Last weekend, Hubby and I had the pleasure of sleeping over at Linden Hill Historic Estate in Little Falls, Minnesota. (https://linden-hill.org) The invitation came from good friends of ours who chose to celebrate a significant wedding anniversary there.
Having worked for the Morrison County Historical Society for over 25 years, I knew a little something about the history of the place and had even been there before ownership had been transferred to the city.
The estate features two grand houses that were owned by Charles and Frances Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser and Richard “Drew” and Sarah Walker Musser. It also has a separate house that I think served as quarters for some of the household staff. In addition, the estate has a carriage house, playhouse, and pool house-turned-pavilion.
The property borders the Mississippi River and has the best point in town for viewing Mill Island, which splits the Mississippi River into two channels below the Little Falls Dam.
In a story I told too many times to count while giving tours at The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum, Pine Tree Lumber Company started in 1890 in Little Falls, shortly after the construction of the third Little Falls Dam. (The Weyerhaeuser Museum is home of the Morrison County Historical Society (https://morrisoncountyhistory.org) on the west side of the Mississippi River, next to the Charles A. Lindbergh House and Museum – not to be confused with the Weyerhaeuser home at Linden Hill. The Weyerhaeuser family funded the construction of the museum, trying to do so anonymously, but someone spilled the beans at a public meeting.)
The dam had been built in 1887/88 and had a logging sluice, along with a large holding area above the dam, making it perfect for the logging industry. The Pine Tree Lumber Company was one part of the larger Weyerhaeuser Corporation that had been formed by Frederick Weyerhaeuser and Peter Musser, the fathers of Charles and Richard Drew, who sent their sons to Little Falls to manage the new company.
The Weyerhaeuser Corporation purchased an existing sawmill on the east side of the river to begin operations in town. Near the east side mill, a large yellow brick building was constructed to serve as the Pine Tree Lumber Company’s office. The building is now a private residence. Charles and Richard Drew lived on the top floor of the office building for several years and were known as the Pine Tree Bachelors.
In 1898, they had their homes built next to each other on what is now called Linden Hill. (Linden Hill was the Musser family’s name for their home, while the Weyerhaeuser family called theirs “Homeland,” if memory serves. There is a book in the archives of the Weyerhaeuser Museum that came from the family that has a name plate for the home in it.) The homes were not the size they are now when originally built.
The houses were designed by noted architect Clarence H. Johnston, who is considered one of the most prolific architects in the history of the state. He designed Glensheen Historic Estate in Duluth and the Minnesota State Reformatory in St. Cloud. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_H._Johnston_Sr.
Not too long after the homes were built, the Pine Tree Bachelors got married and their wives moved to their Little Falls homes, quickly establishing themselves in the community in the arts and in social welfare activities. They also had the homes enlarged.
The Pine Tree Lumber Company had expanded, as well. In 1891, the company constructed a large mill on the west side of the river. (The site is north of Le Bourget Park and later became the home of Larson Boats. There was a hobo camp among the mill ruins after it closed.) The mill employed hundreds of people and millions of board feet of lumber were processed there.
One of the largest log jams in the world occurred in Little Falls north of the dam. It was in 1894, the same year as the Hinckley fire. (https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/history/hinckley-fire.html) The state was in drought conditions, so the water level was too low to move the logs downriver and through the sluice. The logs built up until 6 miles of the river north of the mill were covered from one bank to the other. There are photos at the Weyerhaeuser Museum that show men in their suits standing on the log jam in the middle of the river. It took about 6 months to clear the jam.
And now I’ve gotten sidetracked into the logging tour I used to give. Ha!
Let’s bring this back to Linden Hill.
Pine Tree Lumber Company ran until about 1920, at which time the west side mill closed (not sure when the east side mill closed, but I believe it was years before the west side mill closed). The Weyerhaeuser family, which was now composed of Charles, Maud Moon, Carl and Sarah Maud, sold their home to the Musser family and moved to St. Paul.
Before the family left, Maud Moon had a music hall constructed above the Morrison County Lumber Company, the retail outlet of Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls (https://morrisoncountyhistory.org/?p=855&). Maud Moon wanted the hall to be a gift to the people of Little Falls. The hall was designed by architect O.R. Wilson. Bess Lee designed the interior of the hall. (For the story I wrote about the renovation of the hall by architect Kevin Anderson, check out this article: https://morrisoncountyhistory.org/?page_id=4761)
I always wanted to write a story about Bess Lee, who seemed to be an interesting person. She was a long-time friend of the Weyerhaeuser family who managed their farm property at Lake Alexander. This was a working farm, not a hobby farm, and Bess managed the farm workers at a time when this would have been considered work for a man. In my research on Bess, I ran across some items related to her breeding cattle. There is a photo of Bess with Maud Moon in a boat at the Weyerhaeuser Museum.
And, I’ve gotten sidetracked again. Y’all are going to have to bear with me. I realized through writing that I’ve built up a lot of little details about the Weyerhaeusers and Mussers that may not be captured elsewhere, so they may end up here.
After the Weyerhaeusers left for St. Paul, the Mussers ran the estate. Richard Drew and Sarah (also known as Sally) had three daughters, Alice, Mary, and Laura Jane. I knew that Mary was adopted and Laura Jane was their biological daughter, but I wasn’t quite sure how Alice fit into the picture. I was also aware that Sarah had given birth to a boy and that he had died very young.
During our stay at Linden Hill, we slept in the Alice Room in the white Musser house. The Musser house is used for lodging and events at Linden Hill, while the green Weyerhaeuser house is used as a museum and for other educational purposes. Each of the bedrooms in the Musser home has a name related to the family or area history.
In the Alice Room was a sign with some history that filled in the gaps I had about Alice. Sarah and Richard Drew’s baby boy, Peter, died at birth. Sarah’s doctor sent his niece Alice to stay with the Mussers in order to help her through the grief of losing her baby. Alice and Sarah bonded and Alice became the Mussers foster daughter.
After Alice and Mary moved away and Sarah and Richard Drew died, the entire estate went to Laura Jane Musser, who lived in the green Weyerhaeuser house and had the Musser house closed up after her father’s death.
Laura Jane continued the musical and cultural philanthropy of the two families. She sponsored classical pianist Van Cliburn, who often came to stay at the estate, as well as singer Marian Anderson, who was the first African-American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Cliburn, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marian_Anderson) Laura Jane also provided piano lessons for local children at the estate.
She was good friends with Margaret Hamilton, the actor who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. After Laura Jane’s death in 1989, prior to the property being transferred to the city, I was on a walk-through of the house with other historians and saw her collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia.
Laura Jane was an avid reader. I learned from someone who knew her that she could apparently memorize books upon the first reading. The Musser home has bookshelves full of books from her family’s time there and they serve as a time capsule of sorts.
The bookshelf pictured above is from the Music Room in the Musser home. This room was not part of the original house, but was added later. It features a grand piano and a pipe organ.
Upon entering the room, which is a few steps down from the main floor, my husband exclaimed that this room looked like the sort of rooms where murders took place in the television show Columbo. It was not until we binge-watched Columbo that I realized he only ever solved murders involving wealthy people. I think Hubby is onto something with his observation. With the circuitous hallways and hidden nooks, the Musser house would be good for hide-and-seek or a murder mystery party. (Clue, anyone?)
Linden Hill is so photogenic that I took 124 photos while we were there. A chunk of them were of one of the bathrooms because it had such unusual features. That’s a topic of a later blog post, however.
I’ll leave you with one more photo. This is of the fountain in the hall outside the Music Room. I want to call it the Fish Fountain because it features what looks like a catfish on the wall above the basin.
If you have an opportunity to visit Linden Hill Historic Estate, I highly recommend it. And if you have a chance to sleep over, jump at it!
Thanks to our friends for inviting us. 😊
The Weyerhaeuser Museum is currently featuring an exhibit of some of Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser’s dresses from her musical performances. The exhibit will run through the end of 2023. Prior to our Linden Hill visit, we checked out the exhibit and these dresses are stunning. Check it out! https://morrisoncountyhistory.org/?p=10183