Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Archer House, once brick strong April 29, 2022

The Archer House River Inn in Northfield, following a devastating November 2020 fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

ONCE UPON A TIME, three little pigs built three houses from assorted materials in an effort to keep the Big Bad Wolf from gaining entry. They soon discovered that houses constructed of straw and of sticks were easily blown over by a huffing, puffing, determined wolf. But, oh, the last house—the one built of bricks—stood strong. When the wolf attempted to gain entry through the chimney, he fell into a kettle of boiling water and that was the end of him. The pigs had anticipated his plan when they started a roaring fire in the hearth.

The fire began here, in the Smoqe House. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
Shortly after the fire, the front entry to the historic Archer House River Inn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
The fenced lot where the Archer House River Inn once stood in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

In real life, stories involving fire typically don’t end fabulously either. Such is the story of the historic 1877 Archer House River Inn. Today only a fenced, vacant lot marks the location of this iconic downtown Northfield landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. A November 2020 fire, which started in a commercial smoker inside Smoqehouse (a BBQ restaurant), resulted in the eventual total loss of the brick building. Water and weather, along with the original fire, took their toll. Portions of the structure eventually collapsed as time lapsed.

Much of the sprawling building complex remained following the initial fire. But, in the end, it couldn’t be saved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

For the community of Northfield, losing the Archer House was about more than losing a building which housed a riverside inn, restaurants and shops. It was about losing a lovely sprawling space that anchored the downtown along Division Street. The Archer House was the place of stories, of history, of memories. And so much more.

Debris from the Archer House inside the fenced lot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Now bricks salvaged from the Archer House will be sold to benefit the Northfield Historical Society. The Archer House Brick Sale happens from 9 am – 4 pm Saturday, April 30, at the NHS Museum Store. That’s located just across from Bridge Square, a community gathering spot downtown by the Cannon River, and just blocks from the fenced Archer House lot.

A side view of the former Archer House site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo February 2022)

Since this is a fundraiser that also allows access to a bit of history, the bricks are priced accordingly. Half a brick will cost $10. A complete brick, $20. Discounts are offered with three bricks for $50 and seven bricks for $100. A trailer load of bricks will be sold, the size of that trailer not noted.

The exterior of the Northfield Historical Society, 408 Division Street, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

In the end, there’s a bit of good in such immense community loss. Monies from the brick sale will go toward preservation of the Scriver Building, which houses the historical society. It was formerly the First National Bank, where the James-Younger Gang failed in an attempted bank robbery in September 1876.

Photographed from the library across the street shortly after the fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

There’s a sequel to this tragic fire tale. Rebound Partners, the Northfield firm which owned the Archer House, plans to rebuild. Rebound promises to honor the history and riverside location in a mixed use building. It will never be the same as the historic Archer House. But Rebound’s past projects show their respect for history and for community. And that says a lot. The Big Bad Wolf, as in the story of The Three Little Pigs, cannot destroy a building built of bricks, at least not in memory and in history.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

10 Responses to “The Archer House, once brick strong”

  1. beth Says:

    a well thought out plan to support and continue history, although not in it’s original form or plan

  2. Valerie Says:

    We, too, believe what replaces the Archer House will be well thought out and represent Northfield’s uniqueness and history.

  3. Sandra Says:

    Heart just sank when I saw the fire notice, was afraid it’d come to this. Sounds hopeful, more so than the Farmer Seed situation.

  4. Audrey,
    Just saw your article from Scene and want to THANK YOU for all the great writings you do on Montgomery and especially the Art and Heritage Center. We do appreciate all you write.

    Maureen Gunderson

    • Maureen, thank you for your kind words about my Scene story and other writing focused on Montgomery. I so appreciate your community, especially the arts and heritage center. I’m sorry I missed your May Day celebration. I appreciate your personal invitation.

  5. Oh no what a beautiful historic building but it sounds like there is a silver lining.


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