Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House
385 3rd Ave S.

The Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House was once considered the finest in the city of St. Cloud, Minnesota. There is no doubt that the spectacular house stood out among others back when it was built and continued to for decades later. The house was built in 1889 and was designed by architect A.E. Hussey. The construction was estimated to have cost $35,000-- a substantial amount for that period of time. The Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House has had a handful of prominent residents since it was built, and it continues to stand on 3rd Ave in St. Cloud on the St. Cloud State University campus. Its physical features and prominent owners help tell the deep history of the households, which is one of the reasons it became a house on the National Register for Historic Places in 1978. A house so full of history is bound to have many stories to tell, some tragic, and the Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House is no exception.

The house was built by Timothy Foley, the eldest son in a large family from Ontario, Canada. After the Civil War, he made his way to Minnesota with his two brothers, and as a motivated businessman founded the town of Foley, Minnesota. He was the prime component of the lumber business established by the Foley brothers. He later went on to run a railway company, and he is said to have been in charge of building enough railways to stretch around the world. It was in 1889 that he and his wife Mary built their large home in St. Cloud. They only lived in it until 1895 when Foley moved to St. Paul, and his brother Thomas resided in the home.

Thomas Foley sold the house to Secretary of State P.E. Hanson in 1902. Who then gave the house to his daughter and son-in-law, Ripley Brower. Brower, whose father founded Browerville, Minnesota, was a practicing lawyer in St. Cloud and would also become a Republican State Senator. Brower owned the home until 1923.

It was then that Brower sold his house to another prominent businessman, William Bohmer. Bohmer owned many businesses throughout his career, a store and then eventually a bank. His largest achievement was the establishment of his business, the Melrose Granite Company. William’s son Donald took over the ownership of the house in 1945. Donald and his large family lived in the home until all of his children grew up and moved out in 1979.

The house was then sold to Dr. Keith Larson, a neurosurgeon. Once again this beautiful house was filled with children and family. Larson and his wife spent countless hours and large amounts of money trying to restore the house. They did this with every effort to maintain the house’s historical integrity. The Larsons were the first owners to open the house for viewing of the public in a house tour in 1992. The viewers were able to witness the Larson’s love for the house, which was quite evident by how much commitment they had put into their home.

The Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House was an intriguing sight to see. It was built with influences from the architectural style of Richardsonian Romanesque. The red pressed bricks, circular tower, and arched doorways and windows were all exterior features of the house which portray this unique style. One of the house’s most popular and memorable features was the entryway. It contained a breathtaking golden oak staircase and fireplace with Italian woodcarvings of gargoyles. It also included an Italian marble mosaic floor and remarkable stained glass windows. The rest of the first floor was comprised of a parlor, library, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. When following the marvelous staircase to the second floor, five bedrooms, including a large master bedroom with a separate sitting area, and bathroom could be found. The third floor, the location of the attic, produced a large space often used for hosting dances. The large, expansive house was most intriguing because of its preserved historical integrity, which remained intact until June 17th, 2002 when the devastating fire occurred.

It was a typical Monday night for the Larson family. All were asleep, except for the hardworking Dr. Larson, who was awake working on the paperwork from the day. It was around 1:15am that he heard noises that seemed to be coming from the basement. Not soon after, Dr. Larson saw the smoke. It led him to the realization that a fire had begun in the basement. He tried to extinguish it, but soon realized that his efforts were not going to conquer this fire. It was an old house, easily susceptible to the sparks of the blaze. The Larson family escaped the burning house unharmed, and the fire department was called. They arrived shortly after by 1:30am.

Not soon after the firefighters arrived it was apparent that they were going to need reinforcements. When they had arrived there were only fourteen on staff—a smaller amount than what is typical. In all, there were a total of thirty firefighters who were called, and they worked tirelessly to calm the raging fire that was taking over the historic Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House. They worked long into the morning to contain the blaze, and neighbors were soon gathering to look on at the horrible tragedy that was unfolding. The family, neighbors, and community members watched and hoped that the devastation the lashing of the fire was causing would be as minimal as possible.

Days after the fire had been contained and extinguished the Larson family continued to keep their hopes up, but the results were far from their expectations. Workers were still pumping water out of the basement, which had been submerged with the water used to douse the fire. It seemed that the fire had been contained to the point that half of the first and second floors of the house were saved. However, the third floor was a total loss due to the roof collapsing during the blaze. Another result of the tragic fire was the injuries obtained by the firefighters. In all, there were nine rescuers that received minor injuries, such as cuts and smoke inhalation. When all was over, the expected property damage was estimated to be over two million dollars. However, what was really lost was the history that went with the house and that is something that is priceless.

When a fire tears through a home and uproots a family, the loss can be devastating. However, when the fire that struck the Foley-Brower-Bohmer-Larson House on that dreadful early morning, there was much more lost. It was a house well-known in the St. Cloud community and held a long history of prominent previous owners and their families. The house still stands today, and it has a new owner. The attempt to restore the house’s historical beauty has been taken on by its new owner, but it will be a long process that will most likely never be fully achieved.