Ard Godfrey House
In the spring of 1848, from a primitive camp near the falls of St. Anthony on the Mississippi River, new settler Ard Godfrey wrote home to his wife Harriet back in Maine:
"We have had a very cold, dry winter here, it is quite cold today the wind blows pretty hard."
Godfrey was a skilled millwright (a forerunner of the modern mechanical engineer) from the East Coast who had been recruited by early settler and entrepreneur Franklin Steele for $1,500 a year to build a dam and lumber mill at the falls of St. Anthony (now part of the city of Minneapolis) in what was then called the Wisconsin Territory. It would be another two years before the area was designated the Minnesota Territory, and another decade still before the Territory was admitted to the union. Godfrey's letter home continues:
"I have got the dam most done and have built some piers for the boom, and in short, I have got along with the work much better than I supposed last fall. I have got along better since Mr. Cheever went off than before for I have no one to bother me on my assignment."
Six months later, Godfrey oversaw the construction of the first lumber mill at St. Anthony (with or without the irksome Mr. Cheever), and lumbermen drove the first logs down the river. With a new source of power and a wealth of building materials, Godfrey traveled back to Maine to fetch his wife and two small children. The return trip proved arduous, and while Godfrey persevered, returning to St. Anthony in late fall on horseback to commence building a 1˝ story wood-frame house for his family, his wife and young children stopped to winter with relatives in Beloit, Wisconsin along the way.
The following spring, Harriet and the children finished the journey to Minnesota, arriving in St. Anthony by riverboat in April 1849. Ard was 35; Harriet was 32 and eight months pregnant. A month later Harriet gave birth to a baby girl they called Hattie. The young family settled into their new house where they would live until 1853, when their growing family (they would go on to have ten children) and new economic opportunities took them to Minnehaha Falls, where Ard would build another dam, then a saw mill and a gristmill.
Did You Know?
A succession of pioneers lived in the house until 1905, after which it became a historic museum for the Hennepin County Territorial Pioneer's Association. The house has been moved four times and now stands on Chute Square in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, at University Avenue and Central Avenue S.E., just two blocks from its original site on the Mississippi River.
In 1976, as a gift to the city of Minneapolis in honor of its Bicentennial, The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis undertook the restoration of the Ard Godfrey House. Some 10,000 volunteer hours later, the house opened to an attending audience of 800 on July 4th, 1979. Today, the Godfrey House is the oldest remaining frame house in the city. The house has been impeccably restored by The Woman's Club and is filled with furnishings and household artifacts authentic to the 1850s--some original to the Godfrey family, including the walnut baby cradle and the Chickering rosewood piano that graces the parlor. Volunteers and interns dressed in 1850s period costumes give tours of the one and a half story house.
The Ard Godfrey house is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays in June, July and August, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm. (The last complete tour is at 3:30 pm.) Bring a lunch and enjoy it at one of the picnic tables in Chute Square. Admission to the Godfrey House is free; donations are welcome. There are no restroom facilities on site. Special tours for groups of ten or more may be arranged year round for a minimal fee by calling Muriel (612-781-8791).
For further details or additional information please call The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis (612-813-5300, option #9).
At the Ard Godfrey House we recognize the diverse needs of our audience and strive to offer accessible programming to enable all visitors to explore this historic site.
However, accessibility for guests with limited mobility can be challenging due to historic and natural features. With advanced notice, we will make every effort to respond to access needs. Our goal is to provide as much information as possible to guests before they visit our site.
For visitors who are blind or have low vision, a descriptive narrative of the Ard Godfrey House is recorded and available upon request. For visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing, printed information is available on site. For visitors with mobility disabilities, a disability entrance is provided and selected areas of the Ard Godfrey house are wheelchair accessible.