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Out with the old

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SCANDIA — Curt Richter has found a future for Minnesota’s past.

He exports old barns and log houses to other states, where they are rebuilt. His business, Rustic Innovations, is one of several that restore historic Minnesota farm buildings — and deliver them anywhere.

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“This is basically recycling,” said Richter, surveying rows of 100-year-old timbers that he salvaged.

The wood recently was a cabin, which he took apart and drove to his home in Scandia, east of the Twin Cities. Later this month he’ll ship it to a buyer who will reassemble it in Ontario.

The business of exporting history is expanding, he said.

“I know a ton of people who would die to live in one of these buildings,” Richter said. He has sold cabins and barns to buyers in Texas and California.

Historians, however, are split about the practice.

“Anytime you lose buildings that tell part of our story, we lose part of history,” said Barbara Mitchell Howard, the deputy state historical preservation officer.

But Doug Gasek said it was acceptable.

“This is a type of preservation. It is great to see those buildings reused,” said Gasek, director of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. He prefers to keep them in the state but said moving them is sometimes the only way to save them.

Richter got into the business in 2004. He was a mechanical engineer who designed and built his home in Scandia, and he began to study the building techniques of the pioneers.

When he heard about an endangered barn in Winona, he jumped at a chance to save it. He took it apart, and the owners shipped it to California to be reassembled.

They sent Richter a photo last year. “I saw it — it was beautiful!” he said.

Richter said he would like to keep historic buildings in Minnesota, but they are simply too common to be valuable here.

“Find me local people willing to buy them, and I will be happy to sell,” he said.

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