The Justus Ramsey House may be in pieces at the moment, but it will soon have a new home.
The Minnesota Transportation Museum was announced on Friday, October 19 as the winner of the bid to host the historic building. The house will be reconstructed at the Jackson Street Roundhouse at 193 Pennsylvania Ave.
The decision was reached after a months-long process to identify the best proposal for the future of the house, led by The Fort Road Federation and Historic St. Paul.
“I am excited that it is going to be restored,” said Frank White, a member of the selection committee, Historic St. Paul Board member and historian. “I was very sad that we were losing another piece of history.”
White said that what stood out most from the Minnesota Transportation Museum’s proposal was the uniqueness and sustainability of their plan along with the historical interpretation that will happen at the new location.
“They are already doing history and have an exhibit on the Pullman porters,” he said, referring to the historically black men hired to work as porters on rail cars. “It seemed to me there was such a natural connection.”
Gibson Stanton, who, along with White, is a member of the selection committee and on the Historic St. Paul Board, reinforced the Minnesota Transportation Museum’s commitment to history as key to their winning proposal.
“As a historical institution, they have already demonstrated the ability to restore buildings and interpret history,” she said.
“It’s exciting how they can take a deep dive into the history and tie it into their ongoing work,” saint Julia McColley, Executive Director of the Fort Road Federation who also served on the selection committee.
McColley said what stood out most was the Museum’s history of rehabilitating historic infrastructure and their plan for interpretation of the 170 year-old house.
“The Museum has a long history of stewardship of other buildings,” McColley said.
Members of the committee said that the selection did not come without challenges, however.
The first challenge was what to do with the house itself. The home has been in storage since February after it was painstakingly disassembled after a months-long battle to save the crumbling building.
“It is a bittersweet celebration,” said Stanton. “The house should never have been in a position to be disassembled.”
Stanton said that, despite multiple historic designations on the home, the previous owners and city officials were not able to properly care for it.
After the home was disassembled, the group hoping to preserve it in its original location went to work on creating a plan for finding the right place for it to be restored.
“We wanted to make sure there was a public process for reconstruction of the house,” Stanton said.
That resulted in a “Request for Proposals,” which went out wide to anyone in their network.
Once the proposals started to come in, according to McColley, there was a preference to keep the structure as close to where it was originally built as possible.
“We wanted to keep it in West 7th, ideally,” she said.
With that said, all three committee members agreed that the Minnesota Transportation Museum, who hopes to begin a capital fundraising campaign very soon to fund reconstruction, offered the best final destination for the house despite not being located on the West 7th corridor. Especially given the house’s connection to how people first came to St. Paul in the early days of the city.
“When people migrated here, they generally came one of two ways, they either came up the river or on the railroads,” said White. “When people came here, they looked for jobs and lived near them.”
And that, according to White, is part of the historic and cultural significance of the house.
“It is a larger story of St. Paul history and the people who lived there,” he said. “The land initially belonged to the Dakota people.”
Stanton agreed, saying of the house, “It’s not important who built it, but the people who have been through it in the past 170 years.”
“That is one of the things in the history of St. Paul, not only black history,” White said. “The house is St. Paul History and Minnesota history. The people who lived there are part of that history.”