History buffs will gather at a 150-year-old stone farmhouse in Woodbury on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the city's lone registered historic site.
The three-story farmhouse built by German immigrant Charles Spangenberg with limestone quarried from the banks of the Mississippi River is the only structure on the National Register of Historic Places in the suburb of 75,000.
"Basically it's a historic island," said Bill Schrankler, vice president of the Woodbury Heritage Society, which helped coordinate the event Sunday, which is open to the public. "We are trying to educate people that there is history here."
The home and surrounding farmstead on Dale Road near Pioneer Drive is privately owned, but the homeowners have agreed to let people visit the site for its sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary. The house is modeled after a stone farmhouse in St. Paul, built by Charles' brother Frederick Spangenberg in 1867.
"It will be a great opportunity for people in Woodbury to enjoy the day and they'll get to see something that was built more than five years ago," said Woodbury Heritage Society President Wayne Schilling, a retired dairy farmer whose family occupied the same land for generations.
Heritage society leaders say preserving history in newer, growing suburbs — often defined by new neighborhoods and businesses — can be a challenge.
"The developers clear everything out and start over," Schrankler said.
Woodbury, once a farming community, was incorporated as a village in 1967, and has experienced dramatic population growth and development over the last few decades.
Around 2002, Schrankler documented 60 old barns in the city. That's now down to about 20 as new neighborhoods go up, he said. A few years ago, efforts to save the farmhouse owned by the city's first mayor, Orville Bielenberg, who served in the 1960s and '70s, failed. A developer razed it as the heritage society tried to arrange plans to move it.
"History has not been a number-one priority," Schilling said.
But Schilling said his group's dogged efforts to preserve local history are starting to pay off: The heritage society and the city are collaborating to restore the Miller Barn at Valley Creek Park.
"It will be a traditional red barn," Schilling said.
There's also a sense that city leaders are more attuned to history these days, heritage society leaders said.
Woodbury Mayor Anne Burt said the City Council agreed to save the barn, with the help of some outside donations and grant dollars.
"It will essentially be a piece of art on the landscape. It's a piece of history," Burt said. "The community will be able to enjoy it while visiting the surrounding park and have a sense of what Woodbury was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s."
The biggest challenge in preserving historic sites is ongoing funding and maintenance, she said.
There are about 1,700 sites in Minnesota listed on the National Register. About 20 to 40 sites are added each year, said Ginny Way, national register architectural historian with Minnesota's State Historic Preservation Office. The National Register was created in 1966 and the majority of listings were added in the 1980s.
"Woodbury has not been particularly active as a suburban location," Way said.
But she said other, older suburbs are starting to recognize the historic value in midcentury modern structures and neighborhoods. And one day, the history and architecture of the 1990s and early 2000 will pique the public's interest.
"The '90s will become interesting and we will get nostalgic for that era," Way said.
She also praised efforts to celebrate a portion of Woodbury's farming past.
"I am so glad they are celebrating that farmstead and that history," she said.
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037