Piece of Chatfield landscape donated to city to ensure historic preservation

This might be just any retaining wall, but it's not...the landscaping behind two homes on Winona Street south of the Methodist Church is historic in that it was built by George Haven, a notable Chatfield resident who spent 37 years constructing the wall, piece by piece. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

George Haven is shown with his garden wall in an August 1965 newspaper clipping. The wall was recently donated to the city of Chatfield for preservation. SUBMITTED PHOTO
By : 

George Haven can rest easier now — his wall’s forever in good hands.

“The handprints and initials of Haven’s daughter, Deborah Annah, were impressed in (the wall) in 1940. Other family names and handprints are in other wall sections,” reads a caption of a newspaper photograph of the Haven’s wall. This is the place where Deborah Annah Haven, now Deborah Annah Gerlach, put her small hands into the cement of the rock wall behind her father’s home, “The Oaks,” on Winona Street SE, just south of the current Chatfield United Methodist Church.

The wall was a construction project that took Haven 37 years to complete and is now property of the city of Chatfield, thanks to a generous donation from California residents Deborah and her husband, Fred.

The wall was already 13 years old when Deborah made her impression in it, and now, knowing that it needs the historic preservation only the city in which it stands can provide, she and her husband deeded it and a small tract of land on either side to the city during a late July city council meeting. The Gerlachs also added a sum of $50,000 for its repair and ongoing maintenance.

City Clerk Joel Young related that the money will be housed within the Chosen Valley Community Foundation’s coffers (CVCF) to properly care for the donated structure.

An article in the Sunday, Aug. 8, 1965, Minneapolis Tribune outlined exactly how George Haven came to start stacking up the things that mattered to him.

“Back in 1927, George A. Haven of Chatfield began the construction of a wall. It was not just an ordinary sort of wall. Not just any sort of building material went into it. To qualify for Haven’s wall, a stone or piece of brick must have a pedigree. While the wall was built basically of stone taken from a nearby quarry, one section of it is built with stone taken from the foundation of the Chatfield school building, which was erected in 1888 and demolished in 1963. But incorporated with the ordinary building stones, at frequent intervals, are other stones — the stones with pedigrees. They come either from distant places or have some historical significance. Among items which went into the wall were a stone from King Tut’s tomb, another picked off the beach at the Sea of Galilee, another from the Great Wall of China, still another from the Parthenon at Athens.”

It continued, “Stones of local historical interest, such as one from the Chatfield Academy, dating back to 1858, and another from the United States Land Office, dating to 1856, went into the wall. Of wider, state significance, are stones from Fort Snelling, the Sibley House and the Alexander Faribault House. Still other stones came from the battlefield at Gettysburg, Fort Sumter, Custer’s massacre and many other fields of conflict. In addition to stones connected with historical areas or places, different types of stone are represented — obsidian from the Yellowstone, a piece of lava rock snatched from the top of Mt. Vesuvius, even the petrified thigh bone of a Montana dinosaur. A series of small stones embedded in the cap which surmounts the wall represents a trip around the world — brought back from such places as Peru, the Fiji Islands, Turkey, Switzerland, Spain and Morocco.”

The article went on, “The wall, which separates the Haven home, ‘The Oaks,’ from the highway running past it, is 245 feet long, running six to seven feet in height, of which two and a half feet are underground. The width at the bottom is 36 to 40 inches, the width at the top 18 inches. It is laid entirely without mortar, except for the reinforced concrete capping and some special stones which are laid into the courses with cement. Haven, who is president of the Root River State Bank, did all of the work himself except for the last 70 feet. With this section of the wall, he was assisted by his fellow townsman, Richard Theel. After 37 years, the wall was finally finished in 1964. As it now stands, it incorporates a good part of the history of the world. And in addition, it also carries a family record — handprints, names and dates impressed in the mortar of the cap. As a guide to visitors, Haven has had printed a pamphlet which locates the different stones of interest which are built into the wall.”

The Chatfield Historical Society shared a list of items and souvenirs embedded in the wall, including stones from 32 states, five provinces of Canada and 23 foreign lands, “a stone from an old mill known as ‘Lower Mill’ below Pease’s Bridge; a stone from the Medary House — Chatfield Hotel from 1857 to 1929; a stone from Chatfield Academy, Chatfield’s first school building for secondary education; a stone from Eureka House; an early hotel on the west corner of Second and Fillmore St.; memorial stone to Mrs. John Luark, a pioneer who was buried near the spot; a native fossil found in Chatfield; stone from the United States Land Office on Twiford Street in Chatfield; a stone from Cussins’ Mill in Chatfield” and numerous other items.”

The city’s preservation planner, Robert Vogel, described the wall in a letter to Young and the city council as a heritage preservationist would, stating, “The Haven Wall is a freestanding coursed square rubble masonry structure approximately 245 feet in length. The top of the wall is approximately four feet above grade and is capped by a cement coping. The structure appears to be about 3.5 feet thick at its base and is roughly 18 inches wide at the top. The footings consist of large stones embedded a foot or two into the ground. The wall was dry-laid with rubble masonry laid in courses of equal layers — the stones are stacked close against each other, without mortar, and there is no evidence of reinforcement. The predominant building material appears to be locally-quarried limestone or dolostone that has been roughly squared by hammer-dressing. In a few places, loose stones and rock chips have been used to fill cracks and voids. The wall reportedly incorporates a large number of ‘souvenir’ stones collected from other locations, as well as salvaged pieces of structural masonry reclaimed from historic sites. The only architectural detailing consists of a few symmetrically spaced stone piers and timber gates, and the cement coping or cap that runs along the top of the wall.”

Vogel reviewed the proposal for the city to receive the wall, and on July 5, 2018, he wrote, “I have reviewed the proposal regarding donation of the ‘Haven Wall’ to the City of Chatfield. As you know, the stone wall is located on properties that were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as the George A. Haven House (also known as ‘The Oaks’) and the Lucian Johnson House (also known as ‘The Cottage’). The wall was built by George A Haven between the years 1927 and 1964 and runs parallel to Old Territorial Road, across the backs of the lots occupied by the historic houses (The Oaks and The Cottage). The wall is not mentioned in the National Register survey report or the registration documents placed on file with the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, which administers the National Register program under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. However, the National Register form indicates that the historic property boundaries included the entire parcels associated with the historic houses. Presumably, the wall was not documented because it was less than 50 years old when the National Register nomination was prepared.”

His letter pointed out that Chatfield’s Heritage Preservation Commission discussed the acquisition of the Haven Wall over the course of several meetings throughout 2016 and 2017 and determined that “it represented a well-preserved example of vernacular landscape architecture that contributed to the heritage resource value of The Oaks and The Cottage.”

Recognizing that the long row of stones is quite irreplaceable and rather unique, Chatfield’s city council voted unanimously during the July 23, 2018, meeting to accept George Haven’s wall as a gift to the city from his daughter who has made an impression on how Chatfield will see history.