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Benchmarks in Minnesota's Historic Preservation

Restoring a national historic landmark

The Thomas and Kari Veblen Farmstead near Nerstrand in rural Rice County was built in the years 1867-1870 by Thomas Veblen, father of Thorstein Veblen, internationally renowned economist and author Veblen Farm of The Theory of the Leisure Class.

Thorstein Veblen lived there during his boyhood years and for four years following his graduation from Yale University. Though the Veblen family left the farm in 1893, it was occupied as an active farm until 1970 and abandoned shortly thereafter. It was listed on the National Registerof Historic Places in 1975 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981.

In 1982, the Veblen Preservation Project bought the property and financed emergency repairs. It continued to deteriorate, however, and was listed as a Priority I National Endangered Site by the National Park Service in 1989.

The Minnesota Historical Society's State Historic Preservation Office sponsored a reuse study in 1990, which concluded that private sale was the best option for the landmark's survival. SHPO took the lead in seeking a buyer. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota agreed to accept a preservation easement on the property, which ensures preservation in perpetuity through annual monitoring and requires that the property be open to the public a set number of days each year.

William C. Melton of Edina acquired the property in 1992 and began efforts to save it. He hired restoration architect Steve Edwins of Northfield and contractor Peter McKinnon to manage the restoration. Melton's careful research into the Norwegian-American experience and the Veblen family guided his restoration. The entire Veblen family was accomplished. Thomas, the father, was a skilled carpenter. Eight of his nine children completed secondary school; three graduated from Carleton College; and one, Emily, was reputedly the first daughter of Norwegian immigrants ever to graduate from an American college. Melton's research on the house and out-buildings guided their meticulous restoration.

For his financial support and unflagging five-year commitment in rescuing this landmark, Melton received a 1999 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. The Veblen Preservation Project re-acquired the property in 1998, and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota continues to retain the preservation easement.

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