They also upgraded the electrical service and added new circuits to the upstairs.  Following a pattern used in the Old First Congregational Church in Bennington, Vermont, near where the Clark family has a summer house, they built and installed a white fence around the back of their property.

The Clark house property was originally bordered by 9 large parkway elm trees that had been planted along the streets in the 1930s as part of a city beautification program in honor of George Washington’s birthday celebration.  As the Dutch elm disease spread through town in the early 1970s, the Clarks were involved in the treatment program and later, with the help of Clark Webster and Ed Buchwald and the Boy Scouts, helped the city of Northfield adopt a parkway tree replacement Program.  The Clark property has one of the oldest and tallest white pine trees in the city.  Since they have owned the house, they have planted two additional white pines, a hemlock, a Korean pear,  ten aborvitaes, two weeping Siberian spruce, three ginkoes, two scotch pines, a maple, a hackberry, a linden, and two weeping larches. They had a large green ash tree moved from its position in front of the Grand Theater where it was scheduled to be cut down to the front of their house in 1985.

In 1985, they added an exit window in the basement and a shower and bathroom.

In 1989 they upgraded the furnace, and added air-conditioning.  In 1991, they created a family room addition with a bedroom/study underneath and changed the first floor back room to a full bathroom,  The kitchen was remodeled, the pantry removed, and a bay window added.  The work was done by River City Builders and the addition was designed by Steve Edwins, A.I.A. . The woodwork was designed by the Clarks and the built-ins of Honduras mahogany were made by Steven Hodgson.  The Clarks did all the finish work, the painting, the installation of the trim molding and the oak floor.  Some of the design motifs for the woodwork were taken from the Gamble House in Pasadena, California, designed by Greene and Greene.  The rooms were featured in Come Home: Ideas for Comfortable Living from Andersen Windows (Fall, 1995).

A new patio sliding door in an older  home

A new patio sliding door in an older home

The back addition is fronted by a Japanese garden feature on the Elm street side that was designed and built by Jim Fisher who is head of grounds at St. Olaf College. It serves as a berm around the window well for the basement bedroom/study.

In 1992 all the upstairs windows were replaced by energy efficient Andersen Windows. The window glass in the new addition windows failed in 2001 and they were replaced by Andersen.

View of dining room

View of dining room

In 1995, a Japanese garden was designed by their son Christopher in the back yard with a water feature, a stream, and a small pool.  The Clarks installed it themselves with the help of Lyle Koester.  The largest rock weighs 5000 pounds.  They also built and installed the two Japanese garden features in the front of the house.

In 2007, the garage was remodeled into a two-car garage following a design by the Clarks.

Both Cliff and Grace Clark have been active in the town.  Cliff is Professor of History and M.A. & A.D. Hulings Professor of American Studies at Carleton College since 1970.  He served on the Northfield School Board from 1975 to 1984, on the Heritage Preservation Commission from 1984 to 2009, and on various city planning committees. In 1976 he helped write a history of the town entitled Continuum and in 1999, with Carole Zellie, he wrote Northfield, the History and Architecture of a Community. He is the author of The American Family Home, 1800-1960 (1986) and editor of Minnesota in a Century of Change: the State and Its People Since 1900 (1989).   Grace is an Occupational Therapists who has worked in local nursing homes and in the Northfield and Faribault School Districts.  She has served as the treasurer of the Northfield Swim Club and on the Northfield Park Board, where she helped oversee the building of a new community pool in 2007.  She is also on the board of NESNA (Northfield’s East Side Neighborhood Association).  They have three grown children and four grandchildren. Their son lives in Northfield with his wife and two daughters.

February, 2010    The Home of Bob and Barbara Will, 708 East Third Street

In the late 1920’s the press breathlessly followed the exploits of Admiral Byrd and his second-in-command, Laurence McKinley Gould, as they explored Antarctica.  Gould criss-crossed the continent by dog-sled and airplane, and a few years later he was traveling the States with movie projector and his thrilling tales.   President Cowling of Carleton took note of Gould’s fame and convinced him to come to Carleton to establish a Geology Department, a field new to most colleges at the time.

Gould’s national reputation as explorer and geologist grew over the next years.  Partly to keep his star at Carleton, Cowling agreed to build a house for Larry and his wife Peg, on land at 3rd and Elm, the quintessential American address.  At the same time, in the late 1930’s, John van Bergen, a Chicago architect whose pre-World War I mentor was Frank Lloyd Wright, was seeking work, partly to feed his famiy and partly to provide a college education for his daughters;  the Great Depression had not been kind to architects, nor to countless others.

Carleton hired van Bergen on a part-time basis, with one of his tasks the design of a house for Gould.  Original specifications were too extravagant and the house had to be shrunk about 10%.  Even then it came in at a bit over $15,000 in 1939, a pattern often found in construction even today.  Happily, the shrinking is noticed in only a few places.

The house had some elements Gould desired.  As a petrographer, he liked the stone work and was said to have selected much of it himself, including the fan stones surrounding the fireplace opening.  He also preferred hot water heat with radiators, but van Bergen convinced him that the new-fangled forced air, gas-fired furnaces were the future.  Alas, with respect to the windows, van Bergen was wrong and Gould was right:  the steel-on-steel windows, lacking thermal barriers, caused ice to condense on the metal sashes in the evenings, and melt, over the sills, in the day times.  Gould protested this to no avail.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until Bob and Barbara Will bought the house in 1976 that the windows were (partially) replaced.

The house design is cruciform, with east-west and north-south wings, anchored at center by a large fireplace on two floors, a pattern Wright liked to say tied the house to the earth from which it had sprung.  The original entry, on Third Street, was small, and after a 180 degree turn, one entered the cathedral-ceilinged living room, another Wright-like feature, as were some very narrow interior doorways and the small galley kitchen.

As the house continued in College ownership, it became the president’s house in 1945, when Larry was promoted, and continued as such in the presidency of John Nason.  the Nasons replaced the patio on the southwest side with a sunroom having glass walls and formica ceiling, its own furnace/air conditioner, and open doorways that lacked doors to both living room and dining room.  As gas and electricitiy prices rose over the years, the local utility enjoyed a cash cow, as heat escaped in the winter and accumulated in summer, keeping the utilities humming all year long.

In the years between the Nason retirement and the Will purchase, college administrators rented the house.  When Bob and Barb bought it in 1976, they brought the french doors down from the attic and re-installed them between living room and sunroom and had the College cabinet-maker, Heinz Lobitz, build french doors for the dining room/sunroom opening.  This reduced utility costs, as the sunroom was now heated (or cooled) only when in actual use.

A decade later the formica roof was replaced with a heavily insulated copper roof, making the sunroom even less expensive to heat and cool and much more comfortable throughout the year.  Still later the Wills built a new garage and driveway;  turned the original garage, which had been an integral part of the house, into an entry and a pantry;  extended the kitchen to the south, permitting friends to help with the cooking, and opening it to the dining room, to make it less isolated;  added a first-floor laundry;  and replaced a few more of the original leaky windows.

The house includes living room, dining room. study, pantry, entry and bath on the first floor;  three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a balcony on the second floor, and a large finished room, with fireplace, where Larry used to host his poker parties, and a workroom in the basement.  Outside, Larry’s garden has become too shady;  his horseshoe pitch has been replaced with a neighborhood trampoline;  and the stone fireplace and grill has been conquered by the mosquitos.

Over the Gould and Will years the house has welcomed a variety of visitors, from the famous–presidents, senators, ambassadors, archbishops, Nobel Laureates, novelists, poets, executives, and more–to the less famous and perhaps, occasionally, even the infamous.  The Wills have lived in the house for 34 years and have made a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing home, where their three children reveled in the woods and on the basketball court and accumulated a lifetime of memories:  raising the 16′ Christmas tree at December parties;  entertaining neighborhood children with an annual Easter egg hunt in the woods;  mastering the macarena and other dances in the living room;  enjoying music from family members and others;  hosting a wedding for a student friend in the garden;  teaching college seminars in the living room;  chasing the occasional bat around the house;  and always, always, making the house into a home.

August 20, 2009–Headley House

Headley House, at the corner of First St. and Elm St. in northeast Northfield,  is a fine example of the craftsman style of home architecture.     The history of this home has been illustrated in the web site above, which is maintained by Char Hamblin, the Carleton coordinator in charge.    Here is a recent photo of Char, seated on the north porch of the house, which reveals artistic touches such as the plaques set into the walls.    CharleneHamblin05(2)

Click on the link above to take a tour of this handsome home and review its history.       Ed

Nutting House, April, 2010

Carleton College_ Office of the President_ Nutting House

The Nutting House is a marvelous example of the Queen Anne Restoration architecture, and has for many years been inhabited by presidents of Carleton College.

Click on the above link to open a brief history of this building.     Ed

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