A notable, if not frequently noted, piece of Faribault’s history is scheduled to go on the auction block Oct. 18.
Preceding that fateful date is a 10 to 11 a.m. open house Monday that will allow prospective buyers a chance to tour the tax-forfeited property at 805 Central Ave.
The modest Greek revival-style structure was built in 1855 with lumber that likely arrived via oxen teams from the Red Wing or Hastings areas.
“Yes, it’s in danger of extinction,” said Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society.
“There aren’t a lot of homes from the 1850s in Faribault that are in relatively good condition, but this is a unique home that remains close to its original 1855 layout — it’s only had one addition to it, at the back — and because there’s a chance a business was run out of it at one time, it may possibly be one of the oldest commercial buildings still standing in Minnesota.”
The house, as well as its storied history, is somewhat up for grabs. Despite having weathered more than 166 Minnesota winters and an unknowable number of tenants, 805 Central Ave. may be close to outliving its metaphorical nine lives.
Sitting on an unusually narrow yet long lot (its backyard abuts the Straight River Trail near Trail’s Edge Park), the property lacks a front yard and direct street access. Although it was clearly first on the block, today 805 Central Ave. is wedged between a private residence and an apartment complex.
“It’s landlocked,” observed Garwood. “There’s no way to legally get to any parking in the back, and that likely adds to the struggle with it.”
Garwood has puzzled over the property’s prospects, though the Rice County Historical Society is not in a position to purchase it.
“Its history is part of our jurisdiction, and it’s one of the few early, early buildings in Rice County,” said Garwood.
“It certainly needs some restoration work, but overall it’s a stable, solid structure,” she continued.
“But how do you buy it if you can’t park near it? You couldn’t turn it into a commercial space or a museum because there is no place for customer parking, and I’ve wondered whether the city or county could use it for emergency housing — then again, you have the easement and parking issues.”
And 805 Central Ave., which has seen continuous use over its 166-year life to date, is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor does it fall within Faribault’s downtown historic district, which would lend it some protected status.
There is no shortage of historic speculation about the house; one account, researched in part by a previous owner, suggests 805 Central Ave. initially functioned as a general store, with its back (east) addition put on by its second owner, James Scott, around 1857. Scott and his brother Henry founded Faribault’s first sawmill.
Others have pondered if the French Canadian Norbert Paquin may have been associated with the place, since he operated a supply depot out of the nearby 814 Central Ave.
Garwood cautions that historical research requires careful detective work and ample documentation.
“There’s a lot of really rich information, but not every source is equal,” said Garwood.
“Whenever you’re dealing with something historic, it’s like a game of telephone, and 165 years later, the opportunity for a story to morph is high,” she continued.
“The only way to really untangle the correct history is to dig deep and do primary research again.”
Garwood credits a past owner, Rich Dietrich, with having delved into the house’s history and made the effort to preserve it.
“Mr. Dietrich’s work was invaluable,” said Garwood. “He was the first who really worked to learn some of the building’s story, and his time and energy were well invested in saving the historic home.”
It’s changed hands a couple times since Dietrich’s ownership and was recently tax-forfeited. Rice County finally moved it toward the imminent public auction.
The property’s current appraised value is $30,200; a past real estate listing indicated it was a three-bedroom, one bath house with approximately 1,300 square feet. But the interior is largely unfinished, ripped to the studs, an unfinished remodel in progress.
Garwood, head of the Rice County Historical Society since 2003, has a “perfect world” vision for the house’s future.
“The best case scenario would be that someone will recognize its valuable historic qualities — the six-over-six windows, its beautiful doors — and buy it,” said Garwood.
“They would choose to not make any significant changes and would work with the neighboring property owners to ensure access to the house so they could make it a usable space for a tenant or themselves.”
Despite the factual uncertainties surrounding 805 Central Ave. and its origins, some aspects of it are as true and grounded as its enduring limestone foundation.
“The house is unique and we know for a fact, from maps and photos, it was built in the mid-1850s,” said Garwood.
“It’s clearly one of Faribault’s earliest homes, and even if we can’t be certain it was used commercially, it has historical significance.”
While it’s anybody’s guess as to who might step forward to buy 805 Central Ave. at the upcoming auction, Garwood remains hopeful the right buyer may materialize.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see old homes for their unique beauty,” she said. “But if new owners can find a way to legally access the house from one easement or another, that would be fabulous.
“Fingers crossed someone will see its value and take it on.”