Tucked between a bank and a child care center along Highway 47 is the old Ramsey Town Hall that once served as a one-room schoolhouse and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
When Rebecca Ebnet-Mavencamp, executive director of the Anoka County Historical Society, met with the Ramsey City Council for the first time in June 2016, the old Ramsey Town Hall was brought up.
Ebnet-Mavencamp and Ramsey’s assistant city administrator, Pat Brama, have occasionally met since then to discuss what needs to happen before the city can even brainstorm how this building could be used. The council has not had any formal discussions since last year, but Brama said he is planning on bringing a grant application option to the council by March.
Brama said the city first must assess the condition of the building, including the roof, floor and windows. This will provide a useful knowledge base as the city begins to discuss what the building could be used for and if it would be safe to re-locate.
“Since it’s on the National Register, the rules are many, including what can be done to the interior, how many changes can occur at all,” Ebnet-Mavencamp said.
According to city records, the one-story brick building was constructed in 1892 as School No. 28 to replace another school house. During the 1880s and 1890s, the rapid growth of Anoka County led to the construction of many new one-room school houses.
What exactly the building has been used for over the years is not part of a written public record, but a 1978 letter from a Ramsey inspector notes that it had served as the Town Hall for the city of Ramsey. The 1978 inspection noted various changes that had been made. There was a kitchen where a cloak room had been, asphalt shingles were on the roof and a modern chimney had been installed to accommodate an oil-fired furnace.
Brama has heard interest from non-profits that want to use the old Ramsey Town Hall. At one time the Braven Music School had shown enough interest that the city had a budget to renovate the building. Others have said the city should allow the public to rent this building for a meeting room. There was also a concept of moving this building to make it a trailhead for the Mississippi West Regional Park when more park improvements were done.
Council Member Jill Johns believes this building would be a nice fit in The COR where it could be used to place information about the city’s parks, concerts and events. She likes the idea of start-ups using the building as “business incubator” for fledgling companies seeking to gain traction and thinks it would be a nice spot for a small restaurant, brewpub or a bike shop.
“We’re trying to create an experience in The COR,” she said.
Ebnet-Mavencamp said most historians prefer to leave buildings where they are. Although the current location of the Ramsey Town Hall on the west side of Highway 47, just north of Bunker Lake Boulevard, is surrounded by businesses, she said what is there today provides more “historical context” about how the area has changed since this one-room school house was constructed.
But Ebnet-Mavencamp hopes the city can find a use for this building someday rather than just having it sitting empty, only being a monument.
“Buildings like to be lived in and used, you just have to use it in accordance with preservation practices,” she said.
Mayor Sarah Strommen thinks the Ramsey Town Hall would make a great focal point in The COR, but she remembers from past discussions about the challenges that would come with moving this building. She thinks the city can find a use for the Ramsey Town Hall no matter what location it is in, but said it should remain in public ownership. She said it could work as an exhibit or public activity space.
“This building is part of Ramsey’s history,” Strommen said. “While much of that history is still reflected in our community in non-visual ways, this is one of the few parts of Ramsey’s past that people can see and touch.”