‘Pivotal moment’ for the Manfred House

With federal recognition for being a historic and culturally significant site, the Save the Manfred House group looks to re-enter talks with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about the future of a famed Minnesota author’s home. 

The Manfred House in Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this month. The Minnesota DNR closed the house in 2015, citing unsafe conditions caused by moisture. 

The back wall of the Frederick Manfred House Visitor Center at Blue Mounds State Park is a natural rock cliff that cuts across the park. The cliff face seeps water at times, which has contributed to the building’s structural problems.

Courtesy of the Minnesota DNR

Rolf Anderson, a historic preservation consultant who works with the Save the Manfred House group said the DNR could still demolish the Manfred House. However the federal recognition means the site would be eligible for the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, providing additional funding streams to help maintain the home. 

“I think it’s a rather pivotal moment here,” Anderson said on Friday. “Because we now can recognize this property [as] an important site.”

Frederick Manfred, 1955

Frederick Manfred autographing “Lord Grizzly” in 1955.

Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Frederick Manfred is perhaps best known for his novel “Lord Grizzly,” which was nominated for the National Book Award in 1954. It tells the story of Hugh Glass who in the early days of European settlement crawled for hundreds of miles after being mauled by a grizzly bear. Manfred was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize in literature and once for a Pulitzer Prize. 

According to the National Register nomination Manfred’s home “is considered significant at the statewide level because of Manfred’s acclaim as an important Minnesota author and because of the property’s unusual and distinctive architectural design.”

The nomination also states the structure represents Wrightian style, which is built against “a living rock wall of Sioux Quartzite,” and when viewed from specific vantage points, the house is barely visible.

“The use of native material takes on particular meaning as the construction stone was quarried from Blue Mound itself, allowing the masonry walls to blend visually into the existing rocky outcroppings.”  

The future of the house is far from resolved, but Anderson said the group is more determined to engage the DNR and to rehabilitate the Manfred House now the site is listed in a federal program. Currently, the Save the Manfred House group is drafting a letter to the DNR. The last contact the group had with the agency was in November 2021 and Anderson said there has been no response by the agency since then. 

“The Manfred House is so unique and that the house and its location are so intrinsically linked to Manfred’s career and how that site and the house was a source of inspiration for him,” he said. “I think we could truly make this story much more broadly available to Minnesotans and I think it’s a property that truly has great value.”

In spring 2021 the DNR launched a survey seeking public input on three possible design concepts to replace the Manfred House. About 78 percent of the 542 respondents rejected all three.

Though the survey results weren’t published, the pro-preservation group received the responses to the survey from the DNR, and posted them on its website. Most responses were negative and asked the DNR to reconsider its demolition plans. 

There have been video and in-person meetings between the DNR and representatives of the Save the Manfred House group. However, Anderson said the DNR hadn’t agreed to a request for an inspection of the house by a qualified historical architect nor did it provide the group information about the terms and conditions of the original agreement to transfer the house to the DNR in 1972. 

MPR News contacted the DNR via email about the Manfred House being listed on the National Historic Register, but had not received a response by the the time of publication.

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