Bird Island’s unique home earns a spot on the National Register of Historic Places

Built in 1910 in an artisan style that was unique to small towns of the time, the red brick bungalow with a wide open porch where afternoon tea had been held decades ago has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places .

It earned a spot on the picklist due to its local significance as an example of Craftsman residential architecture, and is the only single-family residential building in Renville County on the National Register of Historic Places.

It may take a year or two before all dreams come true, but plans are underway to have the Big House open to the public.

The building “will always remain part of the community,” said Mary Glesener, who, along with her husband, Mark, purchased it in 2017.

The couple donated the house to the Bird Island Cultural Center, a nonprofit arts organization they also operate. They have visions of using the four upstairs bedrooms as accommodation for artists who come to town for events. They would like to use the ground floor as an old fashioned candy store with ice cream and Italian ice cream served to attract travelers heading east to the Twin Cities or those heading west on Hwy 212, which is also part of the Yellowstone Trail.

There is work to be done before it all happens.

“There are a lot of things we need to sort out, but it’s not a problem, it’s just a little challenge, isn’t it? Mary said, glancing at her husband.

“We have done it before, we will do it again,” he replied.

In the early 1990s, the Gleseners developed an effective treatment center on Bird Island for adults with head trauma. They sold the business and retired in 2016 and started the Bird Island Cultural Center while operating a “no breakfast” bed and breakfast in Mark’s family home next door.

She and her husband are both “hard workers,” said Mary, and are confident that their vision for Tinnes-Baker House will come true.

Mary Glesener talks about the Tinnes-Baker House on June 9, 2021, at the Bird Island Historic Site.  Glesener and her husband, Mark, bought the house in 2017. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Mary Glesener talks about the Tinnes-Baker House on June 9, 2021, at the Bird Island Historic Site. Glesener and her husband, Mark, bought the house in 2017. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Ancient history

According to an Appraisal and Nomination Report conducted as part of the National Register of Historic Places application process, the house was built by a go-getter named Lewie Tinnes.

Born in Bird Island in 1876, Tinnes was a mechanic, plumber, and inventor who filed a patent for at least one item. His hopes for invention making him rich and famous did not materialize, however, and Tinnes tried his hand at several businesses, including a machine shop, before leaving town in 1914.

The house was later purchased by James Baker, a young lawyer who eventually served as a Renville County District Attorney before he died in 1930 at the age of 50.

His wife, Mathilda, lived in the house for another 48 years, until her death in 1978, according to the appointment report, which was produced by Daniel Hoisington, of Hoisington Preservation Consultants.

Little to no changes were made to the house when it was purchased in 1978 by Pat Saunders, to whom the Glesener credit for restoring the house to its original shine.

There were several other owners, and the building housed unique businesses over the years, including a boutique where sewing lessons were given, a clothing store, and an antique store.

All the while, the Glesener said that the original woodwork, wood floors, windows with the corrugated glass, room layouts, fireplace and other classic architectural elements of a Craftsman bungalow have been retained. . Even the large brick cistern in the basement remains intact.

Having a structure like this at Bird Island – with original building elements intact – was key to its historical relevance.

The original woodwork and wood floors of the Tinnes-Baker House were two of the many features that qualified it for the National Register of Historic Places.  Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

The original woodwork and wood floors of the Tinnes-Baker House were two of the many features that qualified it for the National Register of Historic Places. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

What makes it special

It is not easy to earn a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

The process began shortly after the Glesener bought the house in 2017. They were informed in April that it had been accepted.

There are four options for qualifying for the list, including being associated with significant historical events, being associated with significant people, having architectural significance, or providing significant information in prehistoric times.

Although Baker is a Renville County attorney, that was not a sufficient distinction to make the house special in terms of historical significance.

But the unique features of the house were significant enough.

The one-and-a-half-storey house is a “middle-class expression of the Craftsman style” which also exhibits Prairie-style features that may reflect “the influence of the Prairie-style architecture made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright,” according to the report.

Located in its original location at 801 Highway Avenue, the house “maintains a high standard of integrity with its windows, siding, roof form, door trim, full-width porch and door-to-door window. – original false, ”writes Hoisington.

“What makes it remarkable is that it’s located in a relatively small town in Minnesota – some 1,000 people, give or take, over the past century – and it’s made of bricks.”

Mark Glesener, left, and Mary Glesener stand in one of the bedrooms at Tinnes-Baker House on June 9, 2021, at the historic Bird Island site.  Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Mark Glesener, left, and Mary Glesener stand in one of the bedrooms at Tinnes-Baker House on June 9, 2021, at the historic Bird Island site. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Future plans

A condition assessment by Engan Associates Architects of Willmar, Minnesota, is underway to determine what structural repairs are needed to maintain the integrity of the building.

“They will go from top to bottom,” said Mark Glesener, documenting the current state of the structure and what is needed to “preserve and upgrade” it.

Improvements to electrical wiring, plumbing and front steps are expected.

Eventually, a summer kitchen may need to be added to the back of the house to produce the foods sold in the confectionery, said Mary Glesener.

Because the house is now on the list of historic places, grants are available to help fund these projects. Local fundraising efforts are also underway.

The Glesener said they hope the projects will be completed and the house will be open to the public in about two years.


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