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War Memorial Building added to National Register

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County War Memorial Building, which is home to the county's library, art center and historical society, has officially been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

WORTHINGTON - The Nobles County War Memorial Building, which is home to the county’s library, art center and historical society, has officially been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s the second Worthington landmark to be added to the list in three years, and is one of a dozen Nobles County structures currently on the register.

Completed in May 1963, the library was built specifically as a war memorial building. Denis Gardner, National Register Historian with the Minnesota Historic Preservation Office, said that although other properties have been recognized as memorial buildings, it appears the Nobles County War Memorial Building is the only building erected specifically under Minnesota Statutes 1945, Section 373.053, which addressed war memorial construction at the close of World War II.
Getting the building listed on the registry has been a project of the Nobles County Historical Society since 2013, according to NCHS member Jerry Fiola.

Worthington native Barb Windschill Sommer, owner of BWS Associates of Mendota Heights, was hired as the consultant to complete an initial evaluation of the building, which she did at the same time she evaluated the historical significance of the bandshell in Chautauqua Park. The bandshell received its listing on the register in 2015, but reviewers wanted more information on the War Memorial Building before recommending its listing.

“They thought we needed to make a stronger case,” Fiola said.

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At that point, Sommer volunteered to do additional work to meet at least one of the four criteria the Minnesota Historic Preservation Office seeks in nominations - noting significant events hosted inside the building, any association with a particular person, unique design or architecture, and any ability to yield additional information.

“In the first application we had focused quite a bit on the whole notion of events and the building’s role in the community - the library, art center and historical society. We also referenced the architecture,” Fiola said.

In the second application process, Sommer focused more on the building’s architecture.

“The building has to be at least 50 years old, so this would be one of the newer buildings that could be on the register,” Fiola said. “Its mid-century modern architecture was probably more of a deciding factor, given the design and structure of the building. An added bonus is the war memorial statute.”

A ballot referendum was conducted in Nobles County in November 1960, seeking the public’s approval in constructing the building at a cap of $250,000.

“It identified the two tenants of the building to be the library and the Nobles County Historical Society,” Fiola explained. “Before its opening, the county designated space for the art center, taking space away from the historical society.”

Preserving landmarks Fiola said while the mission of the Nobles County Historical Society is to collect and preserve history, it not only means collecting artifacts and compiling exhibits.

“Buildings are landmarks that you want to preserve,” he said. “They’re the most visible things.”

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Fiola said he’d like to see more properties in the county added to the national register.

“They’re looking for a balance of structures across the state,” he shared. “They don’t want just all of the houses of famous people. They want churches, they want schools, they want libraries, they want community buildings, they want lodge halls, photographer studios, they want people’s homes and not just fancy homes.”

The Nobles County Historical Society has just recently completed the nomination and application to add Worthington’s National Guard Armory to the National Register. Fiola said the application will be presented to the state review board in August under two different criteria - the role the armory building had in the community’s history, as well as its architecture.

The Nobles County Historical Society is working on a potential relocation to the armory building, and was awarded a $10,000 grant earlier this month to conduct a feasibility study of that site. Early estimates to renovate the building for the historical society are $10-12 million, a price Fiola said isn’t financially feasible.

“In this feasibility study, we’ll emphasize how we want to see the building adapted in a way that maintains the National Register status, and that we only do the minimum things to keep it cost effective,” Fiola said.

Meanwhile, the library has sought a new location for more than a decade because it doesn’t have enough space in the War Memorial Building. Fiola said even with the National Register listing, the building is very marketable and “there’s probably a lot of other public or private uses if the county decided it was surplus property.”

“The fact now that it’s recognized as a National Register property would hopefully give that building some visibility within the community - it’s not intended to be something which would create some barriers to dealing with that property,” he said. “I think is a positive thing regardless of how that building is used 20 years from now.”

Fiola said the designation may also allow the county to access grants to maintain the building in its National Register state into the future.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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