Darkness was descending fast as I drove the icy rural roads along snowy stubbled cornfields, through the one-bar towns with 25 mile-per-hour speed limits, past the well-lit turnoff to the casino. As the long downhill descent curved toward the outskirts of Red Wing, an iconic brick water tower rose to my left. I pulled into the circled drive around a cluster of buildings that make up the expansive Anderson Center at Tower View. I unloaded my books, coats and computer gear and marveled at how easily I had arrived at my getaway destination, less than an hour southeast of St. Paul.
I’d twice been awarded an artist residency at the Anderson Center, but I’d also rented a room in the mansion when I needed to run away from home and work on a project. This year, I joined two women from the Laughing Waters writing group for a few days of rest, relaxation and writing. We’d made our reservations months in advance for our cozy bedrooms and use of the residence. Now we’d finally hike the Cannon River trail, meander in the snowy sculpture garden, read books in the well-stocked library and hide away in our elegant bedrooms, writing.
Just off Hwy. 61, the Anderson Center is located on the former estate of Alexander Pierce Anderson, the inventor of Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice cereals. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the distinctive Georgian Revival buildings were built between 1915 and 1921. The estate is large — 350 acres — and was originally a working farm with a large research laboratory.
In 1999, under the careful guidance of author and editor Robert Hedin, Anderson’s grandson, the residency was fully restored. It’s like a modest Minnesotan Downton Abbey. The living room and dining room feature hand-painted walls and a grand wooden staircase. The kitchen is updated with a comfortable counter, perfect for chatting and casual meals. The upstairs is graced with a sunny book-lined sitting room and five bedrooms. There’s a sixth bedroom with its own fireplace tucked away near the library on the first floor.
The entire place is brimming with creative energy. The peaceful home is used for artist residencies May through October and available for rentals for individuals or groups November through April. Other buildings provide space for 15 visual artists, Tower View Alternative High School, the Universal Music Center and the Sheldon Theatre.
But the center was quiet as I left my snowy boots on the mansion’s heated back porch and hauled my stuff up the narrow back stairs and down the grand wood-paneled second-floor hallway with bedrooms on either side. My yellow front bedroom’s big windows glowed with streetlights from the humming road; the side windows looked out over tall trees into the sculpture garden. Thick, colorful homemade cotton quilts made the bed inviting, and the towels were generously prepared for long baths in the deep porcelain tub. The large desk and tufted armchair were well-lit, comfortable and ready for writing. I folded my clothes into the antique dresser, hung my jackets in the closet and plugged in my laptop near the desk.
In the large kitchen, I heated a pot of chai tea to welcome my friends. We were each cooking dinner one night, and I’d brought homemade lentil soup, cheese, crackers and fruit for our first meal. Our plan was to work quietly during the day, then cook and converse together at dinnertime. We spent evenings nestled in the two brown couches near the living room fireplace, watched over by an antique wood nymph clock. All around the house are hard-bound books, original paintings and literary publications, creating a warm and erudite ambience. Every chair has a reading lamp, and sunlight streamed into the large windows in the front second-floor sitting room during the day.
The estate lies just above the Cannon Valley Trail, a paved path open year-round for snowshoeing, skiing, hiking and biking. Winding through fields and pastures, forests and wetlands, with the Cannon River peeking through in places, it was a delightful place for an afternoon walk, the bogs enticing in the dimming light. After stomping through the sculpture garden, I peered in the windows of the Red Dragonfly Press, housed in a poshly remodeled chicken coop, at the black hulking vintage presses, thick piles of paper stock and trays of type awaiting master printer Scott King.
On another afternoon, I viewed the Anderson Center’s permanent art collection, which includes work by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Joan Miro, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Klee, Willem de Kooning and other 20th-century masters, all smartly hung in the gallery and hallways of the main building.
Just a few minutes east of the estate, the Mississippi River town of Red Wing features an abundance of intriguing stores, bars and restaurants. On our last night together, we ate a scrumptious dinner at the Staghead Gastropub, a casual restaurant with a menu fit for a foodie. My perfectly cooked king salmon rested on a bed of crisp Brussels sprouts teased with an apple cider reduction. My companions ate delicious burgers, and our server raved that the chocolate flourless torte was the reason she took her job there.
For those less in need of solitude, the house could serve as a base for day trips to the lovely state parks and beautiful towns up and down the Mississippi, but I preferred to revel in the distinguished and comforting peace of the Anderson Center’s residence — a perfect Minnesota late-winter getaway.
Kathryn Kysar is a teacher and writer based in St. Paul.