Scandia Heritage Alliance receives $10,000 research grant

An effort to rebuild a historical water tower barn in Scandia has taken a big next step. The Scandia Heritage Alliance, in coordination with the city of Scandia, has been seeking to rebuild the barn and place it on the National Register of Historic Places, and recently received a $10,000 grant that the SHA hopes will help accomplish that task. The grant will pay for a researcher to study the history of the water tower barn itself.

Following the settlement of the city, the owner of the Scandia Mercantile built it for the local businesses and residents, but not much else is known about it, other than it is the only remaining tank house in the state. Susan Rodsjo, the board chair of SHA, said that this research is needed to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places. In order for places to be named on the registry, they must prove historical accuracy and importance. 

“This grant and research project are the first steps documenting how the building was built, the engineering that was built for the tank house, its history, in order to bring it back in a historically accurate way to how it was originally. … The history study will feed into museum displays we’ll have displayed in the building,” Rodsjo said. The water tower barn, which was taken down in the early 2000s, will be restored with the original timber frame construction, but will have new siding, a new roof, and new windows, made to as closely to match the original as possible, which is one of the main goals of the research, Rodsjo said.

The city of Scandia accepted a proposal in December 2019 to do a joint project to bring the barn back as an amphitheater, plaza and water play area to the city’s property directly south of the community center. That agreement would mean the SHA would raise dollars for it and the city would apply for grants from the state, and in April 2020, the city signed a redevelopment agreement. Since then, that agreement gave the heritage alliance one year to come up with schematic plans for the heritage center and five years to raise the funds. The SHA finished the schematic plans with an architect, and the project is estimated to cost roughly $3 million. A bill that is being sponsored by Rep. Bob Dettmer (Dist. 39A) in the house and Sen. Karin Housley (Dist. 39) would give the project an estimated $1.5 million, half the cost, during the biennium. Scandia resident Bill Strazinsky, a lobbyist, thinks the project has a good chance. The funding won’t be known until spring of next year.

“In the meantime, we’re applying for foundation grants to raise the other money,” Rodsjo said. 

The SHA has already raised $300 in matching contributions. 

“We have donated barn materials, we have all the posts and beam structures,” she said.

Tourism has been a big focus for the city of Scandia in recent years as it seeks to bring in more out-of-town visitors and businesses, and the museum would help accomplish that, Rodsjo said.

“Gammelgarden, that was a museum that preserves the life of Swedish settlers. ... When the mercantile was built, it’s the next generation of folks that live in Scandia, and it became a center of commerce in that next generation. The barn is sort of central to that,” Rodsjo said.

The museum will include two theaters, one indoors that would include room for 60 to 80 people, and an outdoor amphitheater that would hold up to 260 people. Programming, especially during the summer, would be a big part of the museum. It would also include an art museum, and a splash pad for children.

Rodsjo said that one of the biggest draws is the interconnectivity that the Gateway Trail and proximity to William O’Brien State Park would help draw in visitors.

“We feel this is a great regional asset,” Rodsjo said.  

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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