Oldest (almost?) house in Northfield to be leveled this week or next

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I got a phone call from former City Councilor Jim Herried today, alerting me that this house near downtown at the corner of 2nd and Division (110 Division St. to be exact) is due to be torn down this week or next. Jim said it’s one of the oldest (if not the oldest) houses in Northfield, that it’s owned by Carleton College which has been trying to sell it to someone willing to move it, to no avail. They evidently need the land to expand the adjacent parking lot. Jim said the HPC knows about it but can’t do anything to stop it.

To my knowledge, there’s not been a for-sale sign in the yard, nor an ad in the Northfield News or the REG, nor a listing on the MLS about the house, nor anything on Carleton’s web site about it. If Carleton wants to sell the house, I’m not sure why they’re not marketing it.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    I asked City Planner Dan Olson to comment. He wrote:

    Jim Herreid is correct. The house is not the City’s historic district, so Carleton is free to tear it down with a demolition permit from the City.

    June 25, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Deja vu! Well, not quite. Dan also wrote:

    Cliff Clark of the HPC (and he’s a Carleton professor too) said that the building is not really in good shape for modern uses (he mentioned that the ceiling was pretty low). Plus the brick is really soft which would make it very difficult and expensive to move. Cliff thought it might be impossible to move. Carleton put an ad somewhere (Northfield News?) offering it free to anyone who would move it, but there were no takers.

    June 25, 2007
  3. John S. Thomas said:

    They evidently need the land to expand the adjacent parking lot.

    Just what Carleton and Northfield needs. More parking lots.

    I dont understand this one. It seems to me that there are houses on each side of this location? I dont see how the parking fits in here.

    June 25, 2007
  4. Cynthia M. Child said:

    As my realtor knows, I usually want to see every house on the market near my price range. I would have wanted to take a looky. But I am not a subscriber (although soon to change) to the NNews.

    June 25, 2007
  5. Deja vu! Well, not quite.

    Well, actually, it was kind of the same story. St. Olaf offered Manitou Cottage up for a negligible fee (like $500 or something) to anyone who wanted to find a place to put it and get it moved there. Nobody was interested, because the building was not in especially good condition and would require a lot of work after it was moved.

    And I just realized where that Carleton building is. That’s a nasty place for a parking lot 🙁

    June 26, 2007
  6. Ross Currier said:

    It is very sad to see historic homes destroyed. There is little protection for anything outside the historic district. A hundred-plus-year-old farmhouse on Greenvale Avenue was recently torn down too.

    As a developer, I have been involved in the moving of some historic structures. Indeed, brick houses, with little “flex”, are harder to move. It would be nice if interested buyers could at least investigate the possibility.

    Let us remember that Carleton is often criticized for its employees parking on our streets. Perhaps we have met the enemy and it is us.

    June 26, 2007
  7. Dan Bergeson said:

    Carleton did indeed run an ad in the N. News several weeks ago offering the house at no cost to anyone who wanted to move it at their expense. No takers to date. I don’t know of any intent to use the space for expanded parking, although I’m not the final authority.

    The house, while historic, has not been occupied for a number of years and has become unsafe for occupancy without a large infusion of funds to restore it. And even then, it would not be very useful to the college. Further questions should be directed to Steven Spehn, Director of Facilities at Carleton.

    June 26, 2007
  8. I do not anything about this house, but it is always sad to see a old house being torn down (especially for a parking lot).

    June 26, 2007
  9. Anne Bretts said:

    Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for the Historical Society to be the leader in the process for disposing of old buildings? When old buildings are considered for demolition, the city could steer owners to NHS, which could help with researching the history and getting the word out about it being available to be moved. If the building has to be demolished, photos could be taken and put with the history in a “This Old House” file.
    I do love saving historic buildings, but it does make sense that we have to prioritize resources for doing so.

    June 26, 2007
  10. Well Anne, I’m glad you want to add to my work load! I could see NHS doing something along those lines. However, and I do not want this to sound bad, but besides the house being really old what other historical significance does the house have? You are right we need to prioritize because if you started throwing money at every building there would not be enough to go around. I can see NHS taking a lead in helping to preserve historic buildings but there just has to be some other significance than the house just being old.

    June 26, 2007
  11. Jessica Paxton said:

    Griff, you know I dig you, but this is a perfect example of people jumping to conclusions and immediately pointing the finger at the “bad guy” (in this case, Carleton).

    I would like to reiterate Dan Bergerson’s comment (#9 — thank you, Dan, for chiming in and setting the record straight!):

    An ad was placed in the Northfield News a while back stating that this structure was available to any interested parties. No one responded. Carleton has owned this house for many years with the intention of hopefully making use of it rather than tearing it down. But considering the deteriorated condition of the structure, the limitations for future usage and the lack of funds, it was decided that the best thing to do at this time was to have it moved or torn down. Primarily due to the fact that the building is considered unsafe.

    And I’ve heard nothing about plans for expanding the parking lot.

    Best bet: contact Steven Spehn or Gloria Heinz at Carleton for the inside scoop.

    June 26, 2007
  12. Jessica Paxton said:

    Oops. Typo alert.

    Sorry, Dan. That would be Bergeson, not Bergerson. I guess it’s time for some lunch!

    June 26, 2007
  13. Anne Bretts said:

    Hayes, guess I should have been more clear. I don’t want you preserving houses at all — unless you want to. It just seems there’s no central place where someone can check to see whether a building is old or historic, and it seems alerting you would be the first step in that process. If NHS says the building is just old, fine. If it’s an undiscovered treasure, you could post info on your website and serve as the group to alert the community, nothing more. If there’s no public will to do anything, the prioritizing is, in effect, done. If several historic buildings are on the block, then I suppose the prioritizing would go to a new level. That’s not likely to happen.
    It just seems now that there’s no consistant place to check for information or place notices. I think that with one not so historic building every year or so, that wouldn’t be much. I’ll volunteer to he

    June 26, 2007
  14. You are right there really is not a central place. There are really only two places to go, NHS and the Library. The big problem is there is no central spot for anyone to go on historic information in NFLD…however, Sam Demas and I along with a group of people from the colleges and the library have written a grant for something like that! Now just cross your finger and hope we get the grant! 🙂

    I also would be intrested in posting some information on our site about historic homes in NFLD. NFLD has some great homes and Northfielders seems take alot of pride in them. We should get something together.

    June 26, 2007
  15. Ray Cox said:

    I’m glad to see such interest in an older home in Northfield! I know Carleton has wrestled with this house for some time. My company prepared some preliminary cost estimates for improvements to the home at one time, so I know they have looked at many options.
    Unfortunately, there does come a time when the useful life of a home is reached. This is at times enhanced slightly by an alternate use for the land. It sounds like Carleton has a plan for the site to address other pressing needs of the college.
    A couple of months ago my company demolished an older home on Maple Street. It was sad to watch the home come down, but it really wasn’t in a condition to save. We are creating a lovely new home on the site that should serve Northfield residents well for decades.
    Work goes on.

    June 26, 2007
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Jessica, in my first paragraph and headline, I tried to be neutral and not paint Carleton as the “bad guy” as I relayed Jim Herreid’s phone call. Was there something in that text — headline or paragraph — that you think was unfair?

    In my second paragraph, I just questioned the lack of marketing. I still have that question!

    Since you’re one of Carleton’s PR/Communications staffers, why is there nothing on the Carleton web site about it? Why haven’t you posted anything to Northfield.org about it? It seems to me that the best strategy for avoiding any “bad guy” characterizations would be to over-communicate about the house and the predicament that the college has with it.

    We still don’t know what plans the college has for the property. Could you ask Steven Spehn or Gloria Heinz to chime in here?

    Here’s an idea: offer the house to the Northfield Union of Youth/The Key as long as they commit to sweat equity/repairs to bring it up to code/safety. They’ve been desperately looking for a place for The Key near downtown for the past year or more.


    PS to Sean. Thanks for the link to the Beacon (local gov GIS service). Here’s a snapshot of the house info:


    June 27, 2007
  17. Anne Bretts said:

    Love ya, Griff, but this is one of those times when citizen journalism falls a bit short. And you’ve been doing this long enough to be a pro.
    Putting in that Carleton ‘evidently needs to expand the parking lot’ without confirming it wasn’t fair to the college. If you want to know what’s up, call and ask. College and government officials can’t be expected to monitor every blog in town to answer any question posted on any given day.
    And hinting in the headline that this is the oldest house in town, rather than an old house, makes the situation appear far more serious.
    ‘Carleton to demolish unsafe building’ is just as accurate for a headline but not as interesting.
    And a call would tell you that if the house is unsafe, it would be a problem for the Key. Just looking at the exterior, you can tell that there’s no handicapped accessibility, inadequate exits from the upper floor, etc. And if they could fix it, Carleton would be the bad guy if it ever needed the house back.
    In short, you gave Carleton a raw deal here.
    As for saving old houses, I like the Ojibwe tradition of making sure there’s no trace of their buildings or cemeteries when they finish with them. We Americans become awfully attached to things and how to preserve them. I’m not saying we should tear down everything old, and I find walking through old cemeteries kind of interesting, but I’ve seen far too much effort spent on marginal buildings, and I can see where cemeteries as new play fields for kids would be a good investment in areas where land is at a premium.

    June 27, 2007
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    The house was torn down this morning. Here’s a 9 am photo. Click to enlarge.


    Anne, I’ll try to respond to your comments later today. I’m off to make a buck!

    June 27, 2007
  19. Anne Bretts said:

    No problem. Don’t mean to sound harsh. You make a great contribution to the community and I love most of what you do. Keep up the great work!

    June 27, 2007
  20. kiffi summa said:

    I hope that Carleton, with it’s concerns for good environmental practices, and its laudable ENTS program, saved some of the re-usable buildng materials from the torn down house, i.e. bricks, timbers etc.

    Re-cycling building materials, especially from a house that old, is a great way to “keep it alive”.

    Look to St. Olaf’s example of building those magnificent , large Adirondack chairs from the seats of their old bleachers, which were no longer code safety compliant. A GREAT re-use.

    Anyone know about recycling any of the building materials from the torn-down house?

    June 28, 2007
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, the heavy equipment crushed the entire house within an hour. Wood and bricks were all scooped together into a dump truck. It was then dumped into the river behind the stadium. FN! Kidding!

    Anne, I think you and I have a fundamental disagreement about citizen blogs like this one. I think it’s legit and often helpful to just ask “anyone know what’s up with X?” without doing the journalistic digging.

    And it’s easy for any company/organization to monitor the entire blogosphere for anything that’s said about them. Really easy.

    I don’t think I was irresponsible in my wording. I reported what I’d heard from a former city councilor and planning commissioner. He confirmed that the HPC had been concerned about it/looked into it.

    All of that said to me that a LOT had been going on for quite a while and there was nothing that I could find posted publicly about it.

    Carleton appears to have done everything right here re: the house, no matter if they plan to put a parking lot there or not. But the lack of marketing the house and lack of communications about their predicament with it still puzzles me.

    June 29, 2007
  22. Anne Bretts said:

    Yes, we’ll have to disagree. You want the best of both worlds, supposedly reporting reliable information and generating discussions on serious issues without any of the responsibility of reassuring your readers that the information is true and reliable — and fair.
    There’s a difference between posting a photo of pipeline construction and just asking what’s going on and printing unconfirmed rumors and then asking people to deny or confirm them — when they may not even know the rumor is out there. The headline and story on this house are the equivalent of “I heard from a former police office that the pastor is beating his wife. I made this post this morning and the pastor hasn’t denied the story, so what’s up with that?”
    And I don’t understand your problem with the college’s job of marketing. It’s not a historic house, just an old, unsafe one that probably can’t be moved. There are 500 homes for sale in a lousy market, so why would the college think someone would buy it? As for salvage, with the high cost of demolition landfills it’s a good bet there was nothing to salvage or they would have done so.
    Finally, if this concerns you, work with the City Hall and the Historic Preservation Commission and Northfield Historical Society to develop a system to help people with these situations. Having a system to get advice and communicate such dilemmas would be a help with the next situation. And sure, HPC only has limited jurisdiction, but surely it could act in an advisory role for other properties.
    So it seems you have the power to do something about this if it matters that much to you.

    June 30, 2007

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