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Afton set to demolish house from 1850s

A historic house that Afton City Council was working to preserve was revealed not to have the unique history the city originally thought it did.

Back in December, Afton City Council learned that a house iit had planned to demolish as part of its Flood Hazard Mitigation project had some unique and rare history.

At that time, the Afton Historical Society informed City Council that the living room of the house, located on St. Croix Trail S, is rumored to have been built by a free black man, London Peters, in the 1850s.

However, City Council learned during its May 21 meeting that the house, which the city owns, wasn't the house they had initially thought it was.

"We were initially looking at this house for historic significance," City Administrator Ron Moorse said, "But, I think we've reached the conclusion that it doesn't have enough historic significance to save it."

City Council Member Bill Palmquist informed City Council that the Peters' house was actually a neighboring property to the city-owned house and has since been torn down.

"This isn't the house we thought it was," Palmquist said. "But it was on the same lot."

"It's still very very old."

A new history

Palmquist has been working with Ken Marten of the Afton Historical Society to uncover the true history of the house.

Although, it can be proven that London and Jane Peters, a free black couple, did in fact live in Afton in the mid-1850s, Martens said, their cabin no longer sits on the lot.

"The actual cabin disappears from Afton" he said, "probably after the great St. Croix River floods of 1951 and of 1952."

Martens said the last photo Afton has of the Peters cabin is dated 1948.

Martens said not much has been uncovered about the actual history of the house, except that the living room, which measures 8 feet by 12 feet, was an original cabin from the 1850s.

Moving forward

Since the house doesn't have the unique history that the city originally thought, Palmquist said the city can proceed with soliciting bids for demolition of the house.

However, Palmquist said Afton Historical Society is looking at possible ways of either moving the living room, or preserving a portion of the flooring and setting up an exhibit, complete with London and Jane Peters' history, at the museum.

Palmquist said Afton Historical Society is hoping to know the future of the house within the next few weeks.

"It's doubtful that we will be able to do anything, but we're going to see what we can do," Palmquist said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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