Built in 1910 in a craft style unique to small towns at the time, the red-brick bungalow with a wide-open porch that hosted tea parties decades ago has won a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
It has earned a shortlist for its local significance as an example of Craftsman’s residential architecture, and is the only single-family home in Renville County on the National Register of Historic Places.
It may take a year or two for all dreams to come true, but there are plans to open the big house to the public.
The building will “always remain a part of the community,” said Mary Glesener, who bought it in 2017 together with her husband Mark.
The couple donated the house to the Bird Island Cultural Center, a nonprofit arts organization that they also run. Their vision is to use the four bedrooms on the upper floor as accommodation for artists who come to events in the city. You’ll want to use the ground floor as an old-fashioned ice cream and Italian ice cream candy store, attracting travelers heading east to the Twin Cities or west on Highway 212, which is also part of the Yellowstone Trail.
There is some work to be done before all of this happens.
“We have a lot of things to work out, but that’s not a problem, it’s just a little challenge, isn’t it?” Said Mary, glancing at her husband.
“We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again,” he replied.
In the early 1990s, the Gleseners on Bird Island developed a successful treatment facility for adults with traumatic brain injuries. They sold the business and retired in 2016 and started the Bird Island Cultural Center while also running a “no breakfast” bed and breakfast in Mark’s family home next door.
She and her husband are both “workers,” said Mary, confident that their vision for the Tinnes-Baker house will come true.
Mary Glesener speaks about Tinnes-Baker House on June 9, 2021 at the Bird Island Historic Site. Glesener and her husband Mark bought the house in 2017. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune
The home was built by a daredevil named Lewie Tinnes, according to an evaluation and nomination report as part of the application process on the National Register of Historic Places.
Born on Bird Island in 1876, Tinnes was a mechanic, plumber, and inventor who applied for a patent on at least one item. However, his hopes for the invention that would make him rich and famous were not fulfilled, and Tinnes tried several business ventures, including a machine shop, before leaving town in 1914.
The house was then bought by James Baker, a young attorney who eventually practiced as a Renville County attorney before he died in 1930 at the age of 50.
His wife Mathilda lived in the house for another 48 years until she died in 1978, according to the nomination report prepared by Daniel Hoisington of Hoisington Preservation Consultants.
The house had made few, if any, changes when it was bought in 1978 by Pat Saunders, whom the Gleseners attribute the restoration of the house to its original splendor.
There have been several other owners, and the building has housed unique shops over the years, including a sewing classroom teaching shop, clothing boutique, and antique shop.
Throughout this time, the Gleseners said that the original woodwork, wooden floors, windows with the wavy glass, room layout, fireplace, and other classic architectural features of a Craftsman bungalow were retained. The large brick cistern in the cellar has also been preserved.
Such a structure on Bird Island – with the original structural elements untouched – was key to its historical relevance.
The Tinnes-Baker house’s original woodwork and hardwood floors were two of the distinct elements that qualified it for the National Register of Historic Places. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune
What makes it special
It’s not easy to earn a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The process started shortly after the Gleseners bought the house in 2017. They were notified of the acceptance in April of this year.
There are four ways to qualify for the list including connecting to significant historical events, connecting to significant people, architectural significance, or providing information that is important in prehistoric times.
While Baker was a Renville County attorney, that wasn’t enough to make the house special in terms of historical significance.
But the unique features of the house were significant enough.
The one-and-a-half story house is a “medium-sized expression of the Craftsman style,” which also has some Prairie-style features that might reflect the “influence of the Prairie style of architecture popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. “according to the message.
The home is in its original location at 801 Highway Avenue and “maintains a high level of integrity with its original windows, siding, roof shape, door panel, full-width porch, and cantilevered bay window,” writes Hoisington.
“What makes it remarkable is that it’s in a relatively small Minnesota town – about 1,000 people, give or take in the last century – and it’s made of bricks.”
Mark Glesener, left, and Mary Glesener are standing in one of the bedrooms of the Tinnes Baker house on the Bird Island Historic Site on June 9, 2021. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune
A condition assessment by Engan Associates Architects of Willmar, Minnesota is underway to determine what structural repairs are needed to maintain the integrity of the building.
“They will go through from top to bottom”, says Mark Glesener and documents the current condition of the building and what it takes to “maintain and modernize” it.
The electrical wiring, plumbing, and front steps are expected to need updating.
At some point, a summer kitchen may have to be added to the back of the house to produce the groceries sold in the candy store, Mary Glesener said.
Now that the house is on the List of Historic Places, grants are available to fund these projects. Local fundraisers are also underway.
The Gleseners said they hope to have the projects completed in about two years and open the house to the public.