Alexandria Residential Historic District
The Alexandria Residential Historic District is located in the northwestern quarter of the City of Alexandria, three blocks west of the central business district. The historic district is located near the two lakes upon which Alexandria was founded in 1858, Lake Winona, whose eastern shore forms part of the historic district boundary, and Lake Agnes, which lies four blocks to the north. The district is a T-shaped area which encompasses the equivalent of about nine city blocks. It includes portions of Lincoln (formerly Sixth) Avenue, Seventh Avenue, and Cedar Street at its north end, and then extends southward down Douglas Street to Twelfth Avenue.
The Alexandria Residential Historic District contains 61 properties on which stand 59 houses, one circa 1920 apartment building, and one circa 1960 church. Secondary structures include 50 garages and carriage houses, one workshop, and one lamppost. Most of the houses in the district are widely and evenly spaced on 50 to 150 foot lots along tree-lined streets. Most of the garages are located behind the houses, adjacent to alleys, and therefore do not appear in the public streetscape. Three of the sites include lakeshore property along Lake Winona.
The 59 houses within the historic district include several of Alexandria's finest examples of residential architecture from the period circa 1868-1930. Approximately 13 of the houses were built before 1900, another 13 were built between circa 1900 and 1910, and about 25 of the houses were built between circa 1910 and circa 1930. Only 8 of the 59 houses were built after 1930. Most of the 59 houses are 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 story wood frame buildings which are covered with clapboard siding, wood shingles, or stucco. Many display excellent examples of fine local workmanship in design, execution, and use of materials. Unfortunately, little is known to date of the architects, contractors, and craftsmen who are responsible for the design and construction of the buildings. In addition to houses, the district contains several of the city's few remaining turn of the century carriage houses and a number of circa 1905-1930 garages which were designed to match the adjacent houses. Most of these garages and carriage houses are intact.
The integrity of both the District's streetscapes and the individual houses within the District is excellent. The District's setting near the shore of Lake Winona and the location, number, and type of buildings within the District have not changed significantly since the early twentieth century. Very little infill has occurred; in fact, the District contains only eight post-1930 houses and one circa 1960 church. While the houses in the District vary in degree of design integrity, the majority are basically intact and several have been maintained in pristine condition. The most common alterations have been residing and the enclosure of front porches. In relatively few cases has the massing of the house been altered. Many of the garages in the District are replacements or expansions of their much smaller early twentieth century counterparts. These altered or recently built garages comprise most of the noncontributing structures in the District. Because they are nearly all located on alleys away from public view, these noncontributing structures have little visual impact on the historic character of the District's individual properties or on the overall streetscapes.
Two of Alexandria's oldest extant residences, the Stevens House (circa 1868) and the Sims House (circa 1876), are located within northern part of the District close to Lakes Winona and Agnes. Standing near the Stevens and Sims houses are Alexandria's only three remaining Victorian-era mansion houses with exposed exterior brick walls, the Francis B. Van Hoesen House (1883), the S. W. McEwan House (circa 1885), and the O. J. Robards House (1889). Surrounding these houses in the northern half of the District are several excellent examples of the Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, and Craftsman styles. One of these houses, the N. P. Ward House (1903), is listed separately on the National Register.
The southern part of the District, extending south of Eighth Avenue down Cedar and Douglas Streets contains proportionately more houses of post-1905 vintage, but is dotted with a few houses which date from the nineteenth century. The houses which line Cedar and Douglas Streets provide an excellent showcase of historic architectural styles ranging from Queen Anne and Colonial Revival to Craftsman and Prairie styles. These houses also include a regionally rare example of the Shingle style.
Alexandria began to increase in population when regular rail transportation was established and the city's prospectus for economic growth appeared solid. A second rail line, the Soo, was built through the city in 1903. Additions were platted to the original townsite and the city's population grew to 3,000 by 1910. Businesses which were founded during the years 1868-1872 outgrew their original log and wood frame storefronts. A large commercial district filled with solid brick, stone, and wood frame commercial structures developed along Broadway Avenue. The Great Northern replaced its circa 1878 depot with a much larger and more expensive brick passenger depot in 1907. In addition to building the town's economic foundations, Alexandria's first residents created local government, municipal services, and public schools, and founded churches and other social and cultural institutions. By 1910, the groundwork had been laid for most of the necessities and amenities of urban life, and Alexandria was becoming a mature and flourishing community.
The potential for business success in Alexandria attracted entrepreneurs from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and elsewhere to the city beginning in the 1870's, and a solid merchant and professional class developed. A number of these families built homes in the residential neighborhood west of downtown which is included in the Alexandria Residential Historic District. Many of the houses in the district are associated with either the founders of Alexandria's first businesses and institutions, or with men and women who made notable contributions to business and community life during Alexandria's formative years. Many of these individuals apparently possessed the economic security, self interest, leisure time, and social vision to both create a successful economic climate and to engage in public service.
Among the early residents of the Alexandria Residential Historic District were the founders of the city's first businesses including C. Oppel and Company Shoes (founded in 1869), Cowing and Robards Hardware (founded in 1872), and the L. G. Sims Drug Store (founded circa 1871). These men and women were joined by the owners of businesses established during the next decades (1880-1920) such as Raitor Brother Shoes, A. H. Gregersen and Company Dry Goods, Knapton Sisters Millenery, Ludke-Luckert Produce Company, John A. Carlson Grocery, Alexandria Hardware and Lumber Company, N.P. Ward Grocery, and the Anderson Furniture Company. The founders and directors of the town's earliest banks including the Farmers National Bank, the First National Bank, and the Douglas County Bank lived in the historic district, as well as several leading physicians, dentists, and attorneys. One of the first editors of the Alexandria Post News lived in the historic district, as well an early clerk of the district court. In addition to owning businesses, residents of the neighborhood shored Alexandria's commercial footings by founding professional organizations. At least three of the eleven incorporators of the Alexandria Commercial Club (organized in 1907) lived in the district, and at least 17 of its members in the year 1916 resided there.
Residents of the historic district also contributed significantly to the establishment of public and cultural institutions. At least two early state legislators, Francis B. Van Hoesen and Claus J. Gunderson, lived in the district, as well as several men who were elected to local governmental positions. For example, Francis B. Van Hoesen, 0. J. Robards, N. P. Ward, Toleff Jacobson, and Andrew Jacobson all served at least one term as village or town council president, and Hugh E. Leach, Claus J. Gunderson, W. K. Barnes, W. F. Sunblad, S. W. McEwan, and Joseph Gilpin filled various other municipal and county seats, some for several terms. Men and women such as A. H. Gregorson, N. P. Ward, Anna Volker, and Hugh E. Leach served on the Board of Public Education, the Board of Public Works, and the Board of the Alexandria Public Library. Many of Alexandria's church congregations were also guided by board members who resided in the district.
The Alexandria Residential Historic District encompasses one of Alexandria's most remarkable residential neighborhoods. Few other small cities in Minnesota have residential neighborhoods of such design quality and physical integrity over such a wide area. The district contains a dense concentration of buildings which are highly significant to the study of residential architecture in Alexandria, including a number of the city's landmark examples of particular styles. The district contains 59 houses, 51 of which were built before circa 1930. Included are the city's only examples of the early Tudor Revival and Shingle styles, Alexandria's two most elaborate examples of the Classical Revival style, and houses which number among the city's most fully developed and intact examples of the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Prairie styles.
† Susan Granger and Scott Kelly, Gemini Research, Alexandria Residential Historic District, Douglas County, MN, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.