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Book features Plummer House among state's 'grand homes'

preserving our grand homes.jpg
preserving our grand homes.jpg

Larry Millett has seen most of Minnesota's distinctive homes in his years of writing about architecture. So he was not shocked when the task of selecting 20 of the state's grandest homes for inclusion in a new book, "Minnesota's Own: Preserving Our Grandest Homes," proved to be exceedingly difficult.

"How do you pick 20 out of so many?" Millett said. "You could do 20 houses in Rochester, or 20 houses in Duluth."

Ultimately the homes featured in the book reflect Millett's desire to balance time periods, architectural styles and geographic locations. But he's not ready to claim that the houses featured in the book are the absolute best examples. "There could easily be a different set of 22 houses," Millett said in an interview from his Twin Cities home.

"Minnesota's Own," published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, is a lavishly illustrated, coffee-table-size book. Among the southeastern Minnesota houses featured are the Plummer House (Quarry Hill) in Rochester, Tower View and the E.S. Hoyt House in Red Wing, and the William Windom House in Winona.

Also featured are homes of historic importance: the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, the Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul, and the Harry Blackmun House in Golden Valley.

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Each of the featured homes is illustrated with interior and exterior photos by Matt Schmitt, as well as sketches and floor plans. The stories of the people who built and owned the homes are often as fascinating at the houses themselves.

Millett started with a list of over 1,000 homes statewide, eventually narrowed that down to 75, and finally went house to house around the state to select those that would fit in the book.

When it came to Rochester, Millett originally set his sights on the homes of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie Mayo. But Charlie's Mayowood was undergoing extensive renovation. As for Will's house, now the Mayo Clinic Foundation House, "the Clinic declined," Millett said. "They didn't want to publicize it in the book."

But Henry Plummer's hilltop home in southwest Rochester proved a worthy substitute. "We like the story of the house and of Dr. Plummer," Millett said. "You read about the Clinic and he was a key guy — maybe THE key guy — in the development of Mayo Clinic. He's one people might not know as well."

While some of the state's biggest, best and most important homes are in disrepair, most of the rest are being cared for by private owners, foundations or municipalities. They continue as family homes, as art centers, as offices or as museums.

"What I think this book tells you is we have a tremendous amount of fine homes in Minnesota," Millett said. "The theme of the book is how you preserve the legacy of a home, and of architecture."

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Minnesota author Larry Millett

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