National Register Historic Districts
During Federal Fiscal Year 2021 the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) received four National Register nominations for historic districts. One nomination was for a new historic district, while three others were boundary alterations. The new listing is for the Montgomery Commercial Historic District located in Montgomery, Le Sueur County, in southern Minnesota. One of the boundary alterations is for the Northfield Commercial Historic District, which is located in Northfield, Rice and Dakota Counties, just south of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. Another boundary alteration is for the Faribault Commercial Historic District in Faribault, Rice County, in the southern part of the state. The last boundary alteration is for Pillsbury Academy Campus Historic District in Owatonna, Steele County, also in southern Minnesota.
The SHPO is pleased to list the new district and to change the boundaries of the other three districts. This is in part because it avails property owners of buildings contributing to the historic significance of each district to gain access to federal and state tax credits for historic rehabilitation. Many property owners in Minnesota have taken advantage of the tax credits to breathe new life into their income-producing historic buildings. Moreover, the program has substantially increased employment opportunities for those working in the construction trades and other areas. The tax credits allow communities to use the existing infrastructure rather than raze it and build entirely anew, which benefits all of us, for we preserve much of the history that has come to define our lives.
The Montgomery Commercial Historic District is represented by commercial properties, mostly one- and two-story brick Commercial-style buildings built largely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Platted in the mid-1870s, Montgomery quickly grew into a thriving railroad community with an economy based largely on agriculture and industries associated with it. Montgomery’s downtown commercial area was the core of the community, serving as the place to be for commercial, financial, social, and recreational activities. It would remain so for nearly sixty-five years before it began losing visitors to large urban and suburban shopping malls. The documentation was completed as a cooperative effort between the consultant and SHPO staff.
The original National Register nomination for the historic district in Northfield was significantly upgraded. Interestingly, the boundary of the district decreased, and yet the new nomination introduced about a half-dozen additional buildings into the district. This is because the boundary expressed in the early nomination was incorrect. The new nomination for the district provides researchers and others a much clearer picture of the importance of downtown Northfield, a commercial center of mostly one- two-, and three- story brick buildings. A handsome downtown retaining substantial historic integrity, the district dates to 1856, when Bridge Square was developed and essentially a downtown was built around it. The downtown was not simply a draw for residents, for it was a commercial, industrial, governmental, and institutional hub, an attraction for all in the region. The updated nomination was funded through a Certified Local Government grant.
As with the Northfield Commercial Historic District, the Faribault Commercial Historic District reflects that period when Faribault was building itself into a lasting community. Faribault is the county seat of Rice County, and Faribault’s original commercial historic district was listed in the National Register in 1982. The boundary for the district was substantially increased with the new nomination and brought into the district many additional properties that reflect the historic significance of downtown Faribault, a period of one hundred years, from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to well into the modern period. The commercial historic district is composed of two- and three-story brick buildings presenting stylistic variations but are mostly Commercial Italianate and Queen Anne in appearance. Faribault’s strategic location between various important cities in Minnesota shaped it into a regional powerhouse of commercial and industrial activities. In return, central Minnesota benefited greatly from Faribault’s location and easy access. The nomination was funded by the city of Faribault.
The last nomination we had for a boundary alteration for this fiscal year is Pillsbury Academy Historic District. Unlike the historic districts in Montgomery, Northfield, and Faribault, which are downtown commercial districts, Pillsbury Academy is an educational institution formed of several campus buildings. Established in Hasting in 1854, and subsequently relocated to Owatonna in 1877, Pillsbury Academy was the state’ first Baptist School. The campus today represents the growth, decline, and regrowth of this modest-sized religious institution near the heart of the city. Part of the campus reflects period-revival styles from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period when the school flourished as a Baptist preparatory school. The other section is architecture from the modern era and is primarily International style. Attendance to the preparatory school declined precipitously after the depression of 1929; however, attendance climbed substantially when the school transitioned into a Baptist college in the mid-1950s. It was at this time that the school began its second major building program, erecting the International-style buildings. This boundary expansion documentation was funded by the owner of the property.
These four districts are a success for Minnesota, for we have added many additional buildings to the National Register, making available to property owners financial incentives which will allow many to rehabilitate and continue to use their existing buildings. The SHPO can be proud of the office’s efforts to help preserve so much of our tangible story over this last year.