Ten Minnesota landmarks that may not last much longer—and the campaign one organization is leading to save them
The list of most-endangered historic places published annually by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota is a funny kind of Top 10: You want to get on the list ASAP—and off it even faster. For preservationists, making the list is a bittersweet triumph. It can bring a threatened site much-needed publicity, but there’s nothing pleasant about a doomsday clock set to 11:59. ¶ “Endangered lists are about raising consciousness,” says Erin Hanafin Berg, a field representative with the Alliance. The point of publishing a list of threatened buildings is to galvanize communities into action. “We can provide resources and publicity, but without local support we can’t really accomplish anything. Sometimes the money or the wherewithal just isn’t there.” ¶ Still, the roster has helped preserve several historic buildings over the years. Inclusion on the endangered list saved the town of Bena’s Big Fish building when the CEO of Bell Mortgage, who remembered the fish from childhood, stepped in and funded its restoration. ¶ Minnesota Monthly got the inside scoop on this year’s “winners,” to be announced this month. Take a good look now, because next year these beauties might be gone.
1. Wesley United Methodist Church
Location: Downtown Minneapolis
Dates from: 1891
Original cost: $150,000
A distinctive downtown presence, the “Mother Church of Minneapolis Methodism” has been without its historic congregation for more than three years.
The threat: With no clear religious or public purpose, the towering red-granite landmark is in danger of being mothballed or sold for speculative development. A viable, ongoing use must be found for the property if it’s going to survive.
2. Great Northern Railway Depot
Materials: Locally quarried yellow brick and stone
Dates from: 1902
Famous benefactor: James J. Hill
This superb Queen Anne–style depot and freight house is the last surviving example of its kind among railway stations. Built in the early 20th century after the completion of the Great Northern Milaca Line, the beautifully appointed station drew passengers from across the region.
The threat: The empty depot was sold to the Mille Lacs County Historical Society for $1 in 1986. With an annual budget of around $10,000, the group is now struggling to perform basic maintenance and repairs.
3. Dodd Ford Bridge
Style: Steel through truss
Dates from: 1901
Builder: Lawrence Henry Johnson, who went on to become Speaker of the Minnesota House
The Dodd Ford Bridge carried traffic across the Blue Earth River for more than 100 years, until its closure in May 2009.
The threat: A proposal to replace the beloved bridge with a modern, concrete span has been met with stiff resistance from residents of the tiny town of Amboy, but with a population of less than 600, they can’t go it alone.
4. Jackson County Resource Center
Dates from: 1938
Formerly: Jackson High School
The Jackson Resource Center is an imposing mass of brick and stone overlooking the historic county courthouse, an austere three-story rectangle with deep significance for the World War II veterans who graduated in the late ’30s and early ’40s.
The threat: Jackson County has plans for an administrative complex on the site, and the issue has become a pitched battle between native Jacksonites with fond memories of the school and county commissioners who want to tear the structure down.
5. Southeast St. Cloud
Location: St. Cloud
Dates from: Late 19th century
Affected sites: Kilian Blvd., Minnesota Highway 10, Riverside Park, Selke Field, and other areas
This park-lined riverside neighborhood has its roots in the 19th-century fur trade, and has remained relatively quiet throughout its history.
The threat: Big road-construction projects are almost always controversial, but the proposed University Drive Corridor—which involves widening and expanding University and the University Bridge—has produced unusually intense opposition. City planners claim it will provide a safe and efficient east-west route through the city, but opponents of the plan claim it will destroy the character of the historic neighborhood.
6. Todd County Courthouse
Location: Long Prairie
Dates from: 1883
Materials: Brick and fieldstone
This imposing hilltop courthouse has been a local landmark for more than 100 years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but its fate is in the hands of the voters of Todd County.
The threat: The building is in poor repair, and the cost of rehabilitation is uncertain. A public referendum set for November is likely to decide the issue.
7. Garrison Concourse
Materials: Split pink-and-gray granite boulders
Dates from: 1936
Built on the then-dry bed of Lake Mille Lacs by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the great drought of the 1930s, the tree-studded concourse now extends 180 feet into the water. This Garrison’s tourist attraction is a popular wayside rest stop along U.S. Highway 169.
The threat: If the deteriorated stone holding wall isn’t repaired, the entire structure could slip into the lake.
8. Samuel J. Hewson House
Location: Southwest Minneapolis
Dates from: 1905
Interior designer: John Scott Bradstreet
The former home of brick magnate Samuel J. Hewson was built as a showcase of masterful masonry—multiple styles of brickwork, stone, plaster, and terra cotta served as a subtle advertisement of Hewson’s trade. But it’s the interior that really stuns.
The threat: Another casualty of the housing crash, the Hewson home is now a bank-owned foreclosure. If it doesn’t find a buyer it may be gutted, its doors, windows, and mosaic tiles stripped and sold.
9. Bessesen Building
Location: Albert Lea
Dates from: 1916
Cost of Stabilization: Less than $100,000
This soaring French Renaissance theater was built in 1916 for Beatrice Bessesen, the opera diva who dazzled European royalty before
returning to Minnesota in the hopes of transforming Albert Lea into “The Art Mecca of the Prairie.”
The threat: New rubber roofing, windows, electricity, and brickwork would nearly double the building’s lifespan. But if immediate action isn’t taken, the building will be demolished—before it celebrates its centennial in six years.
10. Dairy Queen
Materials: Glass and steel
Dates from: The 1950s
The oldest Dairy Queen in Minnesota, on Lexington Avenue, is a classic example of early automotive architecture—eye-popping at cruising speed, sleek and functional up close. Soaring glass panes, visible ice-cream workings, and an inverted, triangular shape set it apart from its architectural contemporaries.
The threat: An anonymous tip led to its slot on the endangered list. Preservationists fear it may be replaced with a modern DQ.