Connecting Spaces

In the spring of 2018, a major step towards the integration of the Ferris Grand Block into PCHS’s mission took place with the opening of a connecting doorway.  The shared wall between the Museum’s Gallery III and the Ferris Grand’s Masonic dining room (second floor) was broken through with the intention of creating a doorway between the two spaces.  Turns out the elevation is a little different, so a stairway was built on the Gallery III side.  Turns out we gained a few insights as to the building structure due to this project.

When the former exterior wall of the Museum- originally Pipestone’s City Hall- was broken through, we ran into a window!  Well, a window opening, no glass.  It had been bricked up when the dining room addition was built against the back wall in the 1930s.  It just hadn’t occurred to us that there were originally several windows spanning that space.  That gave us insight into the original Old City Hall/Museum building.

But the biggest surprise, and it shouldn’t have been, was that the Masonic dining room addition wasn’t built ‘adjoining’ the back of City Hall, it was built ‘on to’ the back wall of City Hall.  Meaning Old City Hall’s formerly exterior wall was merely fitted out with furring strips and paneling attached directly to the wall.

This explains and illustrates how the historic buildings in Historic Downtown Pipestone find themselves in peril when the adjoining building goes down.  Its not just that they are built very close together and disturbing one will disturb another.  It’s that they are literally sharing important structural parts.

Luckily for us, and probably more importantly luckily for both of these buildings, they are now owned by one group, dedicated to seeing them structurally sound.

Former Exterior Wall of Old City Hall from the Masonic Dining Room side. Can see a bricked-up window to the left.
The cut through the wall, looking of the Museum/Old City Hall and into the Masonic Dining room . Can see the furring and lathe and plaster on the left, the Old City Hall side of the wall, and a glimpse of the thin paneling on the other side.

Rehabilitation of the Ferris Grand

In 2015 PCHS partnered with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in conducting an Evaluation of Building Conditions, Decorative Finishes & Reuse Alternatives for the Ferris Grand Block, specifically the Masonic Hall portion of the building.  This evaluation has served as a conditions assessment as the rehabilitation and preservation of the building moves forward.

In 2019 PCHS received a grant through the Minnesota Historical Society with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.  This grant will fund architectural drawings needed to complete the physical work which will occur in the next phase.

The 2015 Evaluation specifically outlined these critical areas of structural stabilization that need to be addressed:

  • Several sections of charred & substandard framing in the basement that were modified during the 1993 remodeling.  Beam supports and connections should be code compliant.
  • One of the original timber roof trusses appears to be suffering deflection at its midspan.
  • Interior & Exterior repointing proceeded by a comprehensive masonry study.  Lime mortar joints need to be raked out and repointed throughout the exterior and where possible on the interior.
  • Additionally, the overall roof is nearing the end of its lifespan and will need to be replaced.

In 2020, PCHS hired LHB Inc. architects to create the construction documents on these specific areas of work.  This project is underway and on track to be completed in the spring of 2021.  PCHS plans to pursue Phase III at that time, which will begin the physical construction work necessary to carry this building into the future.

Ferris’s Silent Partner

A.D. Ferris had a vision for a grand opera hall in Pipestone.  He did not have the personal means to finance it, but he still saw that it was done.  He “subscribed” a number of seats in the future opera hall for $5 each.  He also convinced 15 people in the community to back the project by putting up $100 each.  After gathering that financial support, Ferris still needed funding and he took a silent partner.  For years we did not know who Ferris’ silent partner was, who helped to finance the building of the Ferris Grand Block in 1898.  M.A. Manuel was the name on the date-stone, originally set high in the building’s front façade.  It was a twin to the A.D. Ferris stone.  Both were removed when the Masons purchased the building around 1916.

In researching Mr. Ferris, in order to better understand the building, it was discovered that M.A. Manuel was in fact Ferris’ daughter Mittie.  She was born in 1855 and married Fred Manuel in Sibley County, Minnesota about 1878.  She never lived in Pipestone, her father and stepmother moved to the area in 1878 and she and Fred were soon making their home in California.

Fred Manuel died in 1897 leaving Mittie with the small fortune he had accrued from the mining industry.  She invested in her father’s vision.  Her son, Charles Manuel, represented her at the opening night of the Ferris Grand Opera House.  It was Mittie Manuel who sold the building to the Masons around 1916.

Back to the datestones.  Miraculously, the A.D. Ferris datestone has been in the Museum collection for years.  It is miraculous because the Museum opened in the 1960s, so where that stone was in the meantime is a mystery. 

After the Pipestone Masonic Bodies gave the Ferris Grand Block to the Historical Society in 2013, the Manuel date stone was discovered in the attic of the building.  Both are on display right now in the Museum’s exhibit “Building Boom!” which features the grand quartzite buildings of Pipestone County.

The Pipestone County Historical Society Meets the Ferris Grand Block

Late in 2013 PCHS acquired ownership of the Ferris Grand Block (masonic hall,) including the separate “L” building.  It was given by the Pipestone Masonic Bodies with the mind to preserve the historic building.  This acquisition, which more than doubled the square footage PCHS was responsible for, came with quite a responsibility.  With staff and dollars stretched thin over three other historic properties, the question became how to merge the building with our mission.

The Pipestone Performing Arts Center has been a tenant on the main floor of the building since the 1990s and it is hoped that they will continue to be successful there.  Whereas the rent the Performing Arts pays for their space covers most everyday maintenance and tax expenses, the financial responsibility of this large building has been a real undertaking for PCHS.  Especially after it was realized how much work the building really needed in order to carry it into the future.

The building is old.  It was built in 1898 which means this year it will be celebrating its 122nd Birthday.  The building has a large footprint.  It covers the entire lot, facing Main Street with three-stories, part of the building, which is an addition from the 1930s, has two-stories.

In 2015, PCHS entered a partnership with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota to conduct a “Reuse Study,” or consultants’ report, to review the structure of the building itself and to produce some guidance on the possibilities of its future use.  The report, which was released in 2017, gave us the first real feedback on the condition of the building and also outlined some definite areas of concern, which we are addressing, but overall, it is a sound building.  There are also many ideas for its future use, but first things first, right?

The report revealed concern over alterations in the structural beams in the basement.  There is concern over one roof truss which appeared to be bowing.  And, perhaps the most obvious concern is the overall condition of the mortar in the tuckpointing of the structure inside and out.  We know there is leaking in the building and that prolonged water issues quickly weaken a structure.  We have taken steps to minimize that while we work for funding to fix the problems.

In 2019 we were awarded a grant (financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society) to hire an architect to produce construction papers which will be used in the future to have the structural work done.  LHB Architecture of Minneapolis has been hired and has begun evaluations during the summer of 2020.

The Ferris Grand Block (masonic hall) has been a huge responsibility for the historical society to take on.  But we are certain of the building’s importance to both the history and the future of downtown Pipestone.  Our mission is the preservation of the history of Pipestone County by collecting artifacts for the Museum exhibits, by telling the stories of the people who have lived here,  and by advocating and working toward the historic preservation of structures:  all of this in order to tell the story of the past so that we may achieve a better future.  The Ferris Grand Block is ideal to bridge the gap between the past and the future if we maintain it in the present.