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Fate delivers its final blow to Tallman legacy

WILLMAR - Fate was ultimately unkind to David Newton Tallman, and it treated the mansion he once called home no differently.

In just a matter of hours, workers demolished the 106-year-old mansion that had been one of Willmar's better-known historic landmarks.

"It's a sad feeling,'' said Mary Jo Farhat of Willmar, a great-granddaughter of Tallman, as she watched the crew from Quam Construction raze the structure Wednesday.

She and family members had hoped to save the structure, but found that the costs of moving and restoring the structure would be too great. Farhat said they went as far as contacting television programs such as "This Old House'' and "Restore America,'' but had no success. Fate worked against them: Because the interior of the house had been extensively remodeled to accommodate its use as a nursing home, it could not be designated as historic. Such a designation might have helped open up possible sources of funding and other help to save it, she explained.

A prominent example of the Queen Anne architectural style, the three-story mansion contained more than 9,000 square feet. It originally had its own ballroom and billiard room. Its six-bedroom living area was described as "luxurious.''

It was constructed for David and Clara Tallman in 1902.

David Tallman had come to Willmar in 1893 as a railroad clerk with the Great Northern Railroad. He became a friend of Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, according to Tribune archives.

Tallman made his fortune by platting new townsites in Minnesota and North Dakota and creating the Tallman Invest Company. It owned banks in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana and assisted in placing farm loans.

But his rags-to-riches story suddenly played in reverse when his banks collapsed. Tallman was left penniless, according to Farhat. The family moved to a small, non-descript home on what is now Monongalia Avenue and took public assistance, she said.

It was a long fall for a man who had a summer vacation home on the property that is now Green Lake Bible Camp, played golf with the likes of Babe Ruth, and even had a town named after him. Tolna, N.D., should be Tallman, N.D., but the town's founders couldn't read his writing, said Farhat. Tallman was able to name its streets after his daughters: Helen, Esther, Gertrude, Margaret and Marjorie.

Farhat said some of her living cousins can still recall visiting the Tallman family and exploring their mansion in Willmar. Family members toured the house during a reunion in 2005. Some joined for a last walk-through on Tuesday, she said.

Workers preparing the building for demolition had discovered a photograph of Clara Tallman dated 1900 in one of the walls that had been added inside the house over the years, said Farhat. They offered it to the family. The owners of the Tallman home property and also the Willmar Commons Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center located adjacent to it have been "great,'' said Farhat.

The company had worked with the family in hopes of seeing the building saved, and had given family members the opportunity to remove what they might want from its interior.

The house had been purchased in 1945 by the Willmar VFW, but was sold in 1949 to Inez Russel. He converted it for use as the Willmar Nursing Home.

It remained a residential care facility until shortly after the turn of this century. Lynn Hickey, on-site administrator for Willmar Commons, said the Tallman building has been vacant for at least four or five years, possibly longer. It no longer met code for skilled nursing care, she said.

The property will be developed as a parking lot for the 64-bed Willmar Commons, which was formerly known as Infinia Health Care. The site will also provide better access to Willmar Commons for emergency vehicles. It could also provide space if Willmar Commons were to be expanded, she added.

Farhat said she arrived early on Wednesday morning, intending to watch the entire demolition. She said a number of other family members had decided they could not watch the demolition. "It was too emotional,'' she said.

What would her great-grandfather think of the building's demolition? "He would think it was a shame,'' said Farhat.