MN Stories: About Stillwater’s Edward Hersey and his 2 wives and 3 houses.

Last weekend, Ogre and I ran away for the day to have a summery date. We drove to the quaint town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Our goal was to score some fudge, taffy and turtle bars from two of the three hand-made candy shops there. (Hey, if a shop makes the best of a certain kind of thing, you’re a fool to not take advantage of it.)

When we arrived, it was such a gorgeous day that we decided to look for something else to do first. It turns out there is a historical trolley tour available during the summer. We hopped on and settled in.

Stillwater – which is on the St. Croix River which separates Minnesota from Wisconsin – was founded as a lumber town even before Minnesota became a state. Its proximity to the river- which was an excellent avenue for transporting the raw lumber to the mills, and the milled lumber to its destination – quickly turned it into a wealthy city. As we cruised up and down the steep hills of the city, we saw dozens of beautiful 19th century mansions. Each was proof of the prosperity Stillwater enjoyed in the years just before the last of the towering white pines of Minnesota were logged out.

[To get an idea of the kind of logging that was done here, you might want to check out a video I made last summer: 1895 Hinkley Minnesota Firestorm.]


Perhaps the most interesting bit of information we gleaned from our cheerful tour guide was a story about The Worst Husband in the World. Allow me to explain.

First, take a look at this lovely house: stillwater house

320 side view

A side view of the house.

This is 320 Pine St W (Click for listing on Zillow)

Bedrooms:  Bathrooms: 3.5  sq ft4,588 Year Built: 1882

Last Sold: Feb 2002 for $375,000

Isn’t it charming? It was built by a lumber baron, Edward Hersey, as a gift to his wife. But there’s a catch. Do you see that porch and the bay window? stillwater home 2 From either of those vantage points, you see the following view of the opposing house: 319 cloesup

 This is 319 Pine St. W (Click for listing on Zillow)

Bedrooms:  Bathrooms:  sq ft7,000 Year Built:1879

Last Sold: Mar 2004 for $810,660

319 side view

A side view of the house.

This house – 319 Pine St. W – was the first house that Edward Hersey had built for his wife.

According to Stillwater Heirloom & Landmark Sites Program

 In 1879, the Stillwater Lumberman [local newspaper] noted “Edward Hersey about to build on lots at Pine and Sixth.” Behind those few words are numerous associations: the construction of another opulent home for another of Stillwater’s well-to-do lumber families, the possible involvement of architect George Orff in his second home for a Hersey brother, and the abundant use of large, eye-catching architectural elements. The Victorian home offers a virtual laundry list of stylistic elements: a tower, a veranda, a gable, a large chimney, and a two-story bay.

According to our guide, the wife (whose name was Mary, but we’ll take a look at that in more depth in a moment) had a great deal to do with the planning of this house. It seems that Hersey himself was not as thrilled with it as she was. He had dragged his feet about commissioning it in the first place, and didn’t care for it even after he had agreed to have it  built.

As the house was nearing completion, Mary went abroad to purchase proper furnishings for her dream home.

Edward Hersey promptly lost the mansion to his business partner, Jacob Bean, to settle a debt. Some say this debt was actually a high-stakes poker game. (The home is now known at the Ann Bean Mansion, after Jacob Bean’s wife.)

When Mary returned to Stillwater, Edward had already commissioned the building of  the much more modest 320 Pine W house … directly across the street.

The tour guide said that Mary refused to live there.

Well, NSS.


I could have shared that much of the story with you the night I returned from the daytrip, but I wanted to do a bit of research to confirm the facts. I was able to do that – for the most part anyway – but my digging also left me with some lingering questions.

Above, I mentioned that I wanted to come back to the identity of Edward Hersey’s wife, Mary. Edward actually married TWO women named Mary in his lifetime: Mary Merrill in 1877 and Mary Haskell in 1894. A quick look at the dates of construction of the houses will reveal that the woman in the Stillwater story must have been Mary Merrill.

Just to make this easy for everyone, here the math:

  • Edward was 23 in 1877 when he married Mary Merrill.
  • He was 25 in 1879 when construction began on the big house, 319 Pine W.
  • He was 29 in 1882 when the small house, 320 Pine W, was completed.
  • There is then an 11-year gap in the story until 1894.
  • He was 40 in 1894 when he married 25 year old Mary Haskell.
  • (In 1894, he did something else as well, but I’ll get to that in a sec.)
  • He was only 54 when he died in 1908.
  • Mary Haskell Hersey died in 1950, at the age of 81.

Armed with the knowledge of the second wife, I was left wondering what had happened to the first. My assumption was that she died, so I turned to FindAGrave to discover her fate. Sure enough, I found the Hersey family plot, where Edward was buried, in a nearby St. Paul cemetery. Several members of his family also rest there, including Mary HASKELL Hersey. As for Mary Merrill, though, there is no sign of her in the plot.

Of course it is possible that  Mary Merrill did die, and that her body was sent back to Maine from where both families hailed. I did do a search for her at FindAGrave and came up with two possible results. One has very little info aside from the name Mary E. Hersey. The other grave bears the name Mary M. Hersey, but it is adjacent to a man named Melville Hersey. Neither of these women died before Edward married Mary Haskell.

I have been unable to find any further reference to Mary Merrill Hersey. Mary Haskell Hersey, however, was the darling of the society pages:

According to Stillwater Heirloom & Landmark Sites Program:

In 1896, the St. Paul Globe expressed admiration for the new bride: “Mrs. Edward L. Hersey, who, by her charming personality and culture has identified herself with society in St. Paul and Stillwater, is a brunette of a very lovely type. Her eyes are large and beautiful, of a dark brown, her lashes, brows and soft, luxuriant hair corresponding in color. She is possessed of an almost perfect figure, and her carriage is graceful and stately. In her address one notices a fascinating little accent, peculiar to the East.

I mentioned that Edward Hersey did something else besides marrying the charming Mary Haskell in 1894. He moved into this:

475 Summit Ave

 This is 475 Summit Ave. (Click for listing on Zillow.)

Bedrooms: 11 Bathrooms: 6  sq ft: 7,586 Year Built: 1894

Last Sold: Apr 1993 for $170,000
Estimated current value: $891,813

I guess he really like Mary Haskell.

PS: Just FYI, Summit Ave. was THE ritziest neighborhood in Minnesota at the turn of the century. (It’s still pretty swanky, though this house has been converted to a multi-family rental property.)

ALSO: Edward’s daughter, Marie Hersey was a chum of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently he spent a lot of time in this house, back in the day.


POST postscript: I just ran into a thing called Storify and I’m playing with it. I tossed together a test and am attempting to embed it below, so I can see what it is and how it looks. Ignore at will.

Friday Night Picture Show: 1894 Hinckley, MN Firestorm

This is the first entry in my new blog feature, the Friday Night Picture Show.

In the future, I expect to post a photograph or photo set most of the time, but it seemed right to start things off with something weightier, to anchor the feature.


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Friday Night Picture Show


Summer drives: Sasquatch, a mysterious military vehicle and traffic jams.

In the vein of yesterday’s odds-n-ends post, I’ve found some tidbits and scraps to share. Weirdly (conveniently) they all have to do with traveling the roads of Minnesota.


Back in August, I hopped into the car with a friend, the lovely Caroline Burau, author of Life in the Hotseat: Answering 911 and Sugarfiend. I was actually combining two trips into one – Caroline wanted company as she sought out a childhood memory, and I was expected at my family’s girls’-weekend at the cabin.

On the way from St. Paul to Mille Lacs Lake, Caroline and I chatted, discussed and otherwise became embroiled in catching up with each other. Then – from the corner of my eye – I saw bigfoot lurking at the edge of the woods.

It is a testament to the patience of my friend that she turned the car around.

Imagine her relief when I was able to point out this:


Of course we were both dressed in shorts and sandals, but we tramped through the field anyway so we could get a better look. I tore my ankle wide open on a tree stump. (‘Tried to snap a picture of the injury, but I missed. YOU try to photograph the back of your ankle with a cell phone.)

Bleeding staunched, we continued toward our destination.

Mille Lacs Lake is nothing compared to Superior, or even Ontario. It’s only 132,516 acres (536 km2), with a maximum depth of 42 feet.

minnesota map

Still, it’s big enough to freak me out. From certain vantage points, you cannot see the opposite shore at all. And 42 feet seems deep enough to host at least a small lake monster … which kind of turns this lake cam into a monster-watch cam, doesn’t it?

mille lacs lake

click the pic to go to a ‘best of’ Mille Lacs photographic collection

By the way, this is the same lake that made national news in spring of 2013. A rare phenomenon called an Ice Tsunami or Ice Shove was recorded by a woman who emphatically states she grants “no use (of her video) without permission”. (Even though she has not disabled the embed code. Hmm.) Anyway. You can see the video here. (I presume it’s okay to share the link.) Please enjoy the raw Minnesota-ness of the video, and remember we don’t all sound like that.

No. Really. You should watch at least a little of the video – it’s bizarre and awesome all at once. Mute if necessary.

PS: There will be no pictures of anything that took place at official girls’ weekend.  What happens at the cabin, stays at the cabin.

(I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t even mention the Cha Cha Slide.)


On September 1st, Ogre and I needed a get-away, so we headed for the Fire Museum in Hinkley, MN. On the way up, we stopped at a Lion’s park in one town and A&W in another. Because I am a child.

Once I’d been sufficiently stuffed with pizza burgers, we moved along, taking the back roads, of course. On one otherwise quiet stretch, we passed this:

It just emanated menace and secrecy. The fatigue-clad driver and his cohort were young and stony-faced, with their eyes hidden behind mirrored aviators.

Do you have any idea what this kind of vehicle is used for?

In Hinkley, we were surprised to find that we’d coincidentally chosen to make our visit to the museum on the 119th anniversary of the fire itself.


On October 4th, I’ll share a video project made from information gathered that day at the museum. It will be the inaugural entry in an experimental new blog feature – The Friday Night Picture Show.



Just this last weekend, we drove to a wedding on Saturday and a Renaissance Festival on Sunday. Somehow we managed to keep in good spirits through the events, even though traffic in both cases was a bloody nightmare.

Going to the wedding should have been a half-hour drive. Ogre and I left the house at 3:00p, planning to mill about with other guests before the 4:00p ceremony.

We arrived at the country club in time to see a distant white speck on the other side of the expansive grounds, marching down what appeared to be a grassy aisle. We opted not to wait for the next shuttle cart. I kicked off my heels and we trotted over.

Luckily, it’s summer, so I wasn’t wearing stockings. Also luckily, it was the correct bride. (We found out later that there were at least three other weddings going on – all in opposite directions. Did you know that pretty much all brides look alike from a distance?)

After the stress and joy of the wedding, we expected to be very calm about going to the Ren Fest the next day.

In the morning we had a nice pancake breakfast for five. (Ogre, The Dog, The Boy, The Boy’s Buddy, and me.)  We left the apartment with the expectation of an hour’s drive ahead. We knew it would be snug in the little commuter car that Ogre drives – what with a 70+ pound dog AND two 6′ young men in the itty-bitty back seat, but we’re a close family.

The first 30 minutes went fine. Then traffic started to slow. Ninety minutes later, we saw this sign.

20130929 renaissance congestion ahead

I had ample time to photograph it.

In another 10 minutes, we were parked next to a similar sign (which I didn’t photograph, sadly.) It said,

Renaissance Festival
1 mile

The time was 1:42p when our front fender crossed into the same plane as that sign.

Ogre hit the trip odometer.

Wait for it …

20130929 renaissaince odometer

That’s POINT 1 mile, btw. One TENTH of a mile.

We got through the festival gate a little after 3p. Miraculously we were all still alive and smiling.

I told you we’re a close family.

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