BY BRENT PETERSON
Many things in Stillwater remind us of the past. From the historic courthouse to the warden’s house and the many brick business blocks that make up the downtown, Stillwater is fortunate to have so many of its landmarks still in tact.
One of these landmarks sits nearly at the top of the North Second Street hill, a home pictured in magazines and books for its architecture — the Ivory McKusick House.
McKusick was born in Cornish, Maine, on July 2, 1827. He left for the Boston area in 1846, but returned to Maine that fall. The next year he went out west to the St. Croix Valley and spent his first two years working in his brother John’s lumber mill in Stillwater.
Ivory continued in the lumber business until 1859, and then was appointed as a guard at the prison and served two years in that capacity. In 1864 he worked for the government and helped construct Fort Wadsworth in the Dakota Territory, now South Dakota. He returned to Stillwater in 1865 and was appointed the first surveyor-general of the first district of Minnesota and served until 1875.
He was married to Sophia A. Jewett of Stillwater on Feb. 9, 1854, and together they had three children, Herbert, Myron and Hattie. In 1868, they built a house at 504 N. Second St., and in 1872 they had the house enlarged.
According to the Stillwater Messenger of July 12, 1872, “Mr. Ivory McKusick is remodeling his little house on Second Street, or rather adding a new house to it. The old frame becomes a wing to a well-proportioned two story front, with Mansard roof. From the entrance, which is on Second Street, a hall runs through the new part to the wing, cutting into two rooms; and very pleasant rooms they will be when completed. W.T. Jordan is the carpenter, and John Whiteside does the plastering and chimney work. Mr. McKusick will have a handsome place with a good outlook.”
It is not known why McKusick decided to remodel in such a large way, but it could have been because he saw the Isaac Staples mansion rise so prominently across the street the year before and wanted to “keep up” with the Staples. We will never know.
In 1876, McKusick entered into a partnership with Charles J. Butler in a warehouse and agricultural implement business. In 1877 they added lumber, and ran it two years when McKusick took over control of the lumber business himself. In early 1888 he was appointed night cell room guard at the prison and served in that capacity a short time.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Ivory and his wife had retired. On Dec. 8, 1900, Sophia McKusick died. Ivory continued to live in his home at 504 N. Second St. until December 1906, when he entered Lakeview Hospital because of complications from asthma and chronic Bright’s disease. He died at the hospital Dec. 6, 1906, at the age of 79.
The home received some notoriety when author Roger Kennedy included the house in his 1967 book, “Minnesota Houses: An Architectural & Historical View.” The Minnesota Historical Society reprinted the book in 2005 with the McKusick House as the cover photo.
McKusick’s house on North Second Street continued to be an architectural treasure in the city. In March 1981 Tom Harvey prepared the forms to have the Second Empire home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The forms were sent, photographs taken and on April 20, 1982, the Ivory McKusick house at 504 N. Second St. was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As the city of Stillwater continues to survey the neighborhoods of the community, many more architectural gems will be discovered — both homes and outbuildings. These are a part of our heritage just as much as the brick downtown business blocks, and homes like Ivory McKusick’s have been tested by time and history. The house will be on the Stillwater Historic Homes Tour on Oct. 1, 2017. For more information about the Tour contact the Washington County Historical Society.
Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.