The city plans to stabilize a historic stone house that's in danger of being swept away by the Rum River.
As a child, Paul Pierce liked to explore the castle-like stone house that sits on the Rum River in Anoka, a structure that dates to the early 1900s. Situated on an island, the stone house was sort of hidden.
The rocky place "was like a mystery, full of wonder," said Pierce, 59, who still lives in Anoka.
Today, the house is a recognizable city landmark, but it's in rough shape. It's prone to vandalism, and it's missing some parts, including a handful of "courses," or layers of stone that once gave it additional height. Given its state, plus the river's unpredictable impact, some people are worried that it might not make it through another winter.
That has led to a city plan to preserve the stone house, a plan that Pierce supports. Besides his personal connection to the site, "I think it's really good for people in town to have beautiful, inspiring places," he said.
For Pierce, part of what makes the house so interesting is its quirky back-story, for which the details are only so-so.
The stone house, along with another two that are now in ruins, were the handiwork of Thaddeus Giddings, a member of one of the city's founding families. Giddings, who died in 1954, was big on the music scene, locally and nationally, Pierce said.
He built the houses in his backyard for quiet study and, alternately, entertaining. One place even had a stage, piano and fireplace, Pierce said.
Although nobody can pinpoint exactly when the stone structures came into the picture, the whimsical backyard gardens flourished during the Depression. When people came to the door wanting food, "Giddings would say, 'I have a little extra food and I have some gardening that needs to be done,'" Pierce said.
Still, it was often said that settlers had used the stone houses to defend themselves against Indians. It also was said that Giddings, who had a flair for the dramatic, manufactured this story, said Pierce.
At one time, a bridge connected the stone structures to Giddings' house on the hill. That house was razed in February of this year, Pierce said.
The gardens had such an impact on Pierce that in 1976 he built a stone fountain in his backyard. "I did it in the style that I learned so well by walking through the gardens so many times," he said.
Finding a happy medium
Last fall, the city installed several pipe pieces on one side of the stone house to redirect the Rum River water, but only as a temporary solution. This was triggered by record snowfall the year before, according to the city's public services manager, Greg Lee.
Earlier this year the city examined what it would take to save the stone house, he said.
One proposal involved full restoration of the site, including the bridge, but it came with a $300,000 pricetag, which was well out of range. Another idea was to fill the stone house with concrete as a way to keep it around for show. It was projected to cost $50,000. But that wasn't ideal from a historic standpoint, Lee said.
City Manager Tim Cruikshank said the city is focusing now on just one part of the larger restoration plan dealing with only the stone house, at least for now.
It involves putting rebar inside the structure and then spraying concrete on top to hold it up, he explained.
"It buys us time to look outside and apply for grants with various groups and agencies" to take it to the next level.
Bart Ward, who chairs the city's Heritage Preservation Commission, said it's a solution he can get behind.
"A project like this is almost artwork," he said. "No one does stuff like this -- resurrects ruins."
City Council Member Jeff Weaver agreed. "It's been high on the radar for the council," he said. "We want to make sure that piece of history doesn't disappear. It's a critical piece of the charm of Anoka."
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.