Tricounty News

History Matters: Join the 'Birthday Bash'

Centenarians have been few among Kimball area pioneers, but reaching the distinctive milestone is a very special occasion. Aug. 9 is such an occasion, and plans are in the works for a fitting celebration. But don't come looking for younger generations gathering around the family matriarch; this centenarian is brick and mortar - our very own City Hall. Accept our invitation to the birthday bash during Kimball Days. Called a "classic" and a "gem," this 1908 treasure is a proud landmark engraved since 1982 on the National Register of Historic Places. This, the county's only city hall to be so listed, is unique nationally as it retains its originalexterior appearance, though the 1911 lawn was eaten up in the 50s when Highway 15 redefined the front yard. Despite its distinguished stature, City Hall's future had until quite recently been in doubt until the infant Kimball Area Historical Society took up the cause, a cause driven relentlessly by Mary Johnson and Carol Newman. Their efforts finally saw success when the Kimball City Council committed to 20 more years of use, and thereby qualified the structure for state renovation funding. The venerate Bill Morgan profiled this building in 2001 for the St. Cloud Times, detailing its characteristics and history while urging the community to protect and preserve the "unique landmark" as a community asset. Morgan identified Louis Lockwood as the St. Paul architect who designed this masterpiece, erected at a cost of $7,000. (A second brick building went up soon afterward to replace the frame four-room school that burned in 1911. But that structure experienced an early demise when, in 1989, it was replaced with the current elementary school.) Frame-built commercial buildings were giving way to more permanent structures throughout the town, though none with the grand workmanship of City Hall. Besides being a continuous home for city government, City Hall served as a gymnasium for the high school and the community, and as the local movie theater. Many area residents still recall attending its activities and enjoying the decorated Christmas tree where the town celebrated during the holidays. Kimball's fire department was housed in the basement of the building until 1996, and the police department still calls the building "home." At one time the building even boasted a barber shop and beauty parlor; and the library remains a major tenant. The distinctive upper story housed two long-term clients. A then-new Kimball area telephone company kept residents connected for nearly half a century. And sharing the upper level was one of the most feared of Kimball's locations, at least to certain aged residents. Toward this fearsome realm, ruled over by Dr. E.L. Baldus, three generations of young boys and girls shuffled toward their fate. I, too, as a nine-year-old, recall dutifully but slowly stepping upward in the narrow stairwell as though to a gallows. It was no consolation to me that Dr. Baldus didn't charge to prepare Stanley teeth for another term on the mission field in Africa; though I'm sure my father appreciated it.   Significant steps toward City Hall restoration began in 1999 when the Minnesota Design Team visited Kimball to evaluate possibilities for the deteriorating structure. Morgan reports that this group of volunteer design professionals encouraged "preservation and adaptive reuse of the historic Kimball landmark." He quoted Charles Nelson, State Historical Architect, who pronounced that the building was structurally sound and an "excellent candidate for preservation" with "a high potential for sympathetic readaptive use." In response, the city formed a Facility Task Force in 2001 with representatives from various stakeholder groups to consider options for city government, whether restoring and remodeling the old structure or constructing a new home. City leaders, community members, and the Historical Society members discussed possibilities, sometimes with heated intensity, as they tried to win adherents to one position or the other. In 2002 a survey took the pulse of the community. By more than 80 percent, town folk enthusiastically proclaimed they were in favor of preserving the aging building. But it was not until after the local elections in 2004 that the restoration route was firmly adopted. With City Council commitment to continuing use of the building, and with both city and private funding from businesses and individuals, the project qualified in 2005 for matching funding through the Minnesota Historical Society for phase one. Each subsequent year has required the same intensive application process for additional funding. Three years/phases have now completed the exterior repair of brickwork and the replacement of old windows with historically consistent but energy-efficient ones. This summer, as the final work is being completed on the exterior, the application for funds to begin interior restoration has just been submitted, beginning with an updated heating and cooling system. Again, matching funds are required, and you can make your mark on City Hall by giving a donation. The final design of the new/old interior is yet to be determined. Chances are slim-to-none that it will feature a restored full basketball court/theater. Although fun to see, it would hardly serve current needs. The wish-list of all stakeholders must be heard, and a  design plan will need to be adopted by the city council.   In the meantime, make sure you visit this old landmark and  enjoy a piece of centennial birthday cake on Aug. 9. Be sure to take an upward look past two layers of suspended ceiling for a glimpse of the original embossed tin ceiling. Perhaps someday, this preserved treasure may also preserve other treasures of our pioneer and historic trek in permanent display, retaining our past and enriching our present. Soon, I trust, as others already look back on our lives, proclaiming our memories of ordinary life - "history." ********** "A new frontier" - There's still time to make your financial gift or pledge for the City Hall Restoration and have it doubled by a matching state grant. We hope you realize how deeply your support is appreciated. What a great lasting memory you can leave. Donation/pledge coupon is included here. ********** Kimball Area Historical Society presents:  Time to celebrate: Aug. 8, 9, 10, "Kimball Days" with "City Hall 100 Years Celebration" and Kimball's Historic Exhibit, including Friday 5-8 p.m. Supper-in-the-Park, City Hall exhibit 4-8 p.m.; Saturday morning at Audrey's Coffee Nook on Main Street with afternoon birthday cake at historic City Hall's exhibit. Then Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. exhibit at City Hall ... free prizes and souvenirs. "Come Celebrate." Air-conditioned. ********** What's ahead: Sept. 23 - Forest City Stockade special Kimball program; Oct.. 28 - Dean Urdahl's great 1862 program "Uprising" at Kimball. ********** For more information on City Hall tax deductible donations, membership, Kimball Days' Supper and other celebration events, you're invited to contact Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball, Minn. 55353, or call (320) 398-5743 or (320) 398-5250. ********** "Strength in our roots makes us stronger today."