Property Information

National Register of Historic Places - Individually Listed Property

Landmark Site


1018 1st St S

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Nelson School

          The Nelson School, built in 1897, serves as a stellar example of adaptive reuse in the preservation of historic community architecture. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the school was the focus of a pitched preservation battle in the following years. A court decision ruled against a proposed demolition, and the school was converted to apartments and condominiums.
          The school replaced the original Nelson School, a one-story frame structure built twelve years ealier on this site. The first school quickly became overcrowded and was difficult to heat. The new school was was constructed in the Beaux Arts style, common for reflecting the noble ideals of educational and civic buildings during this time period. The execution of the design, by the Minneapolis architectural firm of Orff and Joralemon, appears to have met with some local displeasure as reported in the Stillwater Daily Gazette, which defended the construction as "strictly modern and [which] embodies the latest and most improved practice in the larger cities... " The unrelieved brick walls were explained as "a concession to the scientific idea upon which the building is designed."
          The total cost of the building, originally bid at $12,244, ultimately totaled about $17,000, as reported in the St. Paul Globe. Just two months after the school opened for pupils, a serious fire did $5000 damage, with the cause reported as "the floor being too close to the upper part of the furnace." (St. Paul Globe, November 30, 1897.)
          In addition to its daily functions, the school also provided space for civic groups. For example, in 1905, the Globe reported: "The next meeting of the Woman's Institute will be held at the Nelson school building on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Mrs. Margaret Blair of the Agricultural college will give another talk on dressmaking."
          In the 1950s, the district abandoned use of the building as an elementary school, and later began using it for administrative offices. By 1976, these offices were moved to a new central services building, and in 1977 the city of Stillwater acquired the building for $1.00, initiating the preservation debate. In 1980, three local businessmen purchased the school for adaptive reuse, and today the building provides a distinctive home for condominium owners.
          The square two story red brick structure rests on a high, cut limestone foundation. With the exception of the front faade and corner pilasters, the ten-bay sides are undecorated. The front facade is divided into three bays. The central bay, which is slightly recessed and defined by pilasters, is dominated by a second story oriel. The oriel is decorated with pilasters, dentils, and a semicircular arch. It is supported by two brackets. The main entrance to the school is located beneath the oriel and is recessed. A dormer with full pediment is located above the oriel. The bays to either side of the oriel contain blind windows bearing name and date inscriptions and semi-circular pediments. The rear facade of the school is a blank wall with the exception of a simple oriel.

Source(s): Empson, Don. The East Half Of The Churchill, Nelson & Slaughter Addition Residential Area, Stillwater, Washington County, Minnesota. City of Stillwater Heritage Preservation Committee. Stillwater, MN, 2003. Print.

Washington County Parcel Identification Number (PIN): 3303020110154

Common Property Name: Nelson School

State Historic Preservation Office Inventory Number: WA-SWC-1383

Construction Date:   1897


Architect: Orff and Joralemon

Architectural Style: Beaux Arts

NRHP:  National Register of Historic Places - Individually Listed Property  - 10/25/1979

Property information and narrative was compiled by:  Carmen Tschofen  - 5/6/2011