How did a replica of a medieval Spanish palace come to be built in Stillwater?

Lumber baron William Sauntry, a transplanted Canadian, first built an elaborate Victorian house (now the William Sauntry Mansion B&B) for his family in 1881.

Two decades later, he added a “Gymnasium” or “Recreation Hall” next door, as a place where he could entertain. Its exotic interior was inspired by the Alhambra, the Moorish palace in Granada, Spain.

“It’s likely that Sauntry visited the Alhambra before ordering up his own mini-version, since he was known to have traveled widely,” wrote architectural historian Larry Millett in his 2014 book “Minnesota’s Own: Preserving Our Grand Homes.” Some sources say Sauntry even sent craftspeople to Spain to make molds of the Alhambra’s features.

Sauntry’s ornate ballroom, complete with bowling alley, was connected to his mansion by a covered passageway that led into a grand entry foyer. When he hosted his first society gala there in 1902, the Stillwater Gazette covered the grand event, describing it as “In Fairy Land.”

But the fantasyland parties didn’t last long.

After the lumber business faltered, Sauntry invested in iron and gold mines, losing much of his fortune. In 1914, he committed suicide, shooting himself at a St. Paul hotel. He left no note behind.

The passageway connecting his home and his party palace was taken down, and the Moorish fantasy was converted into a triplex, which it remained until 1999, when the current owners, Marty and Judi Nora, bought it and restored it to its former glory.

“If Sauntry’s death is a mystery, his architectural legacy is not,” wrote Millett. “His mansion and his fabulous Moorish pleasure palace remain essential landmarks in Stillwater from a time when lumber was king and even the most magical dreams could be made real.”

Kim Palmer