Little Stone House ready to stand next to town mansions | Don’t miss it
MANKATO, Minn – Until the pandemic struck, everything was in place for a storybook ending for ‘The Little Stone House’.
One of the smaller and less pretentious houses in Mankato was to stand next to the community’s grandest structures as the latest addition to the small but distinguished list of monuments representing the community’s heritage.
The 1,000 square foot home at 129 N. Sixth St. had survived more than 160 years of fierce weather conditions, a fire that left it uninhabitable, without heating or maintenance during a decade of neglect, the collapse of ‘an entire wall as left to the elements, a city ordinance to be demolished as a public nuisance if not repaired, legal setbacks in district courts and courts of appeal , a sale by tax forfeiture which seemed intended to lead to the disappearance of the building ….
Through it all, The Little Stone House has persisted.
In March 2020, the building received the full attention of the Heritage Preservation Commission.
Carefully restored by an amateur curator and once again serving as a home, the house was at a city council meeting to become Mankato’s 19th heritage preservation monument – joining the mansions built by prominent and wealthy early Mankatoans like Hubbard and Eberhart and Hunt, the massive government buildings like the Blue Earth County Courthouse and the city’s most ornate religious and commercial citadels, such as the First Presbyterian Church and the First National Bank.
Then the global pandemic struck, the Heritage Preservation Commission did not meet for 15 months, and plans to honor the house were scrapped in favor of more urgent matters.
With the pandemic declining, the commission is back to work, city council resumes face-to-face meetings, and The Little Stone House is expected to be given its place of honor later this summer.
“When we went to council, we wanted people to be there to celebrate,” said Molly Westman, city planning coordinator.
Whether or not they attend the reunion, there will be plenty of people who are worth celebrating and being celebrated, according to Tom Hagen, a former college professor and advocate for history.
“It’s not just the oldest house in Mankato, it’s an example of what should be done,” Hagen told the committee after a tour of the house.
Hagen’s message included a passionate plea for the commission to work to strengthen the city’s policies to make historic preservation more common and less torturous.
But before Hagen spoke about the long struggle to save the house and the unlikely hero of its restoration – a 24-year-old sandwich shop employee with virtually no money – he told the commission the story of his building a origin and deterioration of several decades. .
The hillside land was bought for “$ 1 and promises” by Joseph Schaus, a Luxembourg immigrant who was building the first SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. The “promises” were likely that Schaus would do masonry for the seller of the lot, Hagen said.
A bank run the year before had decimated the country’s financial system, and bartering was common. Part of the payment to Schaus by local Catholics is believed to have been in the form of materials from the church building site a few hundred feet from the hill at 129 N. Sixth St. – which it was allowed to use leftover materials for his home.
“What we think he needed to do was use a wheelbarrow at night,” Hagen said. “That he was partly paid for in stone.”
Not enough stone for footings or a foundation. There was none at the base of Schaus’s new home. And his payment did not include the mortar. The stones were laid on mud. But Schaus still managed to build a solid structure.
“Stop and think,” Hagen told the commission. “For 160 years the house was covered with mud between the stones and without a foundation. “
In debt, Schaus lost the house in 1874, and she passed through a series of sometimes colorful, sometimes tragic inhabitants. In the 21st century, it was in a rough state – so oppressed that no one cared enough about the land to deal with the mess that lay there.
“The whole history of the city has taken place in front of this house,” Hagen said. “And the only reason he survived was because he was neglected.”
A fire in 2007 was almost the start of the end of the home’s long tenure overlooking the changing city below.
Left uninhabitable, its homeless owner lived in a tent during a long but unsuccessful effort to fund repairs. Eventually abandoned, the home was subject to tax forfeiture and the Minnesota weather took its toll.
At that time, Caleb Wunderlich was working with Hagen as an apprentice stonemason while making money at a sandwich shop.
With Hagen heavily involved in providing advice and sourcing materials for the project, Wunderlich worked hard day in and day out. Passers-by were impressed enough to hand him $ 10, $ 100, or even more.
“La Petite Maison de Pierre” now has three stories, according to Hagen. One is the history of its construction. Another is that of the people who found refuge there. The last was how it was restored to life.