After multiple relocations and a meticulous restoration, one of the oldest houses in Minnesota has reclaimed its place on the prairie.
Pierre Bottineau House
At first glance, the Pierre Bottineau House is merely a humble homesteader's residence, out on the prairie west of Minneapolis. But the small size and simple detailing mask an intriguing history and a complicated, years-long project to understand its roots, move the building to a new site, and restore its original character.
The house was built around 1854, in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Since then, it has been moved multiple times; at the beginning of our project, it had been sitting in a highway department storage lot for years. After decades of farm and storage use, and years of subsequent neglect, the building was in rough shape, with few of its character-defining features still intact. Much of the interior had been gutted and exterior openings reconfigured to create larger storage areas, and the exterior finishes and structural framing system were severely rotted due to a leaky roof and lack of maintenance.
step 1: understand the house and its history.
We began the project with a Historic Structure Report, meticulously documenting the existing condition of the Bottineau House and researching its past to understand its historic significance and original design. There are two keys to the house's importance:
The Owner. Pierre Bottineau was an early, important frontiersman and explorer of the Northwest Territory. His mother was half Dakota and half Ojibwe, and his father was French Canadian; true to his roots, Pierre served as a diplomat working with indigenous peoples and white settlers and garnering the nickname "the Walking Peace Pipe."
The Architecture. Bottineau built this Greek Revival-styled house around 1854. Its method of construction provides rare insight into the experimental nature of balloon framing used during the early settlement of Minnesota; very few such houses remain.
In our archival research, we found just one early photo of the house, from around 1922. By this time, many original window and door openings had already been removed and sided over.
step 2: Forensic Investigation: Solving the Mysteries
The structure’s combination of mortise-and-tenon and wood pegged connections between framing members
... showed us the building’s construction method, an early form of wood balloon framing. Extant examples of this construction are very rare, which is one reason the house is important.
Discontinuities in the nailing patterns, and lath and plaster marks on the walls and ceiling
... showed us original interior room and stair configurations.
Discontinuities in the stud framing and patched wall sheathing
... showed us original door and window openings, as well as original siding and shingle exposures and chimney locations.
Cut nails found on fragments of Greek Revival exterior trim and on interior plank flooring
... showed us that these components dated to the mid-1800s and were some of the very few original elements remaining. This also offered key insight into the original construction style and techniques.
step 3: more detective work
Before we could create the final designs for restoration, we need to to know more about what the Bottineau house looked like when it was built. The c. 1922 photo showed exterior Greek Revival trim at the roofline and corners, and on-site evidence offered some good insights, but a few mysteries remained. Solving them required a bit of informed speculation. We pored over period publications for similar structures and details, which guided our own design work for doors, windows, trim, and woodwork with historically appropriate Greek Revival details and color schemes. We also used the historic Ard Godfrey House in Minneapolis (same era, also of the Greek Revival style) to verify our design decisions and establish provenance for other building features such as brick chimneys.
step 4: move the house (very carefully)
Our research extended to the precise siting of the house in its original location, allowing us to determine the best placement at its new home in Elm Creek Park. Historic maps and written records showed that the original site was on the edge of a prairie, near a wooded area, and we worked with the park to find a similar setting.
The house is now an interpretive center detailing 1800s life on the prairie. Key elements of the restoration included:
New chimney bricks were hand-made, replicating the appearance of mid-1800s brick.
Fieldstones—similar to those found nearby—clad the house’s foundation and replicate the appearance of early stone building foundations.
The close-knit layout of the foundation stones is historically accurate—the weak, lime-based mortar of the 1850s would have necessitated that the stones be close together for an interlocking effect.
Rotted members were replaced with modern materials to differentiate them, and a portion of the framing was left exposed for educational interpretation.
A new ADA accessible entrance at the rear of the house allows the structure to adapt for modern use as a public space.