War Memorial and Chautauqua Park may be listed as historic places
WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Historical Society recently learned that evaluations completed on Worthington’s War Memorial Building and Chautauqua Park provide the necessary information in the first step to getting the entities listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Last December, the local historical society received $13,500 in grants from Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to hire a professional historian to evaluate the two structures. With the grants, Worthington native Barbara Windschill Sommer, of BWS Associates in Mendota Heights, compiled reports on each structure, noting the War Memorial Building is eligible for listing based on its mid-century modern architecture and historical importance in the community.
Nobles County Historical Society volunteer Pat Demuth said the War Memorial Building is more than 50 years old, which is the first criterion in getting it designated on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This will be one of the first 20th century modern buildings to go on the National Registry, if we follow up and put it on there,” Demuth said.
Currently housing the historical society, Nobles County Art Center and Nobles County Library, the War Memorial Building opened on May 5, 1963. The building was designed by Gerald Buetow of Buetow and Associates Architects of St. Paul, and was named the War Memorial Building due to the funding that helped pay for its construction.
“They started a fund to build the library when the Carnegie was still here as a city library,” explained Demuth.
The fund was slow to grow, however, so when a church located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 12th Street was torn down, the county teamed up with the historical society and the city to purchase the land. Upon purchase, the land was turned over to the county and plans began for a new library’s construction.
“There was a state statute to access funds for veterans memorials, and they built this library under that state statute,” Demuth said, adding that funds were limited to $250,000.
In 1961, Nobles County voters approved a referendum to move forward with the War Memorial Building’s construction.
While the building has served the public well in the past 50 years, discussions about the construction of a new public library in Worthington has caused some concern about the future of the War Memorial Building.
“We kind of wanted to call attention to what’s going to happen to this building,” Demuth said. “It is an asset to the community. Don’t tear it down like Central (an elementary school that was located across the street from the War Memorial Building).”
Realistically, Demuth said getting the building included on the National Registry of Historic Places “won’t stop them from tearing it down, but it will make them think a little.”
“If it is on the National Register, it will make them think that it is worth preserving,” he added.
If or when the library does relocate to a new building, Demuth’s hope is that the historical society and the art center will remain and move up to the main level. Having those two entities housed in a building on the National Register adds status to preservation efforts.
Back when Jim Laffrenzen was Worthington’s director of public works, he had suggested the historical society seek National Register status for the Chautauqua Park band shell because it would open doors to new grant possibilities to repair the structure.
The band shell was built by the National Youth Administration from July 1941 through June 1942, and with the exception of an added platform to expand the stage, the structure is nearly all original. It qualifies for National Register status due to its “significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history,” noted Sommer in her evaluation.
Demuth said when the historical society decided to move forward with the process, they were encouraged by the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) to evaluate not just the band shell, but the entire park.
“There’s enough buildings and structures left there … it would have enough significance in the community to list the entire park,” Demuth said, adding that the Boy Scout building and shelter would be eligible.
Minor repairs have been made to the band shell’s log siding in the past, and grants could help fund replacement of the shake shingles or log siding when needed.
‘Just an honorary thing’
While the completed initial evaluations are the first step to getting Chautauqua Park and the War Memorial Building on the National Register of Historic Places, Demuth said getting them on the list is “just an honorary thing.”
“If they were on the register, it gives us access to funds,” he said. “It’s not going to protect (the sites). There are no federal laws or anything saying you can’t or can do things to the (buildings).”
Grants associated with sites on the National Register of Historic Places could be used to upgrade and improve the sites for continued use. For example, at the War Memorial Building, Demuth said work needs to be done to create a museum environment, including heat and humidity control features. Grants are available for those specific projects, and other grants cater to interpretation and displays.
Those improvement projects are dreams at this point, Demuth said, adding that until the county decides what to do with the library, any ideas the historical society and art center have are simply that — ideas.
“We haven’t been promised anything,” he said.
The next step in getting both Chautauqua Park and the War Memorial Building on the National Register of Historic Places will require Sommer to do more research. That won’t begin until the historical society is awarded additional grants.
“If the county wants to throw money at that, it would move forward faster, but I don’t see that happening,” Demuth said, adding that he foresees seeking approval for National Register listing in late 2014 or early 2015 from the Nobles County Library Board and Nobles County Board of Commissioners.
Nobles County is home to 10 structures already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They include the Dayton House, Kilbride Clinic, Hotel Thompson and Citizens’ National Bank (Cow’s Outside) in Worthington; the Slade Hotel, Adrian State Bank and St. Adrian Catholic Church in Adrian; the St. Kilian Catholic Church in St. Kilian; the Siemer silo and barn near Ellsworth; and the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Section House in Dundee.