From stage coaches to tea parties
A sign said "Welcome to the Abbey" as fans of Downton Abbey, a popular British series that aired until 2015 on PBS, gathered at the Historic Scott House in rural Carlton for high tea.
The tables were formally set for tea, including white tablecloths and napkins, as classical music played softly in the background.
Host and owner of the house, James Sheetz, greeted guests, then disappeared into the kitchen to check on the food.
The menu was a typical high tea that would be seen on the show: cream of asparagus and cauliflower soup, shrimp with mixed greens, assorted tea sandwiches and of course, dessert. Sitting beside tiny tangy lemon tarts was a white almond cupcake topped with raspberry jam and Devonshire cream.
When the meal was finished, Valerie Coit gave a presentation from her visit of Highclere Castle, where "Downton Abbey" was filmed.
The formal scene was quite a contrast from the humble beginnings of the house.
In the mid-1800s, a rustic stage stop station and hotel sat on the corner of what is known as Scotts Corner, the intersection of county roads 3 and 4 south of Carlton. According to Sheetz, the station was the first stop for travelers coming from Superior on their way to the Twin Cities.
The rough, wooden rectangular structure was rendered obsolete after the railroad came through several years later.
The old stage stop station was purchased by Joseph and Rebecca Mayer, who turned it into a home with gardens in 1881 and lived there until 1909.
Walter and Minnie Scott purchased the farm, including several outbuildings and Lac La Belle, also known as Twin Lakes, in 1910. The original station was expanded and improved many times over the years; a large wood burning furnace and indoor plumbing were installed.
The couple divorced in 1914 and Minnie kept the property.
Sheetz's grandparents, Harry and Rowena, bought the property in 1942 and continued to renovate the house. Sheetz's parents bought the property in 1949 for $3,000. They raised their two sons and two daughters there.
When Sheetz was researching the history of the home, he discovered an account of the little lake being described as full of leeches in the early 1900s. Years later, his parents would find out for themselves.
"When my parents were first married, they lived upstairs in the house and they didn't have running water. My mother would bathe in the lake in the summertime," Sheetz said. "She would come out and leeches would be stuck on her."
Sheetz, with the help of Marlene Wisuri, turned his research into a book filled with historical photos.
His parents moved out of the house and Sheetz began renovations in 2000. He is a self-proclaimed history and antiques enthusiast. The house is furnished with 19th-century pieces as well as dishes handed down in his family.
Sheetz opened the historic home as an event center in 2001.
"We do weddings, meetings, anniversaries, teas, musical events," he said. "We do about 12 different events a year." The first private event was a 50th anniversary for a Cloquet couple.
His favorite event to date was "Letters" in 2015. The outdoors event featured letters from his father to his mother during World War II.
"It was my favorite because it was so personal," Sheetz said.
"He has always been interested in antiques," his sister, Katie Nisula, said during the high tea. "He loves all things English."
He has visited England many times over the years. Nisula enjoyed growing up in the historic house and now enjoys attending the events her brother hosts.
Another guest, Margaret Ritson, grew up in England.
"It's not like the tea we would have had," Ritson said with her English accent. "We were common folk. We would eat bread and jam. We would have been drinking black tea in mugs instead of tea cups."
Years ago, when Ritson was in England, Sheetz visited and treated her to tea at the ritzy Savoy Hotel.
Ritson said she enjoyed the pretty Americanized version of high teas at the Scott House.
The guests at the tables shared laughs as well as the meal. There was plenty of discussion about which events were favorites. Several agreed the TV theme songs event was at the top of their favorites list, that also includes plays and musical events that have been hosted over the last 17 years.
One of the guests was a transplant from Twin Cities. She said she was excited to find these types of events in the area. Guests also traveled from Hinckley and Duluth to attend the high tea.
Many guests said they were planning to attend the Kentucky Derby Day event May 5. The theme includes derby hats and foods that would be served at the Kentucky Derby.
Brenda Carlson, a server, was sporting a pink fascinator hat perched jauntily on her head, which elicited many compliments from the guests.
"I'm going to have the hats and suits, so that will be fun," Sheetz said.
For more information on events at the Historic Scott House, visit historicscotthouse.com or find the "Historic Scott House" page on Facebook.