Historic preservation issues are continually bubbling to the surface in communities across Minnesota. Morrison County faces its own preservation issues on a regular basis. The latest, most visible example is Hurrle Hall, which was built in 1891 in Little Falls, MN, by the Franciscan Sisters and served as the incubator for a number of the Sisters’ activities. The Sisters have decided they no longer have the resources to care for the building and have announced that it will be “deconstructed,” on a date not yet set. A group of citizens, the Friends of Hurrle Hall, has formed and is hoping to change that outcome.
Because the Morrison County Historical Society has as its mission the preservation and sharing of Morrison County’s history, the organization is often called upon to weigh in on local preservation issues. Due to our mission, it should come as no surprise that MCHS errs on the side of preservation whenever possible. What might come as a revelation is the reason why we choose preservation. While the age and history of a structure are important, in today’s field of historic preservation, the time, materials, and resources that have gone into a structure over its lifetime deserve as much consideration as age and history. In a quote attributed to architect Carl Elefante, “The greenest building is the one already built.”
In MCHS’s view, ALL structures deserve consideration for preservation because energy was expended to build them. It causes us no small amount of consternation when there is a public outcry surrounding the impending demolition of some buildings (Dewey-Radke, Hurrle Hall) but not others (Old Central Office Building, Lutheran Care Center).
In an ideal world, the default position on structures would be to save and reuse them, even if modifications are needed. We understand that there are all sorts of barriers to preserving structures (including cost, code, structural issues, etc.); however, MCHS would like to see an open, well-documented process that allows the public a chance to observe how a property owner arrives at the decision to demolish a building.
As the preservation field continues to evolve, there are more architects, architectural historians, and other preservation-minded professionals available to assist property owners with sensitively altering their structures for continued use. Further, there are developers who specialize in rehabbing old buildings for their financial potential. Given the proper resources, amazing transformations can occur with even the most dilapidated buildings and these options should be explored.
It is MCHS’s wish to get in front of preservation projects before demolition is ever on the table as a means of dealing with a structure. Through our collections at the Weyerhaeuser Museum and our expertise with research resources, we can assist property owners in uncovering the history of their structures. We also stay in touch with the larger preservation field in Minnesota and can offer advice and contacts that will give property owners direction in saving their buildings. MCHS is here to help. Please call us before the itch to demolish strikes.