Telling stories of prominent families and their homes

The Homes Built as Strong as Time presentation was sponsored by Mary Henle (right) and Lisa Besemer (left) from new Ulm Real Estate. The two collaborated with Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) to create a program exploring historic homes in he county. Special dinner was held at Turner Hall before Besemer gave the presentation.

BROWN COUNTY — Lisa Besemer of New Ulm Real Estate led local history buffs on a virtual tour of Brown County’s historic homes last Thursday during a presentation at Turner Hall.

The presentation was a collaboration between Brown County Historical Society and New Ulm Real Estate called “Homes Built as Strong as Time.”

Five homes were highlighted in the presentation including Bingham Hall, New Ulm; W.W. Smith Home, Sleepy Eye; Pfaender Home, Milford Township; Lehrer Home, Springfield; Fritsche home, New Ulm.

These homes were selected to help tell the history of prominent families that formed Brown County’s history.

In researching these homes, Besemer said she fell in love with the homes and the people who lived in them

“I’ve always believe that every single person has a story,” Besemer said. “The joys you have gone through, the hardships and sadness you endure make us who we are.”

Bingham Hall, 500 S. German Street, New Ulm

Bingham Hall was constructed in 1893 by the Bingham family. Maro Bingham was born in Canada but immigrated to the United States at age 10. In 1876, he moved to New Ulm and formed a partnership with his brother called Bingham Brothers. They started a lumber business, but sold the business to buy up grain and coal.

In 1893, Marco hired contractors to build his house on German Street. The three story house was built by hand in less than a year. When the home was nearing completion in Aug. 1893, local newspapers were already calling the home one of the best examples of architecture in the community.

Maro would own the house until his death in 1924. In 1926 it was sold to Alfred and Helen Mueller.

Alfred Mueller was prominent attorney in New Ulm and represented Brown County in the state legislature. After his death in 1932, his wife Helen took on boarder to pay for the house. It would be sold to the Flor family in 1943. Between 1961 and 1998 the home was bought and sold as property investments.

The current owners of Bingham Hall, Shannon and Todd McKeeth, purchased the home in 1998 and converted it into a Bed and Breakfast, which officially opened in 2006. The home is still a B&B to this day.

All 43 windows in the home are original and have been refinished. There are four guest rooms on the second floor. The McKeeths have a private quarters on the third floor.

The main floor has a foyer with open staircase, a living room with the original fireplace and formal dinning room.

“The home is nothing short of amazing,” Besemer said.

W.W. Smith Home 101 Linden Street SW, Sleepy Eye

The W.W. Smith Home began construction in Sleepy Eye in 1900. Construction was completed in 1901. The original home owner, William Watkins Smith first came to Sleepy Eye in 1891. He helped open the Merchant Bank in Sleepy Eye.

Smith served as a cashier at the bank and was the principal stock holder. Smith was also associated with several other banks in the region.

The Smith Home is a two and half story home combining Queen Ann Victorian and Classical Revival architecture. The exterior features a wrap around porch. The interior features an expansive foyer with 10 foot ceilings, fireplace and a formal parlor.

The home’s grand staircase has original Tiffany newel post, and three stained glass windows on the first landing.

The Smith house is listed on the National Registry of Historic places. Besemer said the home retains much of its look from the original 1900 design.

W.W. Smith had three sons, Arthur, William Jr. and Herbert. Arthur would eventually inherit the estate after his mother Ava died in 1951. After Arthur’s his wife Myrtle became the owner of the estate. The property would be sold to Edna Schmidt in 1966, but Besemer said Schmidt only lived in the Smith house a short time. For nearly 25 years, the house had no occupants.

In 1994 it was converted into a B&B and remained a temporary rental property for nearly 20 years. In 2016, the house was purchased again and converted back into a single family home.

Besemer said the current owners currently work outside the country, but intended to retire to the home within the next few years.

Pfaender Home, Milford Township

The Pfaender Home was built in 1913 on the Pfaender Farm. The Pfaender Farm is a registered sesquicentennial farm. The land was bought by Col. William Pfaender in 1856 shortly after moving to New Ulm.

Col. Pfaender and his wife Catherine were among the early founders of New Ulm. Pfaender helped organize the New Ulm Turnverine. The first Turner Hall was located on his land.

The first home on the Pfaender Farm was a log cabin built 1856. In 1897, a white farm house was constructed.

The Pfaenders had a total of 15 children. Their son Herman would inherit the farm house with his wife Anna. In 1913 Herman and Anna were coming home from a Junior Pioneer’s event and saw the house burning. Herman decided their new home would never burn.

The new house was built with blocks hauled from Fairfax. These blocks were created by The Fairfax Cement Works. George J. Saffert started the masonry business after buying a hand tamping concrete block machine. The Pfaender home was one of the first constructed using Saffert’s concrete blocks. Saffert’s business would grow over the years with more intricate designs and become known as “artstone.” The business became known as “American Artstone” and continues to do business in New Ulm to this day.

The Pfaender artstone house was built in installments. The family would move into each section as it was completed. The house features two stories and a large attic.

Herman and Anna’s daughter Marguerite would later take over the house with husband Harold Runck. The house and farm is still with the family. Over the last 10 years, the family has worked to refurbish the house.

Lehrer Home, Springfield

The Lehrer home was built in 1888 in Springfield by Michael Lehrer Jr. Lehrer is considered Springfield’s most successful businessman. He moved to Springfield in 1885, buying a share in a hardware and lumber business. He would serve as president of the State Bank of Springfield for 15 years. When Lehrer died in 1921, Springfield businesses closed as a sign of respect.

Besemer said the Lehrer home was designed in the Second Empire architecture with front and back porches. When completed the house had 19 rooms. Originally the house had six bedrooms, now it has five bedrooms with one being converted into a bathroom.

The Lehrer home was among the first homes in Springfield to have running water. The water tank was placed on the top floor of the house, with pumps in the basement. Each bedroom has a washroom.

Michael and Elisabeth had several children. Their six daughters, Eleanore, Gertrude, Agnes, Viola, Carola and Veronica never married and lived together in the house all their lives. The daughters formed the Lehrer Holding Company to managed the estate.

The Lehrer estate eventually sold the house in 1990. It was sold again 2000. Besemer said a fourth family has recently purchased the Lehrer home in February of this year.

Schmidt- Fritsche Home, New Ulm

The Schmidt-Fritsche Home was built in 1880 by George Schmidt, a German immigrant. Schmidt came to New Ulm in 1870 to work with his brother Carl. The brothers purchased the Empire Mill in New Ulm and quickly became successful businessmen.

Schmidt commissioned the construct of the house in 1880. The building was constructed with red brick and featured a parlor, sitting room, library and horse stable.

By 1885, Schmidt saw a turn in his fortunes. He would sell the mill and move from New Ulm in 1899. The home was then bought by Dr. L.A. Frische.

Dr. Fritsche graduated from medical school in 1887. The day after graduation a new medical law went effect requiring medical practicers to pass a state examination. Fritsche passed the examination and received the first license under this law. He opened a practice in New Ulm, but later moved to Germany to specialize in surgery. In 1890 he returned to New Ulm to reopen his hospital. He was Brown County Corner, served on state medical board, school board and was elected New Ulm’s Mayor in 1912.

As New Ulm Mayor, Fritsche hosted many people in the house. In 1927, the German Ambassador to the United States and his wife were guest at the Fritsche home.

In 1961, Fritsche family sold the home and it became a duplex. The house would change hand several times over the years. In 1997 it was converted back into a single family residence, however in 2011 the bank foreclosed on the property.

In 2012, Al and Cindy Stabenow purchased the house and still own it. The Stabenows recently retired as owners of Guten Tag Haus

Following the presentation, Besemer thanked all those that help her research the family histories and those who continued to maintain the historic homes.

“These are people who formed our county,” she said. “These homes hold an enormous amount of memories. We hope they will be lovenly taken care of. They are almost museums to our past. Thank you for preserving them.”

The presentation was recorded by New Ulm Cable Access Television and will be available for viewing next month.


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