BIRD ISLAND, Minn. — Standing like a solid sentry at the entrance to Bird Island on U.S. Highway 212, the Tinnes-Baker House gained a new title and new prestige this spring.
Built in 1910 in a Craftsman style that was unique to small towns at that time, the red brick bungalow with a wide-open front porch where tea parties had been held decades ago has won a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
It earned a place on the select list because of its local significance as an example of Craftsman residential architecture, and is the only single-family residential building in Renville County on the National Register of Historic Places.
It may take a year or two before all the dreams are realized, but plans are being made to have the grand home open to the public.
The building will “always stay as part of the community,” said Mary Glesener, who, along with her husband, Mark, purchased it in 2017.
The couple donated the house to the Bird Island Cultural Centre, a nonprofit arts organization they also operate. They have visions of using the four upstairs bedrooms as lodging for artists who come to town for events. They would like to use the main floor as an old-fashioned candy shop with gelato and Italian ice served up to entice travelers going east to the Twin Cities or those going west on Highway 212, which is also part of the Yellowstone Trail.
There’s some work to do before that all happens.
“There’s a lot of things we need to work out but it’s not a problem, it’s just a little challenge, right?” said Mary, giving a side glance to her husband.
“We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again,” he responded.
In the early 1990s, the Gleseners developed a successful treatment facility in Bird Island for adults with traumatic brain injury. They sold the business and retired in 2016 and started the Bird Island Cultural Centre while at the same time operating a bed & breakfast “without the breakfast” in Mark’s family home right next door.
She and her husband are both “workers,” said Mary, and are confident their vision for the Tinnes-Baker House will be realized.
According to an evaluation and nomination report conducted as part of the application process to the National Register of Historic Places, the house was built by a go-getter named Lewie Tinnes.
Born in 1876 in Bird Island, Tinnes was a mechanic, plumber and inventor who filed a patent for at least one item. His hopes of the invention making him rich and famous didn’t come to fruition, however, and Tinnes tried his hand at several business ventures, including a machine shop, before leaving town in 1914.
The house was then purchased by James Baker, a young lawyer who eventually served as the Renville County attorney before dying in 1930 at the age of 50.
His wife, Mathilda, lived in the house for another 48 years, until she died in 1978, according to the nomination report, which was conducted by Daniel Hoisington, from Hoisington Preservation Consultants.
There had been few if any changes made in the home when it was purchased in 1978 by Pat Saunders, whom the Gleseners credit for restoring the original luster of the house.
There were several other owners and the building housed unique businesses over the years, including a shop where sewing classes were taught, a clothing boutique and an antique store.
During all that time, the Gleseners said the original woodwork, wood floors, windows with the wavy glass, room layout, fireplace and other classic architectural features of a Craftsman bungalow were retained. Even the large brick cistern in the basement remains intact.
Having a structure like this in Bird Island — with original construction elements untouched — was key to its historic relevance.
What makes it special
It isn’t easy earning a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
The process began shortly after the Gleseners purchased the house in 2017. They were notified this April that it had been accepted.
There are four options for qualifying for the list, including being associated with significant historical events, being associated with significant people, having architectural significance or yielding information important in prehistoric times.
Although Baker was a Renville County attorney, that wasn’t enough of a distinction to make the house special in terms of historic significance.
But the home’s unique features were significant enough.
The one-and-a-half story home is a “middle-class expression of the Craftsman style” that also has some Prairie-style features that could reflect the “influence of the Prairie-style of architecture made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright,” according to the report.
Located at its original location on 801 Highway Avenue, the house “retains a high level of integrity with its original windows, siding, roof form, door trim, full-width front porch, and cantilevered bay,” writes Hoisington.
“What makes it remarkable is that it is found in a relatively small Minnesota town — some 1,000 residents, give-or-take, over the last century — and it is of brick construction.”
A condition assessment by Engan Associates Architects of Willmar, Minnesota, is underway to determine what structural repairs are needed to maintain the integrity of the building.
“They’ll go top to bottom,” said Mark Glesener, documenting the current status of the structure and what is needed to “preserve it and upgrade it.”
It’s expected that upgrades will be needed to the electrical wiring, plumbing and front steps.
Eventually, a summer kitchen may need to be added in the back of the house to produce food sold in the sweet shop, said Mary Glesener.
Because the house is now on the list of historic places, grants are available to help fund those projects. Local fundraising efforts are also underway.
The Gleseners said they hope to have the projects completed and have the home open to the public in about two years.