For a long time, its historical significance was hidden behind utilitarian additions and remodeling that helped it blend in with the hillside on North Sixth Street, where it has been perched for about 160 years. Even a paint color scheme of yellow and green seemed to say, “Nothing to see here.”
In reality, the structure often called “The Little Stone House” is a rarity.
Located near the center of a river town, the building outlasted urban renewal efforts that removed many historical structures in favor of new, “modern” buildings that lasted only a short time. Consultants who have studied it say it may be the oldest remaining house in Mankato at its original location.
The property located at 129 N. Sixth St. is a simple end-gabled, native-stone cottage that now looks much like it did more than a century and a half ago, thanks to Caleb Wunderlich. Wunderlich purchased and renovated the house, adding a stone-and-wood garage to the south to match the look. The house is well into its second – or third or fourth – life in the 21st century.
This effort was recently rewarded with a City Center Partnership Preservation Stewardship Award.
The original structure, with a footprint of approximately 27 feet wide by 18 feet deep, is simply a utilitarian residence with no design pretense.Molly Westman
In her report based on an Evaluation for Historic Significance completed by Thomas R. Zahn and Associates, Molly Westman, Mankato Planning Coordinator, wrote: “The early stone cottage makes no attempt to display stylized architectural features — elements often used to provide a good source for date of construction. Its 22-inch wall thickness is comparable to the 21-inch stone walls of the Maxfield house [which houses Save Mor Jewelry at 816 N. Second St.]. The original structure, with a footprint of approximately 27 feet wide by 18 feet deep, is simply a utilitarian residence with no design pretense, although some historians might label it as ‘Greek Revival’ due to its Greek temple-like profile.”
The analysis by Zahn and Associates goes into great detail about the building, determining its years of construction and architectural design. They write of its folk style – a “hall-and-parlor house.” This was the dominant style for pre-railroad times, especially in the Southeast, with a period of influence between 1620 and 1860. This style of home was two rooms wide and one room deep, generally 16-20 feet deep and 20-40 feet wide. This property’s original footprint was about 18 feet deep and 27 feet wide, falling into that range of dimensions.
The house’s stone construction also indicates its age. Minnesota marks the dividing line between the east — where homes built for function were often of timber construction — and the west, where wood was less prominent and other local materials used, such as sod for houses in the prairies and stone in quarry areas such as Mankato. The home’s rustic style indicates it followed the tradition of using local materials, dating it back to the period of the quarry (1853) and the sawmill (1857).
Through its years of habitation, additions disguised the house’s original dimensions and appearance. Through his renovation, Wunderlich also returned those things, along with the added garage.
Among the features of the original house: Inspection revealed a stone that was “dressed” and appeared to be cut to engage an element of an earlier porch. The river-facing side of the original stone house shows an entry door to the north. Other openings were likely for two windows, one for each of the two interior rooms. And it’s likely that the original front door was more centered on the facade and flanked by the two window openings. In his renovation, Wunderlich worked to return windows to be similar to the originals.
Stonemason Joseph Schaus
Additional information came from research by Mankato resident A. Katherine Hughes. She found that Joseph Schaus, a stonemason from Luxemburg, purchased Lots 1 and 2, Block A, located one block east of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Construction of the church was completed in 1857. He was a member of that church, and it’s possible that the home was built, in part, with stone not used in church construction.
Hughes’s research found that Schaus “was one of the very first stone masons to locate in the then-struggling village, and he laid all of the foundations for the buildings in block fourteen, it is said, and also did the stonework on the Bierbauer brewery and many other buildings.” Schaus died in 1910 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery.
Containing an estimated total gross living area of 1,018 square feet, the house is said to have had 18 occupants at one time. It is believed that throughout the early and mid-twentieth century there was a family that included the grandmother, aunt, mother, father and 14 children occupying the premise.
Wunderlich gained the support of Mankato city government through his perseverance and dedication to the restoration. After the property had fallen into tax delinquency in 2008, a group of local historians held off demolition, but the house continued to deteriorate. In 2014, Wunderlich persuaded the city to provide a $50,000 loan that would not have to be repaid if he invested at least as much of his own money and labor to save the building. He sought and won a rental license, even though the block exceeded the city’s rental density maximum of 25 percent. It was never his intention to occupy the house himself.
Last year, the house was added to Mankato’s list of Heritage Preservation Landmarks.
Comparable homes sited in the Zahn analysis were the Charles Chapman House (1858), located at 418 McCauley St. in South Bend Township; the Maxfield House (1861); the Adam Jefferson House (1865), which was moved from its original Mankato location to the hillside in North Mankato; and the house at 503 West 2nd Street (1865-75), which included many similar architectural features.
ARTchitecture is a regular feature by Mike Lagerquist. Mike highlights Mankato Area public artwork that has become part of the landscape as well as spotlighting architecturally significant local buildings — both existing and no longer standing. Suggestions are welcome. Use the MankatoLIFE contact form to send your ideas.