WILLMAR — The Albert H. and Jennie C. Sperry House has been privy to nearly 130 years of history in Willmar and Kandiyohi County. The house's important position in that history is now being honored by the National Register of Historic Places.
The 1893 Victorian farmhouse has officially been listed on the registry, the 15th property in Kandiyohi County to earn the honor.
"It is one of our gems," said Jill Wohnoutka, executive director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, which owns the Sperry House.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the country's historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation. It is overseen by the National Park Service to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archaeological resources.
This is not the first time the Kandiyohi County Historical Society has tried to have the Sperry House listed. Wohnoutka said it tried applying for listing in the late 1980s or early 1990s but was unsuccessful. The reason then given for the rejection was the Sperry family was historically important locally, but not statewide or nationally.
For the second attempt, the application focused on the historic significance of the house itself, not as much on the family that originally built it.
In fact, for the vast majority of its existence, the Sperry House was not a single-family home. It was turned into a duplex in the 1920s and provided housing for a vast array of people, including members of the Sperry family, railroad workers and a caretaker the historical society hired after it took over ownership of the house in the 1970s. The house is also one of the few original brick houses left in Willmar. The designation will also put a spotlight on the neighborhood that surrounds the main house, called Sperryville, which was also developed by the Sperry family.
"There is a huge story to tell," Wohnoutka said.
It took nearly two years to go through the entire listing process, with funding coming from the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants program, also known as Legacy grants. First the historical society had an evaluation completed to see if the Sperry House would even be considered for listing. When that evaluation came back positive, the historical society moved on to the application phase.
Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places opens up grant opportunities for the historical society. The first floor of the house has been open to the public since 1976 and the governing board of the society wants to open up the second floor of the house as well. Such a project will take considerable funds though, hence the need for the registry listing.
The first step of any project at the Sperry House will be applying for funds to conduct a condition assessment of the house. The last major preservation work on the house took place almost 20 years ago.
"We want to get the house in good condition," Wohnoutka said. "Preservation comes first."
While the house has heat, it does not have air conditioning, and while no one is supposed to be living in the house, Wohnoutka knows it's not empty.
"We have squirrels," Wohnoutka said. "It is the little things we need to take care of."
It might be a few years before any work begins at the house, either fixing up any condition problems or rehabilitating the second floor. The condition assessment could take about a year and then the historical society has to apply and be awarded grant funds for any construction.
"People just need to be patient," Wohnoutka said.
Once the house's condition is back up to par, attention can turn to the second floor. A plan on exactly what that will look like still needs to be figured out. With so much history, there are a lot of different directions the historical society could go.
"It will be interesting to see what kind of projects we can do," Wohnoutka said.
With the successful listing of the house on the national registry and future plans and projects on the horizon, the historical society will be able to continue to showcase the Sperry House and its history.
"We want to protect the history," Wohnoutka said. "It shows how dedicated the board is to preserving the house."