At the intersection of Pilot Knob and Wescott roads in Eagan, the city’s old town hall shines bright white in the winter sun. Cedar shakes adorn the roof, and tall shutters covering the windows flaunt a grassy green.
It looks a lot like it did a century ago — and possibly better than it did three years ago, before the arson that damaged the exterior and destroyed some of the history inside.
Renovations to the 1914 town hall are nearing completion. Though certain historic objects and architectural features damaged in the fire can’t be fully replaced, the building has mostly been returned to its original glory.
There are new windows, and a mixture of new and original lights inside. The building has gotten an alarm system, as well as air conditioning for preservation purposes. And both the interior and exterior now display original paint colors unearthed during the renovation process.
“The walls look absolutely beautiful,” said Eagan Historical Society Co-Chairwoman Kim Hazel. “They brought them back to what they were supposed to look like.”
Law enforcement ultimately connected the 2013 fire to Prior Lake brothers Michael Duane Damron and Wynn Donald Arvidson, and the two were charged with felony first-degree arson in December. The burn was concentrated on the south side of the building and traveled up through the roof.
Renovation started Aug. 18 and finished early this year, though a few small projects remain, said Tom Garrison, city communications director.
The overall project cost about $500,000, paid with a combination of insurance money, grant dollars and city funds, said City Administrator Dave Osberg. The city is also soliciting donations — and has raised about $16,000 so far — that may go toward restrooms or an outbuilding for the Eagan Historical Society.
At the time of the fire, the Historical Society was operating a museum out of the town hall. Though the responding firefighters saved what they could, old photos, news clippings, maps and original glass in the building’s windows were lost.
In the time since the fire, the Historical Society has been using the empty fire administration building across the street, Hazel said. They’ve measured out the town hall’s area in a large room there, she said, and are figuring out how to lay out displays.
The building is expected to be up and running in the spring, and the Historical Society is planning to have some displays in place by then. A date hasn’t been set yet, Osberg said, but the city wants to make a point of officially reopening the space and recognizing the police and firefighters who dealt with the arson.
The renovation is also an opportunity to re-imagine the museum space, and how to depict the city’s history within it.
“It’s kind of a focal point of our community,” Osberg said. “We want to continue to tell the story of Eagan to new generations, once we get this open again.”
Eagan didn’t become a city until the 1970s, but its roots as a township trace back to 1860. The historic town hall was the community’s central meeting place until 1965, though it wasn’t the first — another town hall, built in 1893, burned down.