NORTHFIELD – For nearly 150 years, the Archer House stood as a landmark in this southern Minnesota college town, a grand old pile that evoked memories of the era when townspeople famously shot it out with the Jesse James gang.
It's still standing as that landmark — sort of.
A November fire, breaking out in one of the rambling redbrick structure's restaurants, destroyed the central section of the Archer House.
Firefighters poured more than 2 million gallons of water on the fire; in the six months since then, the building has stood open and exposed to rain and snow.
It's an open question whether the Archer House can be saved or whether it will have to be torn down. Insurance investigators have been taking their sweet time deciding on what kind of a payout they'll offer, and until the insurance question is settled, the building's owner says he can't make a decision on the path forward.
If the decision were left to the people of Northfield, however, there's no question what they'd say.
"Personally, I want it to be restored," said Angelica Linder, who's lived in town for 20 years. "The hotel is a landmark. It's such a beautiful old building.
"It's one of those symbols that people recognize."
Jon Otto, who's lived in Northfield for 18 years, agrees.
"I would love to see it restored," he said. Chapati, an Indian restaurant that was forced to close after the fire, was one of his favorite places to hang out. The food was great, but the atmosphere was even better, he said.
"It was the kind of place where you just loved to sit there," Otto said.
Brett Reese, the building's owner, said the delays in settling insurance claims have been "a frustrating, difficult process." Reese, managing partner and chairman of Rebound Enterprises, owns a significant portfolio of Northfield real estate, including several other historic downtown buildings.
Reese was unavailable for comment. But in an interview last week with Northfield radio station KYMN, Reese bemoaned the uncertainty about the building's future.
"You look at that building — it's a tragedy, it's sad," he said. "It continues to deteriorate due to the elements. Snow, rain — mold, probably now. The integrity of the structure — things continue to fall down.
"Can it be rebuilt? I don't know."
If the Archer House can't be saved, Reese said, he'd hope to build something in its place that would be a drawing card in downtown Northfield.
"If it's a total loss and a rebuild, we can envision … possibly another hotel, possibly with apartments or condos," he said. "Restaurants. Entertainment on the [Cannon] river.
"We just don't know yet. It's just a very dark place right now, which is very sad on Division Street."
Brad Ness, a City Council member, said he trusts Reese to do the best job he can, noting that Reese has rehabilitated several other historic buildings and has invested heavily in the downtown district.
"We have to wait for the insurance companies to battle it out," he said. "And being an insurance agent myself, I understand that."
Meanwhile, Northfield residents will wait and hope.
"On many different levels, all of the historic buildings have meaning to those of us who have been here a long time," said Paul Krause, who's lived in town for more than 40 years.
"The Archer House has really stood out as a really beautiful historic structure. And it impresses visitors."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402