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W. E. Baker residence
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Minneapolis, Minnesota  910

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1910

Job Date (in Parabiographies): January 26, 1910

W. E. BAKER, 1805 Fremont Avenue South

Working drawings, February 15, 1910 Draughting: Marion A. Parker, G.F., Jr., W.G.P.

When I built my first home in Minneapolis (operation #5 ) the rubble masonry foundation was put in by an old codger by name Paul Hinman. He rode about in a broken-backed one-seated buckboard drawn by an ancient horse, and Mr. Hinman would fold his legs at or near the knees, and jack-knife to the ground between the tall, spindling wooden wheels of his "rig," while the horse looked around near-sightedly to see if the old man was going to "make it." One was not surprised to learn from his high pitched speech--soft and hard in the wrong spots--that he'd come all the way from the State of New Hampshire some time or the other.

He'd get his handful of old black hat requashed more nearly on the northern hemisphere of his head and make a remark, a considered remark, about whatever was toward. That very year he was being forced to learn concrete construction work and how to estimate and build it. His age-old trade of rubble stone masonry had come to its close. My home had the very last of such foundations. I think sentiment toward the old fellow prompted my decision to stay with the stone.

One morning, having no automobile (my first gas car was twelve years into the future) I asked to "ride along to town" with him. A remarkable experience it was, this buggy ride, and as he headed up at Fremont Avenue to let me off at W. E. Baker's, I told him of Baker's problem--"house slowly settling, and wouldn't stop--had been underpinned twice at considerable expense--still going down--three inches right now in the music room."

The old fellow drew his face into a sort of benevolent web of wrinkled smile, and after some study, tapped what was left of an old moire-covered buggy whip on the patent leather dashboard, spat over the nearby curbstone and remarked--"Yers ago the was a draw through heah, and time was when you could drive by any day and see 'em dumping old busted birdcages, hoopskirts, kerosene lanterns, milk pails and Lord knows what into this heah draw fer fill. That's what Mr. Baker's house is a-settin' on."

It was! And what a break that was for me. With confidence and as an "authority," I explained to dapper, precise, little Mr. Baker what was wrong. He thought I might be right. We went down seventeen feet below footings at the worst place, and if you have ever looked down a seventeen foot hole, you know it looks about fifty. We had to go beneath the foundation around two-thirds of the house walls, and we found all the objects predicted and many more too numerous to mention before we reached the level of the prehistoric daisies that originally kissed the feet of Minnehaha, and may have also felt tread of Henry Thoreau who, in the universal search for cure of tuberculosis by the process of endless travel, passed on two miles beyond this point to the south shore of Lake Harriet in 1853. John Jager and I like to think that Thoreau's ardent feet actually trod the ground which during forty years John has there shaped to forms of sculptured grace and charm and we trust will endure for ages to come.


   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.4]
research courtesy mark hammons