The first time he saw Cedarhurst, a stately historic house set on 10 acres in Cottage Grove, True Thao thought, “Holy cow! Here’s this majestic mansion in the middle of nowhere!”
It was 2001, Cottage Grove was less developed than it is now, and Thao, a social worker with a private practice, and his brother Xoua Thao, a physician, were looking for a commercial property to buy together.
A real estate agent showed them Cedarhurst, which was operating as a wedding venue. The grand white house with its classic columns reminded the brothers of mansions in Rhode Island, where their family first settled as refugees from Laos when they were children.
“We fell in love with it,” said True. So the brothers and their wives pooled their resources, bought the mansion, and undertook an extensive renovation. They replaced the roof, then refreshed the entire first floor, updating the electricity, redoing the plaster, repainting, wallpapering and restoring the gold leaf in the ballroom. “We wanted to keep the integrity,” said True.
They added a custom bar in the “French Room” and created a dressing room for bridal parties.
The Thaos continued to host weddings at Cedarhurst, with their children and members of their large extended family pitching in, and also began offering luxurious high teas.
In addition to being an event venue, Cedarhurst remained a home. The formal gathering rooms and large commercial kitchen are on the first floor; there’s another kitchen — and 11 bedrooms — on the second.
True lived in the mansion from 2001 to 2016, and for several years, he left his practice to be a full-time event planner and caretaker, handling everything from wedding details to mowing the sweeping lawn. “I learned a lot very quickly,” he said.
Palace with a past
The mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, had a lengthy history long before bridal couples danced in its gilded ballroom and ladies nibbled scones at afternoon tea.
The original estate dates back to the 1860s, when a farmhouse was built not long after the Civil War. About 20 years later, attorney Cordenio Severance and his wife, Mary, bought the house and expanded it to serve as their summer home.
Later they more than doubled the house’s size when they hired renowned architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the Minnesota State Capitol, to design two large additions, resulting in a 26-room Neo-Classical Greek Revival-style mansion, including a grand ballroom with a pipe organ.
Severance hosted a lot of VIPs at his country estate, including U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Harding, Coolidge and Taft. Frank Kellogg, a former law partner who went on to serve as U.S. Secretary of State and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, is believed to have drafted the Briand-Kellogg Pact in the Severances’ library.
The Thao family, the 11th owners of Cedarhurst, have now put the stately property on the market for $1.95 million.
“We’ve owned it a long time,” said True. “We’re all running this on the side and getting to the point of being burned out. We used to have the kids help. It’s time to transition. Let someone be more focused on the place and do it justice.”
During the pandemic, the festive events have mostly come to a halt, although one bridal party recently came to Cedarhurst to take photos and dance, masked, in the ballroom, he said.
“It’s a wonderful property — majestic and very charming,” he said.
Fritz Bredenbeck, 612-865-8012, Coldwell Banker Burnet, has the listing.