Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 12, 2001

How the historic city hall building came to be

By Lynda Jensen

Since its construction in 1904, the signature of Howard Lake appears to be the historic city hall building.

As the only building in Howard Lake on the Register of Historic Places, it stands steadfast, as it was originally built, for every resident and traveler to see over the past century as they pass through Howard Lake.

Born of fire

At the eve of 1904, a new city hall building was the last thing on the minds of the Howard Lake City Council members.

They didn't need one.

An existing city hall, which was built in 1891, seemed to work just fine. In fact, many physical characteristics of that early building appear today in the modern day city hall.

This went well, until 2 a.m. Feb. 15, 1904, when a power whistle was used for the first time to call out the fire department - to a huge fire that required more than the average number of firemen. Up until then, a hand-drawn bell at the the city hall building was used.

The fire reduced the building to a stack of bricks about 12 high.

In fact, the reflection of flames from the shore of the lake was a beautiful sight, if anyone had time to view it, reported the Howard Lake Herald .

Lost in the fire: the records of the town for years past, surgical instruments from Dr. Chilton's office (which is where the fire appeared to start), a large law library from Attorney Latham's office, all the regalia of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the charter of the Sons of Veterans (Civil War veterans) and four silk American flags kept by the Women's Relief Corp, which is the GAR auxiliary, among numerous other items.

Firemen were soaked to the bone in the fire, and then frozen in subzero February temperatures, the Herald reported.

The following is an excerpt from the Herald, written by editor Norton Reynolds, Feb. 18, 1904:


Howard Lake's handsome town hall becomes a prey to hungry flames.

ALARM GIVEN AT 2 O'CLOCK A.M. But flames were under such headway they could not be stopped.


Nothing saved from Dr. Chilton's nor Attorney Latham's offices, but contents of their safes. Town and lodge records lost.

Again did the fire demon got in his work in our little city last Monday night.

The alarm was given by J.A. Frickman. The fire seemed to be coming from the rear of Dr. Chilton's office and had eaten through the partitions into the hall, filling it with smoke and flames to such an extent that to ring the fire bell, the rope had to be pulled outside the door and from that position, the alarm given.

By the time a sufficient number of men gathered to lay a line of hose, such progress had been made by the fire that it was impossible to enter the front part of the building or to do more than to keep down the flames.

The fire apparatus was all safely removed from the back room, but it was not safe to enter the recorder's (city clerk) office, nor the office of Mr. Latham to try to save any of the property there.

By 3 o'clock, the roof and walls were all down and there was nothing left but a heap of burning and smoking ruins.

The building was erected in 1891 at a total cost of $5,000. At that time, material and labor were cheap so that to replace it today would require an expenditure of close to $8,000.

The paper reported temperatures of 15 degrees below zero half a block from the fire, "but considerably warmer than that, where it was necessary to do strenuous work to keep the adjoining buildings from catching fire," Reynolds wrote.

"A man who will stick to his post of duty until his clothing is soaked and he freezes his hands is worth 40 fellows who stand on the outside and "kick," Reynolds added.

The best sand mould red Menomime brick

The town council and residents immediately planned to build a new city hall, as evident in subsequent papers.

Discussion ensued during several council meetings about how to finance such a venture, and on March 8, 1904, the city issued a 15-year bond for $5,000 to finance the exterior of the new building.

"It is conceded," editor Reynolds wrote in the June 16 issue of the Herald, "that the amount for building purposes would not be sufficient, yet there is nothing to prevent erection of the exterior and leaving the finishing of the main part of the interior until some future time when more money can be had."

The council voted to place the village hall 12 feet from the sidewalk, July 7.

Later that month, the council approved the architect's plans, with one addition: all outside walls were to be of the best sand mould red Menomime brick, with cornices put on north and east sides.

The council also ordered a door, instead of one window, in the office rooms on the south side.

Out of six bids received, F.A. Hancock was awarded the project for a cost of $7,925. The highest bid out of all was quoted by Olson & Skoalheim for $8,968.

Construction ensued in a hurry, and by the following Jan. 2, 1905, the modern-day building was formally dedicated with great fanfare, attended by the entire town population.

The auditorium, with seating capacity of 500, and other interior portions of the building were not completed at that time, but "it is safe to say a prettier and better building of this kind cannot be found anywhere in a town of this size," Reynolds wrote.

Restoring the city hall

Today, the city council plans to renovate the city hall building in the price range of $1 million, which is an average cost of a project of this kind, said City Administrator Doug Borglund.

Residents must remember that to build a new structure would cost more than this, and the building will either need to be taken down or rehabilitated, Borglund said.

Plans are to move the police department, and city administrative offices to the second floor, and expand the municipal liquor store to overtake the main floor.

The off sale liquor store will be moved away from the parking lot to the west end, Borglund said.

The renovation does not include room for city council chambers or the Lions' meeting hall.

The city is currently in the process of applying for grants to refurbish the structure.

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