“Key moment” for the Manfred house

With federal recognition as a historic and cultural site, the Save the Manfred House group is reopening discussions with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regarding the future of the home of a famous Minnesota author.

The Manfred House in Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this month. The Minnesota DNR closed the home in 2015, citing unsafe conditions caused by dampness.

The back wall of the Frederick Manfred House Visitor Center in Blue Mounds State Park is a natural rock bluff that bisects the park. The rock face seeps water at times, which has contributed to the building’s structural problems.

Courtesy of the Minnesota DNR

Rolf Anderson, a conservation consultant who works with the group Save the Manfred House, said the DNR could still demolish the Manfred House. However, federal recognition means the site is eligible for the state’s Arts and Heritage Fund, which provides additional funding streams to support maintenance of the home.

“I think it’s a pretty pivotal moment here,” Anderson said on Friday. “Because now we can see that quality [as] an important place.”

Friedrich Manfred, 1955

Frederick Manfred signed “Lord Grizzly” in 1955.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Frederick Manfred is perhaps best known for his novel Lord Grizzly, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1954. It tells the story of Hugh Glass, who crawled hundreds of miles after being killed by a grizzly bear in the early days of European settlement. Manfred has been nominated four times for the Nobel Prize in Literature and once for the Pulitzer Prize.

According to the National Register nomination, Manfred’s home “is considered significant on a statewide level because of Manfred’s recognition as an important Minnesota author and because of the unusual and distinctive architectural design of the property.”

The nomination also states that the structure represents the Wrightian style, built against “a living rock face of Sioux quartzite,” and from certain vantage points the house is barely visible.

“The use of indigenous material takes on special meaning as the building block was quarried from Blue Mound itself, giving the masonry walls a visual blend with the existing rock outcroppings.”

The home’s future is far from clear, but Anderson said the group is more determined to engage the DNR and rehabilitate the Manfred House now that the site is listed in a federal program. The group Save the Manfred House is currently drafting a letter to the DNR. The group’s last contact with the agency was in November 2021, and Anderson said the agency hasn’t received a response since.

“The Manfred House is so unique and that the house and its location are so inseparable from Manfred’s career and that this place and the house were a source of inspiration for him,” he said. “I think we could really make this story much more widely accessible to Minnesotans, and I think it’s a property that really has great value.”

In spring 2021, the DNR launched a survey to receive public contributions on three possible design concepts as a replacement for the Manfred House. About 78 percent of the 542 respondents rejected all three.

Although the poll results were not released, the pro-preservation group received the poll responses from the DNR and posted them on its website. Most responses were negative, urging the DNR to reconsider its demolition plans.

There were video and face-to-face meetings between the DNR and representatives of the Save the Manfred House group. However, Anderson said the DNR did not agree to a request for the house to be inspected by a qualified historical architect, nor did he provide the group with information about the terms of the original agreement to transfer the house to the DNR in 1972.

MPR News contacted the DNR via email regarding the inclusion of the Manfred House on the National Historic Register, but had received no response as of the time of publication.

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