RED WING – You may have noticed it if you’ve ever been one of the 20,000 people who travel daily on US Highway 61 on the edge of Red Wing, just a few miles from the Mississippi River.
The iconic 115-foot water tower at the Anderson Center is architecturally beautiful. The red-brick tower stretches above the 350-acre Tower View Estate, which was built a century ago and hosted the approximately 15,000 AP Anderson grain experiments for the Quaker Oats Company. (Anderson invented puffed rice, a revolutionary product when it was introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.) Anderson’s self-sufficient estate served as a family home, research center, and working farm, and the water tower stored about 24,000 gallons of water.
However, only a few years ago this water tower was collapsing.
Specifically, the unusual circular balcony of the water tower was collapsing. Drainage issues had caused âchipping,â where rock and concrete chipped off over time. It was still structurally sound, but it wouldn’t remain so if the problem wasn’t resolved.
So the Anderson Center, a community gathering place and art incubator on the historic estate, embarked on a five-year restoration project. Bad concrete had to be hammered and removed, then the balcony wall had to be repainted, then the water tower had to be repainted – all to meticulous historical specifications. The workers had a 400-page manual of historical standards to follow.
âIf you do it wrong, you can do more damage to the thing you’re trying to preserve,â said Stephanie Rogers, executive and artistic director of the Anderson Center. âUsing the wrong paint or the wrong mortar can alter the way these structures look. These were built so well in the early 1900s. The construction here was top notch, by craftsmen who really knew what they were doing. “
The project cost about $ 350,000, a significant portion of which comes from a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, and was completed earlier this fall.
âIt’s working at this height that can be so difficult,â said Joe Loer, director of real estate and finance at Anderson Center.
The tower restoration underscores the importance of the Anderson Center to Red Wing and Goodhue County. Eight of the 20 buildings on campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is the modern use of the grounds that is proving its worth. The center welcomes artists in residence for two to four weeks from May to October. Local artists rent studios. A music school is run in a renovated henhouse. As the holidays approach, an art gallery puts on a holiday show. A renovated barn hosts concerts and a recently renovated rear patio will be used for outdoor concerts and movie nights.
The center hosts a children’s book festival each fall, and part of the space is rented to an alternative high school of about 60 students. Most of the estate’s land is a nature reserve at the bottom of the Cannon River. During the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders at the center stressed that its grounds are open to the public, including a 15-acre sculpture park that has become a magnet for families in the area.
As important as it is for the Anderson Center to preserve the legacy of its founder and to embark on restoration projects like the old water tower, this is only part of its mission.
âIt’s not a museum,â Rogers said. “Our goal is not to keep things exactly as they were in the 1920s. Our goal is to use these incredible resources to support the arts and ideas of the 21st century.”