HERON LAKE — Restoration work on the old stone house at Pat’s Grove is well underway, and the crew is poised to get the bulk of the work — if not all — complete before the snow flies later this fall.
That was the goal of Leann Johnson, who has spearheaded the restoration of the last remaining structure in the Cottonwood County-owned park nine miles west of Windom.
In the last few months, the former home of the Conlan family — one of whom is known to be one of the region’s first Caucasian inhabitants — has undergone some much needed attention.
Its walls, built in the late 19th century of stones from the Des Moines River. have been tuck pointed. A water drainage system has been installed, red rock has been laid and the failing shingled roof has nearly been replaced with cedar shakes.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Johnson of the work completed to date.
While Johnson and recent Windom High School graduate Ashley Soleta got the ball rolling last year with fundraising, Johnson is the first to admit she wouldn’t have been much help when it came time for construction. That work has been embraced by other local residents.
Johnson credited Doug Bergendahl, along with Ethan and Zach Rabbe and friends and family, with completing much of the tuck pointing in June. Tim Daberkow has been manning the roof replacement. Cedar shakes are replacing the dilapidated shingles.
Shawn Colbert has been integral in installing a water drainage system, donating equipment and being continuously involved in its progress, Johnson said.
The county sent out a group of seasonal workers to lay the red rock in the base of the stone house.
Factors like the lack of electricity and water sources has made the restoration project interesting, but the crews haven’t let it be a defeating barrier.
The effort to save the old stone house began in spring 2018, when Johnson learned the Cottonwood County commissioners were considering selling the park. That idea was quashed, and Soleta adopted the restoration as her senior project, which was integral to fundraising efforts.
The duo was able to raise approximately $28,000 by hosting a variety of fundraising events, soliciting individual contributions, and receiving a $5,000 financial commitment from Cottonwood County and various grants — the biggest ($10,000) from the Robert and Helen Remick Charitable Foundation Trust.
Johnson said they’re “neck and neck” with their budget and input costs.
The project has been fun for Johnson, who feels a passion to save the stone house in a park she’s created memories in over the last 40 years.
She’s had numerous folks thank her for saving the structure, sharing their own memories of Pat’s Grove before it was officially a park.
“People have approached me and tell me they’d go fishing and have picnics,” Johnson said about people’s memories from the '50s and '60s, when the building was owned by Harold Hanson. “That was because Harold was a nice guy and must have enjoyed the camaraderie of the community to come down there.”
Johnson said she’s also had another woman call her who was interested in purchasing a shirt for her brother’s 80th birthday. That woman — Maurita Volk — knew where Pat, his wife, Celia, and nephew Larry O’Rourke, are buried in the Heron Lake Catholic Church cemetery.
“They have unmarked graves,” Johnson said. “She knew where they were buried. I thought that was so exciting to finally find it.”
Once the initial work is completed on the structure, Johnson has further plans for the park.
“My new quest will be doing a historical marker and storyboard at the park entrance,” she said. “Maybe another year down the road I can get some grave markers or cement stones for Pat, Celia and Larry(‘s graves.)”
Contributions to the project may still be made. Checks may be mailed to Leann Johnson, 41126 County Road 15, Windom 56101. Johnson may be reached at (507) 830-0758 or email@example.com.
Progress is being shared on The Stone House at Pat's Grove County Park Facebook page.