Two years after fire ripped through a historic home tied to Chaska’s industrial past, the city is giving up on its quest to restore it.
The house in the city’s Walnut Street Historic District needs $500,000 in repairs, but the city was twice denied the state funding it sought for the project. So Chaska’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted this week to demolish the 1886 structure, one of the oldest in the city.
City Administrator Matt Podhradsky said he believes the Minnesota Historical Society was supportive of the project, but had limited funds to dole out.
“I think it just didn’t have as high a priority as other projects had in the state,” Podhradsky said.
A representative of the Minnesota Historical Society said the grants are highly competitive and Chaska’s project was not recommended based on standard review criteria.
Known as the Ess House, the home dates back to Chaska’s days as a brickmaking boom town fueled by bountiful subterranean clay deposits. Chaska bricks were in high demand at the time, helping build Twin Cities structures like the Minnesota Capitol and the Minneapolis sewer system.
Joseph Ess took advantage of the thriving industry by opening a foundry on Walnut Street that fashioned brickmaking equipment. He built a new home for his family across the street, the Ess House.
“At one point in time there were eight to 10 brickyards in town, and so that brickmaking equipment was obviously very needed,” said Lisa Oberski, president of the Chaska Historical Society.
The street would have been the main drag of Chaska at the time, Oberski said, “because the ferries and the steamboats and such would dock at the end of the Walnut right on the [Minnesota] river.”
Ess Brothers & Sons is now located in Loretto, Minn., and has remained in the family for six generations. The original foundry on Walnut Street was torn down, and an apartment building was erected there in 1989.
“The family history has disappeared,” said Mary Kay Feltmann, formerly Mary Kay Ess. “The Esses really started up Chaska back in the 1800s.”
Feltmann was one of several Ess generations to live in the 130-year-old home. When her family moved in, it had no running water except for a pump in the kitchen. Her father remodeled it and lived there until about a decade ago when it became apartments.
“We have many, many wonderful memories. It’s sad to see it go. But I guess time goes on,” Feltmann said.
The fire originated from a heat lamp within a lizard terrarium. No one was killed.
The city bought the property for $1 with the intention of repairing and selling it, but could not afford the cost of repair.
“It was a pretty extensive fire that happened in the house,” Podhradsky said.
The demolition, expected early next year, follows the razing of two other 19th-century buildings on the same block — part of a historic district — in 2015, including another Ess family house. Podhradsky said both houses were dilapidated and “beyond repair.”
Partly as a result, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office expressed concern that demolishing the fire-damaged Ess house “could severely hamper the integrity of the Walnut Street Historic District,” according to a 2015 city staff report.
But there is a new historic addition to the block: the 1884 Riedele House, which was moved there to make way for the redevelopment of nearby Fireman’s Park.