Post Office to be on National RegisterPublished 11:01am Friday, August 3, 2012 Updated 11:09am Friday, August 3, 2012
Fergus Falls’ downtown U.S. post office and courthouse building is close to being placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and other city properties could be eligible as well.
The city’s finance committee recommended that the city council and historic preservation committee draft letters of support for the registration. Built in 1904 and owned by the U.S. General Services Administration, the building currently houses federal court proceedings and bankruptcy court, and until 2011 it also housed the local U.S. Post Office.
Though private owners with National Register properties are often eligible for tax credits when renovating, Otter Tail County Historical Society Director Chris Schuelke said that for a governmental organization like GSA, the distinction is more a point of pride than it is for any material benefit.
“(Renovation) is all done exactly in the way of the original,” he said of GSA’s care. “In a way, it’s basically … an honorary distinction for the work that they’ve done.”
Indeed, GSA treats all of its buildings as if they are historically registered, according to Fergus Falls Community Development Director Gordon Hydukovich. He said the city always benefits from nationally registered buildings, as they can become a point of tourism, a draw for tenants and a source of civic pride. He encouraged council members and residents to walk on the Mill Street bridge and gaze at their surroundings, which include city hall, the River Inn (both already nationally registered) and the post office building.
“You’re uniquely in Fergus Falls if you’re on that bridge,” he said.
The city is no stranger to nationally registered buildings. In addition to River Inn and city hall, the Regional Treatment Center, the county courthouse, original Hillcrest Lutheran Academy building and more are on the register.
A recent study of the town’s southeast portion (stretching from southeast of Lake Alice down to the Pebble Lake Golf Course area) uncovered seven more buildings eligible for national registration and four more likely eligible, as well as several more that could possibly be eligible if more information about them was obtained. The study was also discussed Wednesday.
Schuelke noted that if a property is on the National Register (or part of a historic downtown district, unless the district has special rules), the property owner can still do whatever he or she wants with the property – it just might get removed from the Register if it’s too drastic a change.
“There would be all sorts of financial advantages, tax breaks and tax credits to individual owners of the buildings,” he said. “The benefit that’s kind of a secondary benefit is the fact that Fergus Falls … can market (and) let people know that we have a historic downtown.”
The seven properties identified as eligible by the State Historic Preservation Office are the in-city segments of the Great Northern Railroad and Northern Pacific Railroad lines, Otter Tail Power’s central dam and hydroelectric plant at 202 North Cascade St., the Northern Pacific Depot on 423 South Cascade St., the Kiefer’s Building (originally Beall and McGowan Company) at 205 East Lincoln Ave., the Great Northern Railroad bridge, and the Rail America building (originally the Great Northern Depot) at 200 North Mill St.
The four other possible sites are the Pebble Lake recreational area (golf course and beach) entrance gate and wall, Joey D’s Joinery (originally Hille and Wagner Implements) at 205 North Cascade St., the old Cowing house at 329 North Cascade St., and the old Chapman house at 309 Oakland Place.
The city can alert property owners of their potential for registration, and it can attempt to register the Pebble Lake wall, an action that’s currently under discussion.
A property is eligible for national registration if it’s at least 50 years old, meets certain historical requirements and has not been too drastically changed from its original appearance. One historic Fergus Falls landmark not eligible for registration is the Grusendorf House at 212 East Alcott Ave. Built in 1869, the house is the oldest standing home in the city and the first ever built south of the Otter Tail River, but several renovations (including more modern siding placed over its original log frame) prevent it from registration.