The city of Anoka is at a crossroads over what to do about the well-known stone house on the Rum River.
Built by Thaddeus P. Giddings, who lived in Anoka at the turn of the century, it is the last of three stone “igloos” that were part of the Giddings family gardens.
The stone house was declared a local historic site by the Anoka County Historical Society back in 1994. While this does not provide any legal protection for the stone house, it does recognize its historical significance to the community. Giddings, who died in 1954 at the age of 85, was well known as supervisor of music for Minneapolis Public Schools for more than 30 years. He was one of seven children of Dr. and Mrs. Aurora Giddings.
The stone house is a part of Anoka’s rich history as a river town.
“Nearly every kid who has grown up in Anoka has played on that stone structure,” said Councilmember Jeff Weaver during a discussion of the 90-year-old structure’s future. The house is located near the west entrance to the foot bridge over the Rum River.
Over the years there have been efforts to preserve it, including the recent addition of culverts to block it from the river’s high water.
The council started weighing its options on whether to preserve the stone house, make improvements or leave it and let Mother Nature take her course.
Culverts had been installed to divert high water around the house in an effort to save it.
“Do we intervene and do something to preserve it?” City Manager Tim Cruikshank asked the council.
An engineer’s estimate to restore the stone house to its former glory came in over $300,000. Cruikshank said the city had no intention of spending that kind of money to fix the house.
One option the city is considering is to fill the stone house with concrete as a way to keep it from being washed away by high water on the river.
Cruikshank said estimates were $50,000 for the concrete work, plus another $40,000 for a trail to the house.
“I don’t think when Giddings did this they hired an engineer and did hydrological studies,” said Weaver on the estimates to preserve or improve the stone house.
Councilmember Mark Freeburg said that while he would like to see the house preserved, “I’m not in favor of spending $100,000.”
According to Finance Director Lori Yager, the city only has $20,000 in the budget allotted to this project.
Anything over and above that amount the council will have to decide where that money will come from, said Yager.
There were also concerns raised by Councilmember Steve Schmidt that by making the house more accessible with a trail, it would make it more attractive to the vandals that have been destroying the house.
Councilmember Carl Anderson said the city needs to further explore and refine its options on making the stone house a monument of what it once was.
“We need citizen input on this,” said Anderson.
There were also concerns about how the house would look if it were filled with concrete.
“If you fill it full of concrete you’ve saved a bunch of stones, is what you have saved, not the uniqueness of it,” said longtime Anokan Merrywayne Elvig.
Schmidt agreed that it is a difficult situation.
“It’s hard to have it both safe and aesthetically pleasing,” he said.
A final decision was not made on the future of the historic landmark in the Rum River.
Nearly a century after the house was built, rumors still circulate about the stone house being used as an Indian fort.
That theory has been disputed by the Anoka County Historical Society.
Apparently Giddings had spun the yarn as a prank on a newcomer to Anoka.
Giddings told the man the stone buildings were part of an old Indian fort, but actually were just part of a backyard place to stay cool and sip lemonade by the Giddings family and their friends, according to report by Vickie Wendel of the ACHS.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]