Scandia preservationists have banded together to save the city's historic structures and promote an awareness of the past in northern Washington County.
The first priority for the recently formed Scandia Heritage Alliance is resurrecting what was believed to be the last remaining "tank house" in Minnesota before it was dismantled in 2014. Known as the Tower Barn, it has been stored in pieces since then in another Scandia barn.
"It was such an iconic part of downtown Scandia," Mayor Christine Maefsky said. "Finding a new purpose for it will help serve the purpose of recalling the importance of Scandia and its history."
The group is seeking nonprofit status and planning to host a community meeting in the spring to brainstorm potential locations and uses for the rebuilt structure.
Constructed in 1895, the building had a distinctive tower that likely housed an elevated water tank and supported a windmill used to pump a well. Animals were stabled below to provide heat and keep the water from freezing.
The man credited with building the Tower Barn, Frank Lake, immigrated from Sweden in 1868 when he was a child and ran the Scandia Farmers' Store from about 1884 to 1909.
The barn, purchased in 1969 by the Hilltop Water Co., may have been the only such tank house left in the state by 2013, according to one report. When Hilltop's board members decided that same year that the company couldn't afford to restore or preserve it, they opted to have its salvageable parts disassembled.
After fighting for years to save the Tower Barn, Susan Rodsjo bought its parts and considered reconstructing it on her own property.
"There are lot of people in the city of Scandia who loved it and wanted to see it saved," she said. "After we thought about it, we preferred putting it in a public place where it can be used."
With the help of a tourism assessment program through the University of Minnesota, Scandia's leaders have been working to capitalize on the city's history to attract new visitors. Reconstructing the Tower Barn would add one reason for people to come to Scandia to learn about its roots as Minnesota's first Swedish settlement, Maefsky said.
The barn could become a visitor center or regional information center if that's what the community wants, she said. Trails could connect it to other Swedish heritage sites in the area, including Gammelgården Museum and the Hay Lake School.
"We have a number of buildings from the 1880s and we want to preserve those," Maefsky said. "This is an especially unique one."
Rodsjo has already been surprised by the level of support the alliance has received. The group's first fundraiser brought in more than $2,000.
Once it becomes a nonprofit, the Scandia Heritage Alliance will begin taking members and actively fundraising. The first goal is to raise $10,000 so the group can buy what's left of the Tower Barn from Rodsjo.
Beyond advocating for preservation and renovation of historic buildings, the group hopes to facilitate educational programs that highlight Scandia's arts and culture.
"We have so many positive assets — historically, culturally and environmentally — and we are learning to capitalize on them," Maefsky said. "The barn will be a key part of that."