A Trip Back in Time: A Millionaire’s Missing Mansion

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Brent Peterson’s story is republished, courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society:

One of the most dynamic things about the City of Stillwater is the number of beautiful mansions built in the years when lumber was king. Many were constructed by those in ownership of lumber companies or mills and we have to be thankful that they still exist today. However there have been a number lost to the expansion of the city or just because they were too large and expensive to maintain. One such mansion, probably the largest of them all, belonged to Isaac Staples.

The property in which Staples was to construct his home was on a hill overlooking the sawmill that he had purchased in 1866. In early 1871, Staples contracted with St. Paul architect A.M. Radcliffe and the early plans consisted of a stone structure with a mansard roof. The estimated cost, according to the Stillwater Messenger of March 24, 1871 was at $30,000.

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Just a month later, theMessenger had the full description of Staples new house on “Government Hill.” The newspaper said, “The main body of the residence will be fifty feet square, two stories in height, with a mansard roof of a new and tasteful pattern, that will give an additional story. Back of this will be an ell some 30 feet. The basement or cellar walls will be of solid stone, sold stone walls being also built across the cellar to correspond with the partition walls in the rooms above, making the whole building solid and substantial.”

“Above the basement the outer walls are to be of the choicest selected Minneapolis brick, with the corners, trimmings, door and window and other cappings and facings, either of terra cotta stone or the new artificial stone, making the most attractive and beautiful exterior.”

The newspapers of the summer of 1871 continued to report to the public the progress of the house on the hill. Things such as the enclosure of the “commodious stable” and the placement of sidewalks in front of the ever-growing residence, found it’s way into the columns of the newspapers.

When the interior was to be worked on, it was reported that the plasterwork on the home was let out to a local man named Arthur Stevens. Stevens was an “experienced and skillful workman, and we shall expect to see one of the neatest jobs in the city when the work is finished,” said the Weekly Gazette of August 8, 1871. The painting of the home was let out to the local Webster Brothers.

The pace of work must have pushed the contractors to finish before the winter. A painter, working for the Webster Brothers, fell one October day and died from his injuries the next day.

The home was finally completed and the Staples family occupied the home for nearly 30 years. It was the center of social gatherings in Stillwater for the next three decades. When Isaac Staples died in 1898, no one knew what to do with such a large mansion. In an article, undated, in the collections of the Washington County Historical Society, the story is told of the home being torn down. That at one time it was thought that the Staples house could be used by the Warden of the State Prison, which was just down the hill. It was also suggested in this article that it could be used as a hospital. But probable the cost of the structure and the “enormous expense of maintaining the place” caused any one interested in purchasing the property, including Staples heirs, spelled doom for the residence.

After the demolition of the home, the vacant property was sold off. This property was given back to the City of Stillwater in the 1930s and the property was once again made beautiful. This time it was for the purposes of a city park. That park still exists today and is named for all the pioneers of the St. Croix Valley.

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