More than a week ago, a piece of Blaine history was demolished to make way for a new housing and commercial development.
What became known as the Finn Farm barn was taken down as part of Paxmar’s 180-acre Finn Farm development on the southeast corner of 125th and Lexington avenues.
Kent Roessler, manager of Paxmar, LLC, said there was never any point after he purchased the property four years ago when he thought the barn could be saved for the development because it was too dilapidated. No part of the barn was salvaged.
“I thought maybe it would survive any new development that would take place and be some type of core building,” said Mark Finnemann, whose father Mike bought the property in 1974 from the Elwell family.
Russ Herbst became a Blaine council member in 2000, the year after Mike died. He was among those who hoped the barn or some other structure could be saved. One idea was to create a museum for the Anoka County or Blaine historical societies.
“If it had been in the shape it had been in the late 80s or early 90s, a guy could have done something with it,” Herbst said. “But with the shape it was in, it would have taken a good pile of money to bring it up to par.”
A housing developer, whose name escapes the memory of the Finnemann family, was unable to get a project started after purchasing the property in 1999. The barn, outbuildings and silos sat vacant in the middle of a wide open field for all to see as they drove down Lexington Avenue.
The property ultimately went into foreclosure and Paxmar, LLC bought it from a bank four years ago, according to Roessler. It is working on developing 120 single-family homes and 480 attached townhomes on 180 acres.
Paxmar in 2012 sold a separate 38-acre property to the south of its Finn Farm development, and next to the Woodland Development housing project, to the city of Blaine. The Lexington Athletic Complex that the city is constructing on this site will pay homage to the farm heritage of this site by having a large community building in the shape of a barn, playground equipment with slides resembling a barn and tractor and climbing structures that look like hay bales.
Evolution of the farm
When Blaine became a city in December 1964, the barn was a decade away from becoming known as the Finn Farm barn.
According to research done by Blaine Historical Society volunteer Karen Klinkenberg, Laurance Elwell was in the process of establishing a dairy farm on land once owned by his father James T. Elwell when he built the barn in 1923.
The Northland Milk and Ice Cream Company, owned by his brothers Alden and Edwin Elwell, purchased the farm but Laurance continued to operate the dairy farm.
Prior to the 1920s, this was part of James T. Elwell’s massive collection of farm land.
According to the Blaine Historical Society, he purchased 52,700 acres of land in Anoka County in 1886. He established Oak Leaf Farm in Ham Lake and Golden Lake Farm in Blaine Township, which eventually became Circle Pines in this area.
The 8-mile wagon road he constructed at a cost of $1,000 a mile eventually became Lexington Avenue. James T. Elwell was elected to the Minnesota House and Representatives in 1899 and then as a state senator in 1906. Although he lived in southeast Minneapolis by the time he was a state senator, he was instrumental in passing the “Elwell Law” for rural highway expansion. He died in 1933 and the farm land he still owned in Anoka County passed onto his descendants.
Cathy Elwell lives in southeast Ham Lake, not far from what became known as the Finn Farm barn. Cathy was married to Phillip Elwell, son of Laurance Elwell.
Cathy remembers the Phyllis Wheatley House making frequent day trips there so kids in this Minneapolis program could learn more about farming in rural Anoka County. The Phyllis Wheatley Community Center is still going strong 90 years after its establishment.
In 1939, the barn had to be totally rebuilt after a tornado tore it apart, according to Cathy.
A creamery and silos were added near the barn over the years to supplement the cow milking station operation in the barn. Councilmember Wes Hovland said not many Blaine residents knew it because it was behind a taller block silo, but a small wooden silo survived until it too was recently demolished.
The farm, the barn and nearby structures were sold by the Elwell family to Mike Finnemann in 1974, according to Mike’s son Mark Finnemann.
Diane Finnemann said her father-in-law was a hobby farmer, with corn being his favorite crop to plant. Diane fondly remembers a year when a field was filled with beautiful sunflowers Mike had planted.
The cow stations on the lower level of the barn that had supplied milk for the Northland Milk and Ice Cream company for about 50 years were torn out in the mid 1970s by Mike, who used the old space to host private dances that drew more than 300 people each year. The old hay loft in the upper part of the barn was so large that he was able to put in a court where Mike could engage his friends in friendly games of volleyball and badminton. He put up a basketball hoop on one end.
From 1981 to 1984, Diane leased space in the barn for the Finn Farm Toy Company. At its peak, the wooden toys made by Diane and three to four other employees were sold to customers as far away as the eastern U.S., Diane’s husband Mark said.
This is just one example of professional operations that Mike leased space to in order to make ends meet. An old creamery that the Elwell family had constructed was expanded by Mike but converted into an apartment he rented out.
Mike was the owner of Antler Corporation, which at one point was one of the largest construction companies based in Minnesota, according to Diana. He built everything from hotels to nursing homes to bridges and fast food restaurants. He even built housing villas in Saudi Arabia.
Mike lived in a house right next to the Finn Farm barn until his death in 1999.
“I’m sorry to see it go,” Mark said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org