The big story in Little Falls this week was the demolition of the Dewey-Radke House on Tuesday, August 30. The historic home, built in 1893 by the Botton brothers, featured locally-made yellow bricks. Its striking design and placement above the road grade was made even more iconic by the surrounding Pine Grove Park.
The demolition occurred a mere 15 days after the Little Falls City Council voted 6 to 1 to have it removed. The speed of the process has many current and former city residents upset. Facebook comments about the destruction of the home include: “:( That was quick!”; “Heartbreaking!”; “NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!”; “What a waste …” and “So sad …”
There are longer conversations about the home on Facebook, too, particularly among friends. While most are outraged about the demolition, some question the importance of this particular house. Why was it so special that resources should go into saving it? Preservation is a complicated issue and there aren’t always easy answers.
Even the Morrison County Historical Society’s apparent lack of involvement has been called into question. One Facebook commenter said, “What a shame!!!!!!!!!! Why was the Dewey-Radke House DESTROYED…where was the Historical Society???”
Good question. Why didn’t we get involved?
In searching through articles in the Morrison County Record about the Dewey-Radke House, I discovered that the site has received a great deal of coverage. (Thank goodness for the internet. A simple search for “Dewey-Radke” on the Record’s website brought up every article back to 2008.)
The articles reveal that the City Council has been discussing the fate of the home since 2008 and that The Friends of the Dewey-Radke House had formed specifically to preserve the home and find an alternative use. The Friends did quite a bit of work on the home, but the group’s relationship with the City deteriorated over the past couple of years until the City voted to end its agreement with the Friends in February 2011.
In June 2011, the Friends filed an injunction against the City to prevent it from selling items from the home. Following word of the injunction, the City terminated its lease with the Friends group. A judge ruled in favor of the City in regards to the injunction. Within a couple of weeks of that judgment, the Council voted to demolish the home.
When The Friends of the Dewey-Radke House formed, its purpose was the preservation of the home. The Morrison County Historical Society was not contacted by the Friends for assistance in the group’s mission during much of its existence. Our organization has plenty of county history to preserve. We’re happy to have other organizations helping with various aspects of historic preservation and we’re not going to tromp in unsolicited and start telling other organizations what to do.
When we were finally called for advice by group members this summer, there was an injunction in place and the MCHS Board decided it could not step into a legal issue between two outside entities. MCHS staff did suggest to those who called that they garner as much public support as possible and have people contact the City Council and Preservation Alliance of Minnesota if they wanted the house saved. This is how MCHS helped to save the Old Historic Courthouse and Cass Gilbert Depot in the past.
Public support campaigns take time, however, and by the time we were providing this advice, the Council was moving quickly on the demolition. According to a Morrison County Record article (March 17, 2011), the Friends did host a meeting to solicit public support back in March 2011, so the group was on the right track. Unfortunately, this complicated preservation issue ended poorly.
If you have questions on preservation or need support with a preservation issue, we are here to help. Please contact us early in the process so we have the greatest chance of being effective.