The Washington County Historical Society will finish what HGTV star Nicole Curtis started. The historical society has purchased the 19th-century home of Rev. William T. Boutwell in Stillwater for $600,000 and intends to restore the partially demolished home to its former glory.
Crews began demolishing the house the morning of Jan. 29 — but before they got far, Curtis showed up and asked the owner to give her time to explore options for saving the property. The house, which is at 12588 Boutwell Road near the Stillwater Public Works building, has sat partially demolished since.
In the end the historical society stepped up and made the purchase, which was finalized the morning of May 28. The closing was followed by a dedication ceremony led by the historical society’s executive director Brent Peterson and Rev. Cader Howard of First Presbyterian Church — the Stillwater congregation Boutwell helped organize in 1849.
Boutwell was a missionary who accompanied Henry Schoolcraft on the expedition that discovered the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca. He also helped name the lake. The historical society considers his home, which dates to 1870, to have statewide significance.
“Rev. Boutwell’s influence has spanned generations,” Peterson said. “His name is still seen throughout the St. Croix Valley and will be for decades to come. Preserving his home is the least that we can do for everything he has done for us.”
“An opportunity like this doesn’t happen often,” said David Lindsey, chair of the historical society’s board of directors. “For an organization like ours to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to save a property and save some history of this significance — not only from the county perspective but from the state perspective — is so very cool.”
The house is not in good condition, however. It has been sitting vacant and become a target for vandals. Owner Joel Adamic planned to demolish it because it made the most financial sense, according to Jonathan Lindstrom, the real estate agent marketing the property. Adamic had been asking $650,000 for the property.
Now the historical society must set about the daunting task of restoration. Curtis is playing a “supportive” role.
“It’s overwhelming, but we’ve got that exciting feeling,” Peterson said. “We’re ready to jump in with both feet on this project.”
But that will cost money. The historical society is paying for the property with a mortgage from a local bank, but Peterson estimates the organization must raise $300,000 to $400,000 for renovations.
“We’re going to need the support of the community to make this happen,” he said.
But the fact that the historical society was even able to consider the project is remarkable, according to Lindsey.
“Ten years ago, there’s no way our organization could have even thought about a project like this,” he said.
Indirectly, saving the Boutwell house is possible because of the St. Croix Crossing bridge project, as well as the historical society’s 2013 purchase of a building at 1862 S. Greeley St. in Stillwater. Currently used as the headquarters for the bridge project, the building on Greeley will one day become a history museum. The mortgage on that structure will be paid off next month.
“By virtue of the donations that we received after purchasing our Greeley building and the rent that MnDOT is paying us to use the space for the bridge construction, we’re paying off our building early,” Lindsey said. “Because we have, all of a sudden, massive equity in our Greeley Street building, and MnDOT is there for another year and a half, that alone provides us the funds to be able to turn around and do a project like (the Boutwell house).”
In addition to restoring the house, Peterson said the historical society hopes to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places. It also plans to work with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota to create a “facade easement,” which would protect the front of the building from future changes.
The house “is truly a community treasure and provides a tangible connection to our collective past,” said Doug Gasek, executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
What will happen to the house once it’s restored? Peterson said the board may allow another family or organization to “create their own heritage and history in it.”
That could involve selling it, but that’s a question that remains for the board to decide.
“It’s still under discussion,” Peterson said.
For now, the historical society will focus on raising money to support the renovation.
“The name of the game now is to do some fundraisers and get community support, and national support if we can, to fully restore this to the grandeur that it had been,” Lindsey said.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]