My husband and I bought our first house in Champlin in June 2012. This June, we learned the significance of the big, white house that’s one mile away, just across the bridge in Anoka.
We’d noticed it before and commented on how grand it seemed. My commute, via car or bike, takes me past the majestic facade with its towering white pillars every weekday. I had no idea what its role was in history, but I appreciated it for its antiquity and beauty.
Earlier this summer, while talking with my mother, I learned that our ancestors played some part in helping to build up Anoka. She told me that her twin sister knows of a historical marker near the Rum River that mentions their maiden name, Woodbury. I filed that tidbit away, hoping to spend time looking for the plaque, since I live so close to Anoka.
A little while later, I saw an article from ABC Newspapers about the then-upcoming Anoka home and garden show. I noticed it advertised a “Woodbury House,” built in 1857, at 1632 S. Ferry St. Intrigued, I shared the information with my mother, who, with the help of other family members, discovered one of our relatives was the home’s namesake.
The Woodbury House, as it is called by the National Register of Historic Places, was bought by Dwight Woodbury in 1860. His cousin, Tyler March Woodbury, was my mother’s great-great-great-grandfather, making Dwight my mother’s first cousin, five times removed. According to family records, my mother’s grandfather Edward Clifton Woodbury was born in Anoka in 1891 and died in 1971 in Ladysmith, Wis. That branch of the family stayed in that area for a while; my mother and her seven sisters grew up in Ladysmith, and their farm is still in the family.
According to Anoka reports, Dwight Woodbury, his brothers and their families were among the first settlers to invest in the city and also in St. Francis. Dwight operated a number of businesses and also served a term in state Legislature. He died in 1884 and his daughter and her husband, Mary and Irving Caswell, inherited the home. In 1936 it was sold to a new owner, Charles Kiewell, president of Grain Belt Brewery.
On Sunday, July 14, my mother, four of her sisters, some other family members and I walked into the past when we stepped onto the front porch of The Woodbury House.
We “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed over the fireplaces, the balcony and tall shelves in the study, the butler’s pantry, the kitchen’s immense cabinets, the dining room with angled walls and other neat features of the house. We could only imagine what the upstairs held, as it was, unfortunately, not included in the tour. We took pictures of every room. We even posed for family portraits in front of the grand staircase.
And we sighed as we saw damaged walls, ceilings and floors. The house, indeed, needs work.
But it was a thrill to walk through a home that a long-ago family member once owned – a home that’s remembered for our family member. It was an honor to walk those hallways, open kitchen drawers and peek out the windows.
Touring the house, knowing its connection to the family, created emotions of nostalgia for my mom and her sisters. The oldest sister picked up a sheet with bidding information that was available at the front door of the home, saying that the eight Woodbury sisters should collectively buy the home – now, wouldn’t that be a story – but I couldn’t divine how seriously they were weighing that.
The experience makes me wonder, though, if there were any other Woodburys or Woodbury descendents who toured the home that day and were moved as we were. What a unique opportunity this was for the family, and I appreciate it.
Looking ahead into the unknown for the house’s future, I only hope the house’s history and architecture are continued to be appreciated, honored and treasured by Anoka and by outside passersby, like I was – and, most importantly, perhaps, by whomever ends up owning the property next.
Sarah Peterson is a copy editor with ECM Publishers.