Dinehart-Holt House has sparkled in Slayton since 1890s
SLAYTON -- In 1891, Slayton was a budding town in a sea of prairie grass and home to the brand new Murray County Courthouse.
Inspired and impressed with the courthouse building, Christopher Dinehart contacted the architect, Frank Thayer, Mankato, and hired him to design a home for his family, all originally from the Chicago area.
Dinehart was one of the first residents in Slayton -- a founder of the State Bank of Slayton, landowner and producer of sheep, hogs and Jersey cattle. Eventually, he became president of the State Bank of Slayton and
Dinehart wanted something impressive that reflected his family's status, and the seven-bedroom, 14-room home designed by Thayer lived up to his expectations.
Today, the home has been restored to its original grandeur and still stands as a Slayton landmark.
Dinehart moved to Slayton in 1882 and lived in the house with his wife, Flora, daughter, Florence, and son, Clarence, and the family quickly became active in their new community.
As the first owner of a piano in town, the community would regularly gather in the parlor to perform and listen to music.
"I know she was a nice woman, and I think he was a little more gruff. He was a businessman and mayor of the town," explained Murray County Historical Society member Diane Clercx about Christopher and Flora, who with their house, carriage houses and livestock, owned the whole city block.
Three generations of Dineharts lived in the Victorianstyle house, completed in 1891.
Christopher Dinehart died in 1927, and Flora in 1938. Their son, Clarence Dinehart served as the Minnesota State Treasurer from 1907 to 1910, when he died suddenly at the age of 33 from a ruptured appendix.
The Dineharts' daughter, Florence, moved into the home with her husband, attorney Harvey Holt.
The Holts had three children: John, Robert and Harvey Holt Jr. John Holt was the last family member to live in the home.
John Holt became a Murray County judge and, as a bachelor, shut off most of the house while he lived there, using only a few rooms on the main level of the house. Judge Holt died in 1993, and the home was sold to a Slayton family.
The house remained a private residence until 2007, when Murray County purchased the home and handed maintenance of the building over to the Murray County Historical Society, Clercx said,
In the century that passed since it was built, the home had changed, and though well-kept was far from its original condition.
"It was just a house -- lived in by a family, so by the time the county got it ..." Clercx said, referencing the condition of the home when the county assumed ownership.
In 1973, the home had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. In an effort to return the home to its original Victorian grandeur, the restoration process was begun with the help of the Murray County Historical Society and the Minnesota Historical Society.
First to be fixed was the boiler, replaced through a grant from the Schmidt Foundation.
"The Schmidt Foundation helped us put in the new boiler so we could keep our steam heat, which was nice," Clercx said.
Another grant through the Minnesota Historical Society helped pay for much-needed new shingles, and a smaller grant helped cover costs associated with a new coat paint.
"We found close to the colors after we scraped down to the wood (on the outside of the house). We didn't have any pictures of the original house that are colored, but we think these are close to the original. Some people think it was white, but it wasn't," Clercx said of the brown, red and tan house.
Much of the interior of the house was also re-wallpapered.
In the main sitting room, a small section of the original wallpaper remains, set off by a frame made by one of the historical society board members.
"We scraped the wall down about five layers (of wallpaper), and that was the best piece on the wall. We wanted to keep Mrs. Dinehart's paper there," Clercx said.
In the remaining rooms, the walls were repapered as close to the original as possible.
In the process, Clercx said a few hidden treasures were discovered.
"We did find an old racing program hidden behind some of the wallpaper. We keep thinking there might be money in the walls, but no, we never really found anything else," she said with a laugh.
The house has also been made handicap-accessible with the addition of a ramp and a newly renovated downstairs bathroom.
"We took out the bathtub and put up some new wood work in there, and so now we can finish up that project," Clercx said.
Because the home is on the National Register, it wasn't required that the upstairs be made handicap-accessible, because doing so would have drastically affected the architecture of the home. However, the photos of the upstairs are kept on the main level.
"(An elevator) would have ruined too much of the house, so we just kept the downstairs handicap-accessible," Clercx said.
The porches were also repaired, because as Clercx said, "You can't have people visiting if they are falling through the porch!"
Unfortunately, few of the items in the house belonged to the Dinehart or Holt families.
When Judge Holt died, most of the movable items in the house were sold at auction.
Clercx said when the house was opened as a museum, some people donated items they had bought at the estate sale.
Today, a large piano once again is a primary feature of the front room. As a museum and a setting for special events, the home once again welcomes guests through its double front doors.
With at least one week's notice, groups and organizations can book a "Tours with Tea" at the house, which includes a gourmet cupcake, open-faced sandwiches, lemonade and a tour of the house.
"This year, we're using a brochure with a tour of historical homes up and down the street," Clercz said. "It's like a walk-to-remember tour. and we'll have tours here and tell people what we have uptown with the shops there."
Clercx said this year, one family even rented the house for its family Christmas party.
While it may seem the large home would be a financial strain on the county, Clercx is quick to point out that it costs much less to maintain than most people think.
"Because we don't have people in here all the time, we are able to keep heating and cooling costs down," Clercx said. "Plus we have almost no water, sewage or garbage usage. It's not really that big of expense as people think it is."
"Any rentals that we do here, that goes to the county, but any fundraisers -- that money goes to the historical society," she added.
Clercx said that the county commissioners often get criticism about the home.
"But you always ask them, 'Have you been there?' and then once they stop by, they say, 'Well, this is actually kind of neat!'" Clercx added.
Annually, the historical society also hosts a Parade of Trees at Christmas, a lawn social in July that coincides with Slayton's Days of '87, and has an exhibit during the Murray County fair with a special focus.
"Every year we've had something. We had a bridal exhibit, a prom exhibit, a Mad Hatter tea exhibit and a '40s and '50s toy exhibit," Clercx said.