Stillwater’s historic Boutwell House has not only been saved, it’s up for sale.
Owned by the Washington County Historical Society since 2015, the four-bedroom house is on the market for $495,000. Which is not to say it doesn’t need some work.
“The historical society has taken it as far as they can with the restorations, and now we are selling it with conditions that it be restored,” said Brent Peterson, the historical society’s executive director.
The house, built in the mid-1800s, received local and national attention when its planned demolition was halted at the last minute by HGTV’s “Rehab Addict” star Nicole Curtis. By the time she arrived on the scene in January 2015, the rear one-third of the house already had been torn down.
About six months later, the historical society purchased the property, including outbuildings and about 5 acres, for around $600,000 to save it from another threatened demolition. The nonprofit used money from reserves, including interest accrued on the group’s endowment fund and money made by renting the new Washington County Heritage Center to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Other historical sites in the area have been demolished to make room for things like parking lots, Peterson said. So in the case of the Boutwell House, he said, “The Washington County Historical Society stepped up and said ‘Enough is enough,’ and hopefully we will inspire others to do the same.”
The historical society’s goal was to renovate the house and then sell it to a family or local organization. It invested more than $100,000 in renovations, gutting the house, rebuilding the demolished portion and redoing the interior.
“The interior’s pretty well open for any developer [or] decorator to go ahead, but it’s the exterior that we’re really interested in,” Peterson said.
Restoration conditions include leaving the house’s facade, exterior and window openings as they look now. That’s because the house was built by the Rev. William T. Boutwell, a Presbyterian minister whose influence extended across the area now known as Minnesota.
Boutwell helped named Lake Itasca on an expedition with Henry Schoolcraft up the Mississippi River. “When you walk across those stones up in Itasca Park, Boutwell and Schoolcraft were right there,” Peterson said.
After the Mississippi expedition, Boutwell moved to the Stillwater area and worked as a missionary among the Ojibwe. He founded the First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater and organized several other churches in the area. He died in 1890 and was buried in the family cemetery across the street from the house.
Locals are familiar with the Boutwell name, said the Rev. Cader Howard, pastor of First Presbyterian. A Stillwater road, senior living home and cemetery are named after him.
“For the whole community, he was such an important figure as one of the early settlers in Stillwater,” Howard said. “I think people are glad that the house is being saved.”
The historical society focuses on saving landmarks like the Boutwell house because of the impact the pioneer missionary had on the Upper Midwest, Peterson said.
“These tangible artifacts, such as houses … need to stay so they can tell the story,” he said.
And he’s confident that the Boutwell House finally is here to stay.
“The historical society is the one organization that was able to take this historic house and save it from the landfill, save it from the bulldozer,” Peterson said. “And now we’re turning it over to someone who can finish the job and make it a worthy, historic house in the community again.”
Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.