The Granite Falls Historical Society is hoping to see the Andrew J. Volstead house restored into a full house museum reminiscent of the period when Andrew J. Volstead lived there, but first it must replace an aging foundation that has been in place since the house was first constructed 137 years.

The Granite Falls Historical Society is hoping to see the Andrew J. Volstead house restored into a full house museum reminiscent of the period when Andrew J. Volstead lived there, but first it must replace an aging foundation that has been in place since the house was first constructed 137 years.

Work began this week on a six week project that is being undertaken by Jay Schmidt, owner of Barn Restoration Specialists, of Onamia, that will oversee the  replacement of the Volstead Foundation. Schmidt, who performed similar foundation repairs at the Swensson Farm, located in Chippewa County, said the project would be a labor of love driven by the opportunity to work on such a building tied to such significant history.

"It’s a rare opportunity to restore a building with historical significance,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said the project, which is scheduled to wrap just prior to the Meander Opening night the first week in October, is pretty basic. Essentially, he said, the house will be propped up so that the existing foundation can be removed and then replaced. This will entail pouring a new foundation and then the removing and cleaning off of rocks so that they can be reinserted to a new foundation held together with a mortar comprised as close to the original mortar makeup as possible.

Schmidt lined up Thein Movers of Clara City to stabilize the house, and already their work is in place in the form of steel and wood beams running beneath weight-bearing locations of the structure. Project engineers advised against raising the structure above ground level so as to avoid any potential cracking of inside plaster walls.

According to GF Historical Society Member Mary Gillespie, recent developments, such as the re-location of the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) classes offsite, in conjunction with the foundation repairs are paving the way for the historical society to realize what they perceive to be a more fitting and community beneficial use for the structure.

Gillespie said that presently the historical society plans to restore the original floors in two downstairs rooms that will be refurbished with period appointments suitable for a dining room as well as a potential kitchen or study area. In addition, she said the organization is waiting to hear back on a 20-hour a week grant that would be used to finance an attendant who keeps the site open during regularly scheduled hours.

“It’s a great place to learn about the area’s history and take a step back in time,” she said. “With a person on site I think it will serve as a draw for tourist and locals alike.
Lastly, Gillespie said that if the position were hired it would also provide a platform for an individual to plan upcoming events associated with the 100th anniversary of the prohibition (2019) and the cooperative (2022).

Background

Andrew J. Volstead is recognized as the town’s most illustrious citizen, having laid the foundation for the 18th constitutional amendment known as the ‘Prohibition Amendment’ as well as the foundation for legislation that continues to serve as the Magna Carta of the Cooperative Movement.

Back in 1976, The Minnesota Association of Cooperatives purchased the building and then subsequently donated it to the city for a museum in 1978. Today it is recognized as a National Landmark.

Aware of the weakening substructure for a number of years, it wasn’t until 2011 that the Granite Falls Historical Society  sought and successfully obtained a $5,500 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society that was used to finance an inspection as well as subsequent recommendations for repairs.

Those inspections were completed by Eugene Dwyer of LSE Engineers, of Le Sueur, and Bob Claybaugh of Claybaugh Preservation Architecture, out of Taylor Falls, in August of 2012 and, with the addition of a $25,000 local match, served as the basis for a $154,000 grant proposal to repair the foundation that was awarded to the city by the Minnesota Historical Society in January of 2014.