Cabin plans draw fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Angry residents are stepping forward to help save a 139-year-old cabin from being leveled at the Mower County Fairgrounds.

Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Angry residents are stepping forward to help save a 139-year-old cabin from being leveled at the Mower County Fairgrounds.

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An article in Friday’s Austin Daily Herald about the planned demolition of the historic cabin touched off a wave of phone calls. Four people called the Herald Friday afternoon, a dozen called the Mower County Historical Society on Monday. Other calls went to the fairgrounds office and the Mower County Board of Commissioners.

"Whatever it takes, whatever we need to do, fund raisers, whatever, we should try to save it," Carole Dunfee said Monday. "We’ve already thrown away so much of Austin’s history, it would be a shame to have this torn down." Dunfee, an Austin resident who can be reached at 433-2616, said she would be willing to coordinate a "Save the Cabin" effort.

The cabin that sparked the debate was built in 1861 by the Ole Severson family in Frankford Township, east of Grand Meadow. It was donated and moved to the Mower County Fairgrounds in 1964, where it has sat since then, offering fairgoers a chance to peek at an authentic early home.

However, the historical society’s board determined several years ago that the cabin was unsafe and decided to build a replica of the cabin that could be used to house exhibits. And, when a request came from the Fair Board recently to remove the cabin to make way for new bathrooms and showers on the fairgrounds, the society’s board voted 6-2 to allow its demolition.

Elmer Hovda, an Austin resident whose mother, Rose Severson, was born in the cabin in 1884, is disappointed with the historical society. He thinks the historical society’s board made a mistake when it voted to build a replica and he doesn’t think the cabin should be torn down.

"The cabin probably should have been kept and moved in the first place," he said. "It shouldn’t have been an impossible task to repair it."

Paul Wagner said it plain and simple.

"Why tear down something that’s almost as old as Abe Lincoln himself?" Wagner asked. "Why not tear down the toilets?"

Five days later and it seems that all the furor has had the desired result. The Mower County Board of Commissioners has washed its hands of the affair and George Brophy, president of the society’s board, said the cabin issue will be discussed Saturday at a board meeting.

"If the cabin is able to be saved and there are people who are willing to do it, then that’s what should happen rather than letting it be torn down," Brophy said.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson suggested that the historical society sell or auction off the cabin to raise funds for the group.

"As far as the county is concerned, if someone wants to buy, move or auction off the cabin, that’s OK with us," he said. "We will leave that decision with the historical society. For now the Fair Board can work on the bathroom without destroying the building."

Brophy said he had several calls on the building, mostly people wanting to know whether they could bid on or buy the cabin.

Shirley DeYoung, director of the historical society, has been pleasantly surprised by the strong reaction from the community. She is encouraging anyone and everyone who cares about preserving the past of Austin and Mower County to join the organization.

While the exact future of the cabin is anyone’s guess, demolition appears to be out of the picture for now. Whether it will be sold, returned to the family that donated it, or housed inside another structure to preserve it is up for discussion. That discussion will take place at the historical society’s board meeting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Elkton Community Room on Main Street in Elkton. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.