It was a tiny house before the tiny house movement.
The house at 412 Goodrich Av. in St. Paul was built by carpenter John Lewis in 1856, two years before Minnesota became a state and five years before Minnesota troops marched off to Civil War. Yet the 800-square-foot, single-story house, one of the city’s oldest, was days from demolition two years ago when neighbors learned of its imminent demise and took action.
Now, after years of standing vacant, the Lewis house is close to becoming a home once more. Workers have stripped the vinyl siding from the Greek Revival-style home. Renovation plans are complete. Preservationists have raised more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, said Carol Carey, executive director of Historic St. Paul.
Following an expected City Council vote in June to preserve the property, a contractor will be selected to begin reconstruction.
“It’s been a long haul,” said Naomi Austin, a member of the Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association who discovered the house’s impending demolition. “But I think we’re over the hump.”
Tom Brock, an area resident who with his wife, Marit, founded the Little Bohemia association near West Seventh Street, said the little old house might not have been saved if it had been in another neighborhood. While the Lewis house isn’t a Summit Hill mansion or a Crocus Hill Victorian, its humble beginnings as a small house for a working class family fit right in with the neighborhood.
It’s one of several other area houses built in the 1850s and 1860s.
“Big homes are important too,” Brock said. “But in the case of 412 Goodrich, that’s what gives our neighborhood its character and differentiates us from other neighborhoods in St. Paul.
“It says something about who we are and what we appreciate.”
This is the neighborhood that teamed with Historic St. Paul in 2016 to save the former Hope Engine Company fire station, the city’s oldest surviving municipal building, from demolition as part of a new hotel project. This is the neighborhood where Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery has been painstakingly returned to its 1857 roots as a German saloon and restaurant by a neighborhood resident devoted to preservation.
In fact, residents of the area have championed saving their historic buildings since the early 1970s, when they scored National Register Historic District status for Irvine Park. City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the neighborhood, said residents here know how to mobilize.
“It’s remarkable to not only have a neighborhood that values historic preservation but sees its responsibility in that process,” she said of neighbors who hosted fundraisers and even organized an archaeological dig on the property to prepare for the home’s restoration. “There is a passion. They just really believe in this.”
John Yust, an architect who lives in the area in an 1873 house he bought more than 40 years ago, unrolled the plans he’s drawn for the home at a legislative hearing Tuesday at City Hall. He’s even gathering materials from the period — such as door hardware — to use in the two-bedroom, one-bath house.
“We are getting so close,” he said.
Carey said more than $14,000 worth of goods and services have been donated to the project, along with another $37,000 in monetary contributions. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency will kick in $50,000, she said. The balance of the $200,000 budget will come from financing based on the expected sale price of the house.
“These kind of things take time,” she said. “And there is always some level of tension around the time it takes to do a project that is 150-plus years old.”