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									                                                       Posted: 6:34 p.m. CST Friday, March 26, 1999
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   News                        Restoration of historic buildings
  Business                     'remarkable'
  Sports                       .

  EntertainmenUJust Go
                               . But much remains to be done in city where many
  Living                       sites date to the 1800s

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                               LARRY MILLETT ARCHITECTURE CRITIC
  Special Reports                                                                     ST. PETER, MN
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  Site Index                Tornadoes have no respect for history, as the people of St.
                            Peter discovered a year ago, when a mile-wide twister tore
                            through their community taking big chunks of the city's heritage
                            with it.
                            Although the massive storm hit structures of all types (about
                            two-thirds of the city's 3,200 buildings were damaged), it struck
                            especially hard in the center of the city, where many buildings
                            date from the 19th century.
                            But the city and its residents -- helped by insurance settlements,
                            federal loans and grants and a special $1.35 million restoration
                            fund administered by the Minnesota Historical Society -- have
                            taken giant steps over the past year to reclaim their battered past.
                            "It's been remarkable," says Charles Nelson, the state historical
                            architect, describing St. Peter's restoration efforts.
                            The storm was particularly devastating because St. Peter is so
                            rich with history. Founded in the 1850s and once nominated to
                            be the state capital, the city of 10,000 people is one of outstate
                            Minnesota's most significant repositories of 19th century
                            architecture, with a dozen buildings listed on the National
                            Register of Historic Places.
                            Only one of the city's National Register buildings (an 1870s
                            vintage school used as an arts and heritage center) was among
                            the 177 homes, businesses and churches that had-to be
                            demolished because of storm damage.
http://www.pioneerplanet-com/archive/tomado/docs/0327arcLhtm                                          2/16/00
 Restoration of historic buildings 'remarkable' (3/26/1999)                                                  Page 2 of 4
                                Today, the city is "still recovering," says Shannon Sweeney, St.
                                Peter's director of economic development. Besides buildings
                                awaiting repair, the city's infrastructure -- curbs, streets,
                                sidewalks -- also need to be fixed. And, of course, St. Peter lost
                                an estimated 15,000 trees in the storm. While new trees can
                                already be seen along boulevards and in yards, many more
                                remain to be planted.

                                Yet there's no question that an enormous amount of work has already
                                been done. Last year, St. Peter saw $67 million worth of
                 .              new construction -- 10 times the annual average -- and the pace .
                                has hardly slowed this year.

                                One successful rebuilding occurred at the Church of the Holy
                                Communion, an elegant little stone and wood church that dates from
                                1870 and is the oldest in St. Peter. Built in the simple style favored by
                                Henry Whipple, Minnesota's first Episcopal bishop, Holy Communion is
                                a sort of Gothic A-frame, with solid stone walls supporting a high, steep
                                roof surmounted by a small belltower.

                               The old church, which happened to be near the very center of the
                               tornado's path, took a tremendous hit. The twister (with winds that may
                               have approached 200 miles an hour) couldn't budge the church's
                               18-inch-thick stone walls, but it did crack the bell tower in half and send
                               it tumbling to the ground. It also played havoc with the church's roof.

                               A. Jennings Ellis, the church's junior warden, said the storm "lifted up
                               one side of the roof like a clam-shell- opening." This sharp, sudden
                               pull, like a giant lever being applied at the eaves, bent the entire roof
                               out of shape, much as a car's body might become misaligned after an

                               "When we first had engineers look at," Nelson recalled, "we thought it
                               was a doomsday project."

                               But the Giertsen Co. of Golden Valley, working with a team of
                               architects and engineers, was able to put the roof back in place and also
                               rebuild the bell tower.

                               The roof restoration was accomplished in part by placing metal straps
                               over existing rafters and beams to stabilize the overall structure. Once
                               this was done, the roof could be pushed and pulled into its proper

                               All told, the restoration cost more than $400,000 (paid by insurance).
                               Late last year; on the Sunday before Christmas, Holy

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Restoration of historic buildings 'remarkable' (3/26/1999)                        -                      Page 3 of 4

                             Communion's small congregation was finally able to worship once
                             again in the church, which everyone now hopes will be ready for
                             another 130 years of faithful service.

                             Just around the corner from the church is one of St. Peter's most notable
                             Victorian dwellings, a big brick house from 1887 owned by Mark and
                             Judy Ahlstrom.

                             With its high roof, ornate bargeboards, onion-domed tower and open
                             front porch rife with spindlework, the house displays the Queen Anne
                             style in all its glorious excess.

                             Unfortunately, the house couldn't duck the twister, which destroyed
                             much of the roof, knocked off the top of the tower, tore away the
                             porch and shattered numerous windows. Various flying objects also
                             strafed the house, leaving huge gashes in some interior walls.

                             But the Ahlstroms, who rescued the house from vine-wrapped
                             dilapidation in 1968 and painstakingly restored it, set about at once to

                             Now, after a year of work (and a dispute with the insurer that may end
                             up in court), the Ahlstroms and their contractor have made enormous
                             progress. The home's multicolored roof is back in place, as is the tower,
                             its dome now sheathed in copper. Much of the interior has also been

                             The aftermath of the storm was especially painful for the Ahlstroms, who
                             not only saw their house battered and broken but also suffered an
                             unexpected setback when large sections of their damaged porch, which
                             they had retrieved from the yard, were mistakenly hauled away by
                             cleaning crews.

                             Money from the special state historic fund has helped the couple restore
                             the house's main staircase, but even though $300,000 worth of work has
                             already been done, they're not sure they'll have enough money left to
                             restore the porch and some other features.

                             For all the damage and heartache it caused, the March 29 storm did offer
                             a few examples of cyclonic serendipity. The Ahlstroms, for example,
                             recovered long-lost blueprints of the house, assembled from scattered
                             pieces by an alert clean-up worker who found them in the yard.

                             The tornado also helped them find duplicates of the house's distinctively
                             colored bricks, some of which were damaged. As it                                             2/16/00
Restoration of historic buildings 'remarkable' (3/26/1999)                                            -                Page 4 of 4

                                           turned out, the original owner of the house had used the same
                                           kind of brick to construct a small commercial building in town.
                                           That building was also damaged by the tornado, and the
                                           Ahlstroms were able to salvage enough of its bricks to repair
  Help                                     their house.
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     Feedback                              Larry Millett can be reached at or at (651) 228
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