There really was no feasible way I could search every inch of the state for the most beautiful, unique, and amazing homes in the entire state. But I sure gave it a lot of thought. The only real criteria was that the home be historic and unique, so I looked to the National Register of Historic Places to help narrow it down. I tried to use a good cross-section of different styles, sizes, shapes, and colors, and it was not an easy task. But here are HighwayHighlights’ Top 50 Coolest Houses in Minnesota.
50. Comstock House, Moorhead – Our top 50 starts with a Queen Anne/Eastlake-style house in my hometown built by US Congressman and businessman Solomon Comstock in 1883. It is operated as a historic house museum as a partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the City of Moorhead. I remember taking a tour of this place on a school field trip as a youngster and any sense of significance was completely lost on me.
49. Cyrus Cobb House, White Bear Lake – North of St. Paul is the Cyrus B. Cobb House in White Bear Lake. This Queen Anne style brick Victorian home was built during 1885-1889 for a local businessman.
48. Wanda Gag House, New Ulm – Colorful, Bohemian, and completely whimsical, the Wanda Gag House in New Ulm has been restored to its original splendor and is available to tour as a house museum, like many other homes in our top 50. Gag was a successful children’s book author who penned the classic tale Millions of Cats.
47. Theodore Sheldon Mansion, Red Wing – Red Wing’s historic district is filled with some beauties, but the Theodore Sheldon Mansion just might take the cake. It was built in 1875 by Theodore B. Sheldon, an early settler of Red Wing who arrived in 1856 and became one of the city’s leading citizens.
46. Adolf Muench House, St. Paul – This Queen Anne home overlooks downtown St. Paul in a cul-de-sac just north of the interstate in an urban, working-class St. Paul neighborhood. I love the pointed dormers and colors of the trim on this one.
45. Harry F. Legg House, Mpls – Located in the Elliot Park neighborhood just south of downtown Minneapolis is the H.F. Legg House, a pinkish-colored Queen Anne Victorian house that has been altered very little since it was built in the late 1800’s.
44. John G. Lund House, Canby – Another historic-house-turned-museum, the Lund-Hoel House in Canby was the late 1800’s Victorian home of a leading local citizen of Canby, John G. Lund. It features quaint yet elegant decorations and a stone fence around the perimeter.
43. Emily and Stephen Schumacher House, St. Peter – This beautiful Queen Anne home in St. Peter was built in 1887 for a local merchant named Stephen Schumacher by a notable architect out of Mankato. It suffered tornado damage in later years and was restored with help from the Minnesota Historical Society.
42. Rau/Strong House, St. Paul – This beauty in St. Paul’s residential West Side neighborhood features Italianate, Second Empire, and Eastlake-Movement architecture all in one. If you don’t know what those are, that’s okay. You can just enjoy the shape and color of it too.
41. Lewis H. Stanton House, Morris – A “Stick-Style” house commonly referred to as “The Chimneys,” the Stanton House in Morris features blue timbers and shades of Tudor-Revival style anchored by its two twin chimneys.
40. Foley-Brower-Bohmer House, St. Cloud – The magnificent Foley-Brower-Bohmer House was built back in 1885 in the Richardsonian Romanesque fashion, and was once considered the finest house in St. Cloud. In later years, it suffered abandonment, a fire, vandalism, unauthorized replacement of windows (leaving some boarded), a botched restoration attempt, and later, foreclosure. It’s currently empty and for sale.
39. Almond A. White House, Motley – It’s hard to imagine that quiet little Motley, MN, would be hiding such a marvelous gem of a house. The A.A. White House, hidden just out of view off of the main highway through town, features notable Queen Anne architecture with a four-stories-high turret.
38. Patterson-Hernandez Home, Barnesville, MN – Barnesville (not Burnsville), is a small prairie town outside of Moorhead, and home to an incredible Queen Anne home built out of fieldstone from surrounding farms. The house sits on the edge of town in the otherwise sleepy Red River Valley.
37. Lindeke House, St. Paul – I could have done a top 50 with Summit Ave homes alone. St. Paul’s Summit Ave district is home to the largest concentration of Victorian homes in America, and almost every one is different and beautiful in their own way, like the Lindeke house at 295 Summit Ave. It was built in 1885 for Albert and Carol Lindeke, who owned a large dry goods store in downtown St. Paul.
36. Michael Majerus House, St. Cloud – The Majerus House is a gorgeous French Second Empire-style home in St. Cloud’s historic homes district south of downtown. It is currently a B&B, like many others on this list.
35. Myers House, Duluth – One of the countless beautiful homes in Duluth’s mansion district, the Myers house features dark basaltic stones contrasted by tan and green trim and a large, imposing turret anchoring the left side. The house dates back to the early 1900’s, where an Ohioan investor by the name of Henry Myers moved to Duluth during its boom period. The home recently received a much needed update in 2013.
34. Governor’s Mansion, St. Paul – Originally known as the Horace Hills Irvine Mansion, the current Governor’s Mansion on Summit Avenue has twenty rooms and was designed in the Tudor Revival style of architecture. It was built by famed Minneapolis architect William Channing Whitney who also designed many beautiful mansions in the Washburn-Fair Oaks neighborhood of Minneapolis.
33. 119 Chestnut St, Stillwater – Probably the most beautiful town in Minnesota, Stillwater is home to blocks and blocks of Victorian homes overlooking the St. Croix River Valley. This multi-colored beauty on Chestnut Street, sometimes referred to as the “Anderson House,” is without a doubt one of the best. Like many on this list, this historic home once fell badly into disrepair and was eventually restored by an old house enthusiast and attorney named Anderson.
32. 2017 E Superior St, Duluth, MN – Sometimes known as the “Bunnell Mansion,” the stately home on Duluth’s Superior Street was the home of the founders of the Duluth Herald newspaper built around 1908. It exhibits Renaiassance-style architecture similar to Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion.
31. Jacob Harder House, Mountain Lake – Half-spaceship, half-Frank Lloyd Wright, this earthy, organic, futuristic abode was built in 1971 by famed architect Bruce Goff, who also designed another equally bizarre house outside of town which was later destroyed by fire. The house is currently a private residence in the unassuming, quiet town of Mountain Lake.
30. John M. Armstrong House, St. Paul – The Armstrong House in St. Paul is a beautiful, red-brick, Queen Anne-style mansion located near downtown St. Paul by the Minnesota Science Museum. It was actually moved to its present location on St. Paul’s Eagle Parkway in 2001 from West Fifth Street.
29. Van Dusen Mansion, Minneapolis – The Stevens Square neighborhood in Minneapolis is packed full of character, and the Van Dusen Mansion on LaSalle Ave is no exception. The home’s original owner, George Washington Van Dusen, was an entrepreneur who founded Minnesota’s first and most prosperous grain processing and distribution firm in 1883. The mansion’s architecture is Richardsonian Romanesque, and the brick was quarried locally in Minnesota. It currently can be rented out for events.
28. Ward Beebe House, St. Paul – The Dr. Ward Beebe House in the West Summit Avenue Historic District in St. Paul is a three-story, stucco house built in the Prairie School style of architecture.
27. Olaf Lee House, St. Paul – This little gem is found in a somewhat nondescript, residential, working-class St. Paul neighborhood and exhibits a combination of Swiss Chalet and Craftsmen Architecture.
26. Oliver Traphagen House, Duluth – The Traphagen House in Duluth is a significant example of Victorian and Romanesque architecture made with locally quarried sandstone. Oliver Traphagen designed a number of other homes in Duluth; and Chester Congdon, the owner of the famous Glensheen Mansion (#12), actually lived in this house prior to Glensheen. Upon my visit in spring of 2015, the Traphagen house was vacant, foreclosed, and had sadly suffered severe vandalism and fire damage. The windows were all boarded up and there were signs out front warning against trespassing.
25. Stillwater, MN – This unnamed Stillwater, MN home is just too beautiful and colorful not to make the list. We don’t have a ton of information on it, but pictures speak a thousand words.
24. Willard Bunnell House – Homer, MN – Now a historical site only open for tours by appointment, the Bunnell House south of Winona has the distinction of being the oldest permanent residence south of St. Paul. This clapboard house is designed in the Carpenter Gothic style and features triangle-peaked windows and shutters, and carved bargeboards.
23. Edward and Elizabeth Heimbach House, St. Paul- Almost entirely obscured by trees in the summer, the Heimbach House is a colorful, Late-Victorian style brick house with an octagonal tower and dome and detached carriage house. It was built in 1890.
22. Abe Engalson House, St. Paul – The only Art Deco-style home to make our top 50, the Abe Engalson House in St. Paul’s Highland Park Neighborhood dates back to 1939 when the Streamline Moderne influence of the Art Deco movement was in its heyday, along with places like Mickey’s Diner and the Band Box Diner.
21. Driscoll-Weyerhaeuser House, Summit Ave, St. Paul – This castle-like stunner on Summit Ave was built by Frederick Driscoll of the Pioneer Press Newspaper in 1884 and is 11,000 square feet with 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. It was once the residence of the owner of the largest lumber company in the world. It features a pointed turret and red brick construction and shades of Gothic, Victorian, and Romanesque architecture.
Photo courtesy Historic Hutchinson House B&B
20. John Hutchinson House, Faribault – The gorgeous, multi-colored 1892-frame Queen Anne house was the original home of a prosperous furniture factory owner in the southern Minnesota town of Faribault. It is currently the Historic Hutchinson House Bed and Breakfast, and they were kind of enough to lend us this wintertime photo of the historic beauty.
19. Diedrik Omeyer House, St. Paul – This colorful, quirky house in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood was completed in 1889 by Norwegian architect Diedrik Omeyer. Marvelous at the time, it later fell into disrepair and succumbed to weather and complacent ownership, resulting in the removal of much of the ornamentation. Fortunately, the home was restored to its original beauty around the year 2000.
18. Charles Pillsbury Mansion, Minneapolis – The list wouldn’t be complete without the Mansion of Charles Pillsbury, who was the son of the founder of the Pillsbury Company. The historic mansion was built in the Tudor Revival style back in the late 1800’s, and is now a non-profit organization which provides services to the blind.
17. Lamberton-Huff House, Winona – One of Minnesota’s oldest and best preserved Italian Villa style houses, the Lamberton-Huff house was built in 1857 and given a Moorish Revival porch in 1873. Thanks to our friends at the Winona County Historical Society for providing us with some great photos of the house, and recently we were able to see it for ourselves.
16. George W. Taylor House, Le Sueur – The Taylor House in LeSueur is another significant style of the Eastlake movement of the late 1880’s. This pastel-green, incredibly-detailed house was the home of a local merchant and his wife, who at the time was the head of the Women’s Relief Organization.
15. James J. Hill House, St. Paul – The largest and most storied home in St. Paul, the James J. Hill House is listed as a US National Landmark for its architectural and historic significance in St. Paul’s Summit Avenue mansion district. Built by railroad magnate James J. Hill in the 1890’s, it is now operated as a mansion museum tour by the Minnesota Historical Society. Like the Glensheen, much of its original decor has been preserved.
14. W.G. Purcell House – Minneapolis – One of the leading examples of Prairie School Architecture in Minnesota, which features long, narrow floors and sharp, angled corners, the Purcell-Cutts house near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis is currently owned and maintained by the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It is available for tours each month.
13. Ann Bean Mansion, Stillwater – The most beautiful home in the dazzing array of Victorian homes in Stillwater, Minnesota’s First City, has to be the four-story, Grand Victorian, Ann Bean Mansion up on Pine Street. It dates back to 1878 and is currently a B&B as well.
12. Glensheen Mansion, Duluth – It’s by far the most opulent, historic, and incomparable mansion in Minnesota- and within the walls is a real-life murder mystery tale. Set on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, the Glensheen Mansion’s lore is enduring and its architecture Jacobean. Almost everything inside is preserved as it was in the early 1900’s. It is currently owned and operated for tours and events by the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
11.Stanford Newel Castle, St. Paul – An honorable mention in our recent castles list, the Newel House in St. Paul originally did not feature the limestone-brick tower or parapets on top. The original home dates to 1864, with the battlements being added by Stanford Newel in 1886.
10. The Burwell House, Minnetonka – The Burwell House in Minnetonka was built in 1883 for lumber baron Charles Burwell in the Carpenter Gothic/Stick Style of architecture. The house, along with other original outbuildings are now a museum set on a beautifully landscaped property on Minnehaha Creek.
9. H. A. Paine House, Albert Lea – A mixture of Queen Anne and Tudor style architecture, the H.A. Paine house in Albert Lea sneaks into our top 10 due to its unique Bavarian look. It dates back to 1898 and is of course listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
8. William G. LeDuc House, Hastings – The LeDuc Mansion in Hastings dates back to 1865, when Civil War veteran and former US Commisioner of Agriculture William G. LeDuc, later an attorney, built this Carpenter Gothic home in Hastings on land he won in a lawsuit. It changed hands after his death, and sat empty for almost 50 years until the Dakota County Historical Society acquired and restored in in 2005. Now operated as a museum and facility for rent.
7. L.J. Gates House and A. Bettingen House, Woodland Park Historic District, St. Paul – This popular middle-class residential neighborhood exhibits 12 distinct architectural styles popular in Minnesota. Found just north of the beautiful Summit Ave, most of the homes feature vivid colors, turrets, and gabled roofs. The Gates and Bettingen houses are a focal point of the neighborhood.
5. Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House, St. Paul – One of the first and most prominent examples of Italianate architecture in the entire state, this dazzling Summit Avenue stunner is one of the most beautiful homes in Minnesota. It was designed by Chicago architect Otis L. Wheelock and built 1862-1865 for James C. Burbank, a wealthy owner of the Minnesota Stage Company. It is the second oldest house on Summit Ave.
4. Bardwell-Ferrant House, Minneapolis – A brilliant display of Moorish and Exoticism Revival architecture, the Bardwell-Farrent House was actually originally designed to be more of a Queen Anne-Victorian house. Roughly 7 years after it was built, an architect added the onion domes, spindlework porch columns, and stained-glass windows to give it the look it has now. The house was later moved several blocks away to its present location. After a recent foreclosure, it has a new owner who has thankfully restored it.
3. Schell’s Mansion, New Ulm – This gingerbread house tucked back in the hills outside of New Ulm on the Schell’s Brewery grounds was once the home of August Schell, founder of the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the US, after Yeungling. Although the mansion itself is not part of the tour, it can be viewed from all sides as peacocks meander around you.
2. Swan Turnblad House, Minneapolis – Probably the best example of a real castle in Minnesota is the Swedish American Institute in Minneapolis. Built in 1910 by immigrant-turned-newspaper-mogul Swan Turnblad, the chateau-style mansion was later donated to the Swedish American Society and is now a museum.
1. Julien Cox House – St. Peter, MN – Built in 1871 for St. Peter’s first mayor Eugene St. Julien Cox, the most beautiful house in the state isn’t especially large. But it’s beautiful, a light yellow with red trim. It’s unique, built in the Carpenter Gothic Style; and charming and exotic and the very reason lists like this exist. Kudos to you, St. Peter.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments which homes you’d like to see in the next 51-100 houses installment!
*Special thanks to everyone who provided photos, information, and recommendations, and to my troops on the ground who grabbed photos for me when I couldn’t get them myself. This list was by far my most contemplative and ambitious article yet. And to my wife for always putting up with me stopping every chance I got to snap a photo or ten.