Carlton approves permit for bed and breakfast at historic Oldenburg HouseCarlton will soon have what is arguably the very first bed and breakfast facility in the area.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton will soon have what is arguably the very first bed and breakfast facility in the area. Following a public hearing on July 10, the planning commission recommended approval of a conditional use permit for Helen Swanson to develop and operate a bed and breakfast, coffee house/small restaurant and event venue at the historic Oldenburg House on Carlton’s Chestnut Avenue.
“To my knowledge, as city clerk for 30 years, there has never been a bed and breakfast in Carlton up until now,” said retired clerk Larry Beckstrom.
Current city clerk Claudine Van Guilder agrees, adding the proposal received positive affirmation from surrounding residents.
“The proposal got a wonderful response from the community and strong support from the neighborhood and the council,” said Van Guilder. “The Swansons have worked very hard with the state of Minnesota to make sure everything is in place.”
The new business, at 604 Chestnut Ave., is located in a neighborhood zoned in an R-1 (low residential), requiring that a conditional use permit be issued by the city council.
“The only concern that our mayor, Leola Rodd, had with it,” said Swanson, “was parking,” explaining that outdoor events held at the facility could attract up to 200 people. “When we showed her how much land we have here [seven acres], however, I think she agreed it was workable.”
Swanson plans to operate the bed and breakfast with the help of her son Glen, a jazz musician active in the Twin Cities music scene, who will serve as business manager and event coordinator. The state inspector is slated to visit the property on July 31, and the Swansons said they are hoping to open for business with the bed and breakfast end of the operation shortly afterward.
The facility will initially open with two bedrooms available for guests, with plans to increase that number to up to four guest rooms in the future. The Swansons also hope to possibly add a coffee house/café in the architecturally inviting space that currently serves as a garage in two to three years, after the operation has had time to get on its feet.
“We’d also love to be able to do some events here in terms of weddings and other special occasions as well as outdoor music performances,” said Glen.
Helen and her late husband, Leslie, first moved into the historic house in 1968 and raised their five children there.
“I’ve been here for 44 years and it’s so beautiful,” said Helen. “My husband worked so hard on it. I always wanted to share it in some way, but he loved his privacy. It was all about nature and God for him.”
Following Les’s death a year ago, Helen and her family knew they would have to have some sort of plan for the house moving forward or she would have to move.
“It’s a full-time job to keep up with it and none of my kids want it except Glen,” she said. “They think it’s too much work.”
And so, in order to generate the type of revenue that would make it possible to keep the house in the family, the two of them came up with a plan to make it available to others.
“We want to open up this house to the community,” said Glen, “because this is part of the community. The guy who built this house is the reason the county seat is located in Carlton. He lobbied very strongly to keep it here, along with helping develop Jay Cooke Park.”
The property, known as the Henry C. Oldenburg home, was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 27, 2006. It is impressive with its gated entrance, line of cedar trees, and a concrete basin pool called the “Morning Glory Pool,” named for the morning-glory flowers that were once planted around it. Emil Newquist of Cloquet built the Classic Revival-style house in 1894 using Wrenshall brick. It boasts a wide porch on three sides and the inside still has several original fixtures.
It’s the man behind the house, however, who is historically significant. Henry C. Oldenburg was an attorney and politician who owned numerous parcels of land in Carlton and throughout the county in his lifetime.
Originally from Green Bay, Wis., Oldenburg came to Carlton County in 1884 after earning a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. He was elected county attorney in 1886 and served two terms. Oldenburg was a conservationist who believed in the management of natural resources. He was chair of the Jay Cooke State Park Commission, helping to found the park and ensure its future. He also served as a member of the Minnesota Forestry Board from 1911 to 1917 and assisted with the founding of the Cloquet Forestry Station. Additionally, Oldenburg helped install Carlton as the county seat and helped in coordinating the immediate and long-term recovery efforts after the 1918 Fire.
Oldenburg’s wife, Mary, hosted many social occasions at the home that were often related to her many civic and social engagements. Documents say she was a well-educated woman who was involved in the establishment of local and traveling libraries, and that she and their daughter, Margaret, may have helped inspire the work to create Jay Cooke State Park, among other projects.
Within a few years of Oldenburg’s death in 1926, a massive boulder monument commemorating his contribution to the creation of Jay Cooke State Park was placed at Oldenburg Point, a park overlook with sweeping vistas of the St. Louis River Valley. Shortly after Mary Oldenburg’s death in 1931, the home was sold to Alfred and Rosina Lee. Alfred Lee served as county sheriff and owned a lumber yard in Carlton, records show. When the Swansons bought the home in 1968, they began extensive restorations, with painstaking effort and attention to historic details.
The Swansons are planning to hold an open house at the gracious Oldenburg House as part of the Carlton Daze celebration this Saturday, July 28, from 1-4 p.m. – complete with peach tea.
“Not only do we have this wonderful small town and the chance to give people the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle,” said Glen, “but I feel like there’s something bigger than the human experience, and this property has a way of connecting you with that. People within the artistic, creative community welcome that type of connection, so I see us developing a really nice community of people who come here just to get away. It’s not just for the Carlton community but for the entire region.”