My husband Erik and I were treated to an impromptu tour of Kyle Hoggarth’s new Edward Jones office in Little Falls, MN, yesterday. This is a building that first served as a gas station, Leo Bastien’s Super Station. Most residents know it as the former Ambiance gift shop on First Street SE, north of the Pine Edge Inn. (The former hotel is now used as a housing facility for veterans.)
As Kyle gave us a tour of the basement, he illustrated the advice we give on figuring out the history of a building: Use the building itself as an artifact and read the clues you find to figure out the history.
While the upper floor has been remodeled, the basement reveals its service station history, with a garage door, pipes that indicate the former wash bay, and a raised cement floor area that sits just under the upper floor (good for oil changes). The basement was a functional part of the station, with large windows to allow light in. Those windows are filled in now. This is a building that sits on part of the ravine. Kyle said that when the avenue was put in to the north (one of the areas where Fletcher Creek made its way to the Mississippi), fill was brought in that covered up the windows.
The wooden stairs into the basement are well-worn, showing how often service station workers went up and down them.
One of the most interesting features of the basement is how large it is. It is much larger than the footprint of the building above, extending out under the sidewalk in front. The amount of cement needed to support the basement space is astounding. Whoever constructed the building understood the concept of over-building, which was much-needed in this situation. There is one cement column that appears to be newer than the rest of the cement. (The texture is different, which shows a subtle way to “read” a building.) This column seems to have stretched from the basement up to the first floor, but the upper portion has been removed. Kyle can’t figure out what it was for as it doesn’t appear to be a structural beam.
Prior to being used as a financial services office and a gift shop, the building was a liquor store (Pine Edge Liquor & Ring’s Liquor, if memory serves). Kyle showed us where a conveyor belt ran from the basement to the upper floor, allowing beer stored below to be easily moved to the retail area above. Because alcohol was a big draw for break-ins, portions of the basement were closed off by large, metal grid walls, which slowed the progress of would-be thieves long enough for the police to arrive and catch them red-handed.
Kyle has learned most of the history of his building by talking to former owners and employees. This is another strategy we suggest for uncovering the history of a structure.
Over 10 years ago, I combed the files of the Morrison County Historical Society and property records at the Morrison County Courthouse in order to find history on this building. I presented it as an activity in using various historic resources and wrote an article called “CSI: Contradictory Source Investigation”, which you can find online.
Another way to uncover history on a building is to read the abstract, which shows all the property owners and transactions related to the property a building sits on. I asked Kyle if he had read the abstract, but, unfortunately, the abstract for this property has been lost. It’s the sort of thing that could easily be sitting in a safe or box of papers somewhere, likely with a former owner or the heirs of a former owner. If you have a relationship to this building, perhaps it’s within your personal archive. If you find the abstract, Kyle would be most interested in seeing it.
Have you ever worked in this building or owned it? If so, we’d appreciate you sharing some of your memories of it in the comments section.