Scandia residents and city officials praised the Minnesota Legislature’s decision to include $2.2 million for the Water Tower Barn Arts and Heritage Center in a statewide capital investment bill that came together in the final hours of the session yesterday. The bill is now heading to Gov. Walz’s desk for signature, expected without delay.
A joint project of the City of Scandia and Scandia Heritage Alliance, the Arts & Heritage Center includes space to celebrate Scandia’s rich history, an outdoor amphitheater, a splash pad play area for kids, and a wetland overlook and trails.
“We are grateful to Sen. Karin Housley, Rep. Josiah Hill, and retired Rep. Bob Dettmer for their bipartisan efforts to make this project a reality,” said Scandia Mayor Christine Maefsky. “It’s only through their critical efforts that we are celebrating this moment.”
The Legislature also financed another long-held goal for the city, awarding $2.68 million for construction of a Gateway Trail extension through Scandia, part of the omnibus environment and natural resources bill. The project includes one mile of trail starting from the Scandia Village Center with a tunnel under Oakhill Road. Funding for the last mile of trail to connect into William O’Brien State Park will be applied for after completion of this segment.
“Approval of Gateway funding was the culmination of six years of hard work,” said Mayor Maefsky, who credited the cooperative efforts of city and legislative officials, Washington County, the Minnesota DNR, consultant Bill Strusinski, and Scandia volunteers. She noted that St. Paul Senator Foung Hawj rallied for the project in meetings of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which
recommends awards from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund supported by Minnesota State Lottery proceeds. “Sen. Hawj and his family enjoy William O’Brien State Park in Scandia, and he recognizes the value of connecting St. Paul residents to the St. Croix River Valley,” said Maefsky.
The legislative grant for the Water Tower Barn Arts & Heritage Center brings this project closer to full funding, and SHA plans to launch a capital campaign to get the project across the finish line. To date, SHA has raised $600,000 in cash, donated professional services, materials, and park land provided by the city. In addition, SHA is working with MacDonald and Mack Architects to place the Water Tower Barn on the National Register of Historic Places to open the opportunity for historic preservation grants.
“Never underestimate what a group of passionate individuals can accomplish!” said Susan Rodsjo, board chair of Scandia Heritage Alliance (SHA). “We have tapped into a network of amazing Scandia volunteers — you wouldn’t believe the talent in this community. We owe a debt of thanks to attorney John Herman and legislative consultant Bill Strusinski, Scandia residents who are experts on legislative funding.”
Rodsjo continued, “We are confident in our ability to raise the remaining funds, and we hope to begin construction in 2025.”
Maefsky said the Arts and Heritage Center — slated for construction on parkland adjacent to City Hall — aligns perfectly with Scandia’s Comprehensive Plan. “The center will celebrate our heritage, enhance community character, and protect natural resources – all goals identified in our Comprehensive Plan. I look forward to the shared sense of community the project will bring to Scandia — and its value as a regional asset for the entire St. Croix River Valley.”
The Water Tower Barn will be reconstructed across the road from Gammelgården Museum, which tells the history of Swedish immigration from 1850 to the 1880s. Lynn Blomstrand Moratzka, director of Gammelgården and a member of SHA’s Heritage Committee, said the project will pick up the next phase of the immigration story as Scandia grew into a lively agricultural community and commercial center.
The Water Tower Barn’s distinctive cupula was built to support a windmill that pumped water from the well below. It also housed a wood water tank, elevated to increase water pressure. During the second half of the 19th century, combinations of windmills and elevated holding tanks were used by municipalities, railroads, and large ranches as a means of supplying clean water for residents and businesses.
“The folks who started Scandia were on the cutting edge of 20th-century innovation,” said SHA board member Greg Amundson. “We plan to showcase their pioneering spirit with a working historic windmill, tankhouse and hand pump.”
“Kids will love the splash pad next to the barn – and they can also try pumping water by hand from an old-fashioned water pump,” continued Amundson.
Herman said that understanding complicated state programs like the Environmental Trust Fund, Legacy Funding, and State Bond Financing is easy for large communities like Woodbury, Stillwater, or St. Paul — but is actually more important for a small rural city like Scandia, which has fewer planning employees and resources.
“State funding enables us to create institutions and projects that make Scandia an attractive place to live in and visit, and it provides work for local contractors,” said Herman, a retired real estate attorney who has worked on large cultural and heritage projects across the Minnesota, including the Ordway Center, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Root River Bike Trail through Lanesboro, and the Norshor Theatre in Duluth. “We are lucky to have far-sighted government and community organizations who are willing to help us obtain these resources.”
“I love how Scandia cares about history and enjoys looking back at how we’ve evolved, while simultaneously finding ways to grow gracefully and preserve our historic nature,” said Scandia resident Sarah Yost. “I look forward to the day when we can bike with our kids to town and stop at the splash pad. I can see older kids really enjoying the amphitheater.”
In addition to history displays, the Arts and Heritage Center will include an outdoor amphitheater and a small stage in the barn for music recitals, concerts, small theater productions, and movies. Plans also include local and regional art shows, art classes, youth theater classes, and summer camps. The barn will seat up to 80 people, while the amphitheater will seat about 150-250 people.
“The craftsmanship of the Water Tower Barn is impressive. I look forward to the time when Scandia residents can enjoy this rustic space constructed by our city’s founders — including hand-hewn logs in a post-and-beam construction,’ said Peter Nora, a member of SHA’s board of directors.
The Arts & Heritage Center is just one of several projects for Scandia Heritage Alliance, whose mission is to preserve and celebrate Scandia’s rich history, culture, arts, and rural character. In 2021, SHA launched its Scandia History Series, with programs on topics such as the History of Marine Mills Communities (including Scandia), Logging in the St. Croix River Valley, and a Historic Walking Tour of the Scandia Village Center.
Later this summer, the Alliance plans to publish its Scandia Heritage Trail map, which has been supported by grants from the Minnesota Historical Society and will be available free to the public thanks to local business sponsorship. The map will guide residents and visitors on a walking, biking, or driving tour of Scandia’s historic sites with short stories about each, including Native American history, sites in the Village Center, the Präst Hus and log church at Gammelgården Museum, two historic homes, the historic ghost town of Copas, and sites on the St. Croix River.
“When I was a young girl growing up in this beautiful historic town, my mom [Dolores Peterson] and her friends started the Scandia Civic Club. One of their projects was to create a map of various historical sites. What a tribute to my dear mom to have the opportunity to continue her work in preserving our heritage and creating a historic map of our community,” said Tammy Peterson, a member of the SHA Board of Directors and Heritage Committee.
Scandia Heritage Alliance is excited to have achieved funding for a major portion of its Heritage Center project. “We still have an immense amount of work before us, but we are ready to dig in,” said Amundson. “This center will be an educational and recreational place for Scandia residents to gather and learn about the roots of our community.”