In Faribault, one last stand for a battered pre-Civil War house

A historic house in Faribault, Minnesota
Rice County is searching for someone to relocate this house on Central Avenue in Faribault, Minn. Officials say the house may date back to 1855 — but the interior has been gutted and it's gone into tax forfeiture. Officials say it's hemmed in on a small lot just north of downtown.
Courtesy of Rice County

Time is running out on a house in southern Minnesota that may predate Minnesota statehood.

While it has managed to survive more than 160 years, recent decades have not been kind to the white clapboard house at 805 Central Ave. in Faribault, just a few blocks north of downtown.

The interior has been gutted, and the surrounding lot whittled away to the point where there's no longer room for a driveway or garage. It sits up against the sidewalk, hemmed in by another home on one side, an apartment building parking lot on the other, and the Straight River in back.

And last spring, the home — believed by county officials to date back to 1855 — went into tax forfeiture.

Rice County tried to auction off the house last fall, and received no bids. Now it's making one more attempt to find someone who'd be willing to move the home off its postage-stamp lot. Proposals are due to the county by Friday.

A historic house in Faribault, Minnesota
Rice County is searching for someone to relocate this house on Central Avenue in Faribault, hemmed in on one side by a apartment building parking lot.
Courtesy of Rice County

The house's exact history isn't clear. Records at the Rice County Historical Society indicate it was likely built around when Alexander Faribault helped found the city and around the time he built his own home, which is located a few blocks to the south and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Society executive director Susan Garwood said early records list the Central Avenue building as housing a store — making it perhaps one of the oldest commercial buildings left in Minnesota.

There’s a chance it may also have been home to one of Ernst Fleckenstein's first breweries — the forerunner of what became Fleck's Beer, a longtime southern Minnesota beer staple until the company folded in the 1960s. Another Fleckenstein building still stands in downtown Faribault.

"I think the county is hoping that somebody finds a good use for it," said Suzy Rook, communications coordinator for Rice County. "It's not on the (National) Register of Historic Places, but it does have historic value. It's just the circumstances of the lot at this point make it very challenging."

The structure itself, Rook said, "needs a lot of TLC."

A historic house in Faribault, Minnesota
The house, believed to date back more than 160 years, is situated right up against the sidewalk, hemmed in on a tiny lot.
Courtesy of Rice County

And that will require some deep pockets. The request for proposals issued by the county, seeking someone to move the home, estimates the cost of moving, renovating and restoring the home to be about $600,000.

"It could be fixed up to make a really nice house," Rook said, "if somebody knows what they're doing."

She said the county board has not made a determination on what will happen to the house if no one steps forward with an acceptable proposal to move it. One possibility would be razing the structure and selling the land — but she stressed there's been no final decision.

In the meantime, officials hope an individual or group steps forward to rescue a piece of history dating back to the city's founding.

"The different people who have purchased it (over the years), through whatever circumstances, things just did not work out. It was just one unfortunate series of events after another for that property," Rook said. "And, you know, given its placement — that does not help, and doesn't help anybody who's interested in buying it, unfortunately."

“I know the county would love for somebody to be able to use it. You know, could it be moved? Could it be used for something else? I think they would love to see that. I think everybody would love to see that.”