Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Historic Housing in Yankton Spurs Ideas for NoMi

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

While vacationing with my family in Yankton, South Dakota this Easter, I was left with a few hours to kill on a lazy Saturday afternoon.  My sister-in-law and newborn nephew would be my tour guides, but let's be honest here, Yankton is not a bustling metropolis with a host of activities at the ready.  So although many people would struggle to find things to do, I knew immediately what I wanted.  I turned to her and decisively said, "Take me to the crappy part of town with nice houses."

And what I love most about saying that was that she knew exactly what I meant.  "Oh, that area would be...

...the historic housing district next to the old college that got turned into a minimum-security prison."

"That sounds PERFECT," I said, and off we went.

What follows is a series of photos from wandering around that district.  My sis-in-law didn't know too much about the houses I was salivating over, but promised that the next time I was in town she'd set up a coffee meeting with their local housing historian.  As if my adorable nephew weren't reason enough to go back and visit, now I'm already planning my next trip to South Dakota.  Feel free to either linger on the photos or scroll to the end of the post for the proposal of what we could do in Minneapolis.

I believe this is an old hitching post for a horse, and something that old makes this house easily among my favorites.

The problem I was having, as I mentioned above, was that my sister-in-law didn't know too much about these houses.  Were they historic because of an occupant?  A designer or architect?  A certain architectural style?  Was the historic figure or style of local or broader importance?  All excellent questions, and virtually none of them were answered.  What Yankton's historic district did have, though, were these interesting little placards showing which houses in the district were officially designated.

Do we even have those at all in Minneapolis?  Because I've been through some areas in SoMi, like the Healy block, and I can't remember ever seeing one.  I happen to rent an apartment in a house that has a historically designated exterior, and the only time anything is ever posted that would mark it as historic is when an orange placard notes an upcoming hearing.

Little signs out front don't go far enough though.  I tried Googling some of the names on the Yankton signs and didn't really get anywhere.  Sure you can download a historic home brochure from the city's tourism site, but that information is woefully incomplete and I only found it later anyway.  If we were to mark historic houses in Minneapolis, how would people be able to access information instantly as they see some of the significant homes in our fair city?

I'm glad you asked.  I'm always looking for ways to use smartphones and social media to share information and organize our community.  Why not set up at least basic web sites for each historic house?  Then we could link to those sites using QR codes.

Image from a blog that is no longer live and cannot be linked.
Chino Latino and other restaurants have started to experiment with QR or "quick response" codes.  These puppies function essentially like a bar code, and can be used as hyperlinks to coupon items.  Chino Latino was looking for ways to create kind of a QR scavenger hunt for free items in hopes to draw people to their establishment.  (As if the place needed MORE of a hip, trendy reputation)

Just imagine:  you walk down the street and see a gorgeous home.  There's a sign in front that designates it as a historic property.  In one corner of that sign is what looks to be a Rorschach ink blot.  Being a tech-savvy aspiring local historian, you whip out your phone and scan the code.  And in an instant you have the whole housing history at your fingertips.  When was it built?  When was it designated historic?  Why?  Who built it?  Who lived there?

With so much amazing technology propelling our future, we ought to be able to use some of it to connect us to our past.


  1. As you and I previously discussed, the City of Minneapolis does have a program for producing historic plaques. Several designated structures currently wear them, including some homes on the Healy Block. However, they are much smaller than these signs, are cast-metal, affixed directly to the building (as opposed to a sign in the yard) and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $250.

    (I believe that last part is the reason why you don't see more around.)

  2. This would be a great idea for Hawthorne as they already have 9 designated historic homes.

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for HPC to get signs for you. When I talked to Jack Byers 3 years ago, he highly discouraged us from introducing any historic sign programs in Minneapolis saying "HPC still has the contact information for their sign program" and vaguely indicated that they might restart the sign program if funds warranted - lol.

    In truth, HPC has only designated 2 residential properties in the last 12 years. Any properties that currently have signs were produced over 15 years ago during more progressive administrations.

    If you have an older homes with a particularly interesting history I would look into having some signs made for your community, the rest of that stuff can come later.

  3. Within one day, searching for Yankton historic district or Yankton historic housing brings up this post on the first page - an example of how social media can be used to draw people to such things.

    Maybe we should just start up our own grassroots program like this and not wait for any department to do it for us. I'm even willing to check with the owner of Chino Latino to see if setting up QR codes is easy or cheap enough to do on a smaller scale like this. If nothing else, we can put up signs with web addresses.

  4. The Historic Old Highland project has begun documenting some of the more significant properties in the neighborhood. Check out our Old Highland neighborhood on Placeography.org for photos and some historical information re: some 60 plus properties. This summer we are hosting a Walking Tour on Saturday, July 16 to do a sidewalk tour of some of these marvelous structures.


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