Steve Bauer is a dedicated salvager. When a local German Catholic Church built in 1892 was set for demolition, he rescued it and rebuilt it brick by brick on his property south of Hastings.
He tracked down altars from a Catholic church in Jordan to complete the project. The altars were in pieces in storage, and he had no idea how to reconstruct them, but he knocked on doors until he found a 90-year-old widow who had wedding pictures taken there.
“There she stands when she’s 20 years old,” Bauer recollected, “right in front of these altars. I solved the puzzle.”
The church is one of fifty historic buildings open to the public July 25-27 during the Little Log House Pioneer Village’s Antique Power Show. During the show, the one time in the year when the grounds are open to the public, visitors can see historic demonstrations and displays and view artifacts of Minnesota history.
Of the property’s buildings, 45 were marked to be burned down or destroyed. Bauer acquired the first in 1987, when he found that a farmhouse slated for demolition concealed a hand-hewn log house with dovetail notching built by a German immigrant homesteader.
He moved the building to his property and soon added others. A 1930s saloon. A Victorian doctor’s house purchased for one dollar. An 1880s U.S. Land Office. He acquired train depots from 1908 and 1905, the old Porky’s Drive-In of St. Paul and the very first root beer stand in Minnesota.
“It’s not the building,” said Bauer, “it’s the story.”
Recent additions include the original Red Wing Stoneware building and the Franzmeier Market of Hastings, a seed store that operated in the mid-1900s.
Bauer has built buildings around salvaged rafters from churches and cast iron pillars from Red Wing’s Orchestra Hall. He’s collected dozens of old signs — the sign for the old Cottage View Drive-in of Cottage Grove, one for defunct car company Kaiser Frazer — which line the main road of the village.
Years ago, he found out a friend hoped to sell off a museum’s worth of 5,000 artifacts in order to buy a $75,000 Packard. Bauer bought the Packard and traded it for the treasures (wooden Calumet baking powder bins, a dental chair powered by pedaling, and the like) which now fill the buildings.
When the Red Wing American Legion decided to sell a 5,000-pound bronze fire department bell from 1872 to a dealer to melt down, Bauer bought both the bell and the red, white and blue carriage (reportedly left behind by a traveling circus troupe) the group used to carry it during parades.
“I’m always hunting,” he said.
‘Little House’ look
Over the years, the family has become involved.
Bauer’s wife, Sylvia, does what she calls “exterior decorating.” She started a perennial garden around the original cabin, in order to give it that “’Little House On the Prairie’ look,” she said. The garden, once featured in “Country Living” magazine, has become a popular spot for weddings, a business their daughters handle.
The entire enterprise is a hobby for Bauer, who heads a variety of other businesses.
The upcoming show grew out of the threshing bees his family and friends had on the property In the 70s. They became so popular that, 24 years ago, they morphed into a public event.
Today, the show typically draws about 10,000 people during the three-day weekend and includes a flea market, car show, antique equipment show and demonstrations such as threshing, printing and blacksmithing. Visitors can see re-enactors sending telegrams via Morse code between train depots or outlaws like Jesse James roaming the grounds.
“You can’t trust those guys ‘cause they are a bunch of drunken cowboys,” Bauer said, adding that they rob the bank as well as the church collection plate.
Not to worry though, there’s a restored jail on site, and, he said, “We usually catch them.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.