Christie House turns 110 years

Doctor practiced medicine in Long Prairie home in early l900s One-hundred-ten years ago, one of the finest homes in Long Prairie was finished and ready for its occupants. Dr. George Christie, his wife and four young children took up residence on the edge of the community’s downtown area. It was from this hub that Dr. Christie saw patients, performed surgeries, pulled together land deals and was involved with banking. In the process, he also documented his medical practice, creating handwritten accounts of ailments and treatments. Dr. Christie’s wife, Susan, who was both a teacher and principal in Milwaukee before her marriage in 1887, became a leader of society and culture in a town quickly growing from its origin as an Indian agency. The Christie’s new Queen Anne style home was a marvel of modern décor and conveniences, with stained glass, Tiffany lamps and electricity (with gas back-up). Indoor plumbing, however, wasn’t possible for nearly ten more years when the city installed a sewer system. Susan Christie died in 1910. Just over a year later, George married his childhood friend, Ida Mason, who had recently lost both her husband and her daughter, an only child. George’s three sons were nearly grown; his only daughter had died in 1902 at the age of eight. Ida came to Long Prairie from Chicago where she had been a school teacher. George was one of the founding members of the local Methodist Church. Ida was a member of Friends in Council (a women’s group dedicated to learning about cultural, historical, and scientific subjects and world events), the Minnesota Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the American Red Cross. She and George shared membership in the University Club and the Masons with its companion organization for women, the Eastern Star. George’s oldest son, George Jr., became a journalist and married aviator Charles Lindbergh’s sister, Eva. George’s second son, Robert, who remained single, became a doctor and joined his father’s practice in 1921. Donald married Ida’s niece, Frances Bennet, and followed George’s penchant for banking. The Christies aged gracefully within the community they helped to refine. George continued to work with Robert into the 1940s. Ida died in 1944 at the age of 85 and was buried in Chicago, next to her first husband and daughter. George lived to 89 and when he died, in 1947, he was buried next to his first wife and daughter. Robert continued to live in the house. Of a much more reclusive nature than his parents, he was not involved in the community’s social network and actually closed off the upper level of the house which resulted in its preservation. He continued to see patients into the 1970s and was known as a skin specialist. When Robert died in 1976, he left all of his possessions to his youngest brother, Donald, since George Jr. was already dead. Donald lived in Washington state and it was his decision to preserve the home as it was when the family was active in the growing community. The house was deeded to the city and the Christie House Historical Society was formed. Since the Christies were the only inhabitants of the house and their possessions were still there, it was a timely opportunity to maintain the historical significance of a nineteenth century doctor, his family, and their influence on the community. The house was opened for public tours in 1976 with volunteer tour guides relating the history of the home. Over the last 35 years, the Christie House Society has been an organization as active in the community as Ida was with her many clubs and connections. The Society works to maintain, restore, and preserve the home as it was in 1910.  In 2006, the Christie House was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Now, at its 110 year mark, the house is open during the summer months, Wednesday through Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30, or by appointment. Jim Downes, retired high school German teacher, heads the Society and has used his photographic skills to record scenes throughout the house. Chris Petron is the official tour guide. Last year’s intern Beth Weinzierl, whose undergraduate degree is in history and communications, continues her work in documenting the Christie family’s history and papers as part of her Master’s Degree program in public history. Beth, a graduate of the Long Prairie High School, may be the current foremost authority on the family’s history, having recently read all of the family letters, Dr. Christie’s medical records, business receipts, newspaper articles, school report cards, diplomas and writing samples, autograph books, guest books, recipe books, and the household accounts. She’s currently organizing a system to file, archive and preserve the fragile paper documents. In addition to the family’s personal history, the house has 1500 books in English, Latin, French and German. They include novels, art, literature, medicine, history and travel. Ida’s Harper’s Weekly and National Geographic share shelf space with Gray’s Anatomy, George’s meticulous hand written medical records and pharmacopeia, and Robert’s diary of his days in the Navy. The adjacent carriage house displays Donald Christie’s large duck decoy collection. The Christie House is not only the preserved life of a doctor and his family; it is of historical significance as a storehouse of documents of the 18th and 19th centuries. When Beth Wienzierl’s work to organize and preserve the household’s paper history is complete, that information may be made available in some way for those interested in historical research. Until then, take a summer tour and learn much more about the Christie House or visit www.longprairie.org. Click on “Tourism and Visitors Bureau,” “Attractions” and after the initial information, click on “More Info” to read more and view photos of the home’s exterior and interior, many of them courtesy of Jim Downes.

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