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National Register of Historic Places - Individually Listed Property

Captain Austin & Harriet Jenks House


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Three architectural styles combine to create the distinctive look of the Captain Austin Jenks home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The intersecting roofline and bracketed square entry tower reflect the elements of the Italianate Tuscan Villa style, while the steep gables, eaves, soffits and finials, as well as the square stone sill and lintels call on the American Gothic Revival. The mansard roof on the tower, the porches, and the oval stained glass windows reflect elements of French Second Empire architecture. Pattern books of the era often provided such busy designs, although the amount of detail here, as well as well-designed interiors, suggest the involvement of a skilled architect as well.

Jenks was born in New York, where he became a schoolteacher, and he came to Stillwater via Illinois in 1855. Initially rafting logs, he also engaged more fully in all aspect of the lumber industry. He constructed a steamer, the "Brother Johnathan" in 1871, and eventually became a member of the firm Durant, Wheeler & Co.

Jenks was reported to have married three times due to the early deaths of his first two wives. Ultimately, he married Harriet Bennett, said to be the sister of his first wife. Although the house here is dated to ca. 1871, in 1880, Jenks and his wife, Harriet, were living in Albany, Illinois with their two daughters, Genora (Geneva) and Grace, and Harriet's elderly father, Lyman. City directories in the 1890s subsequently locate the family in Stillwater at this location, as does the 1900 census listing.

In addition to his lifelong lumbering interests, progressing from "river pilot to captain to shopowner to financier" (Kennedy), Jenks also was a member and president of the towns board of education, on numerous managing boards, and assisted in the organization of the Stillwater Electric Light Company. (The 1900 census lists his occupation simply as "capitalist.")

Given Jenks' early history as a teacher Stillwater, it is not surprising that his wife hosted a celebration for teachers in their home. One news account noted:

"Prominent in the social functions of the past week was the reception given to the city school teachers and others by the Stillwater W. C. T. U. at the home of Mrs. A. T. Jenks, Thursday evening. The parlors had been handsomely decorated with flowers, plants, and ribbons, and were thronged with guests, and by no means least in the features of the occasion was the rendition of a musical programme." (St. Paul Globe, October 18, 1896).

Jenks died in March, 1902 at the age of 68 after spending several months in a sanatorium in Hudson. He was buried in Albany, Illinois, where his father was still living. Genora, married to Robert Skeith, continued to live in the home with Harriet and Grace, and the two Skeith children, Austin and Anastasia. Servant Agnes Murray was also part of the household.

By 1916, the Skeith family had relocated to Canada, and by 1920, Harriet and Grace appear to have relocated to Seattle. The house changed hands about once per decade in the following years, occupied at one time by George Olsen of the O.H. Olsen construction company, and later by Emil Albrecht, the chief engineer at Maple Island Farm, a large dairy operation in Stillwater. By the 1950s, the house had been divided into several apartments, and remained so through the 1970s. The house was later restored as a single family home.

(Clarification to researchers: A second Austin Jenks, a wholesale grocer, lived in Stillwater on North 5th Street with wife, Adelaide, and three daughters.)

Source(s): City Directory. Stillwater: R. L. Polk and, Various. Print. Easton, Augustus B. History of the Saint Croix Valley. Chicago: H.C. Cooper, Jr., &, 1909. Print. Kennedy, Roger G. "Houses of the St. Croix Valley." Minnesota History Magazine 38.8 (1963): 337-52. Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota Historical Society. Web. . Larson, Paul Clifford. Stillwater's Lumber-Boom Architecture: An Annotated Photographic Essay. 1975. MS. St. Croix Collection, Stillwater Public Library. US Federal Census. Various years.

Washington County Parcel Identification Number (PIN): 2803020430006

Common Property Name: Captain Austin & Harriet Jenks House

Neighborhood: South Hill

State Historic Preservation Office Inventory Number: WA-SWC-091

Construction Date: Circa 1870



Architectural Style: Italian Villa

NRHP: National Register of Historic Places - Individually Listed Property - 4/20/1982