Sperry House decked out for Christmas by KCHS
By Scott Thoma
Sitting atop a hill on the northeastern edge of Willmar stands an iconic 130-year-old Queen Anne Victorian-style farmhouse known to locals simply as “The Sperry House.”
The house has seemingly become a showpiece in Willmar and draws visitors from all over. The biggest attraction of the year has been “Christmas at the Sperry House,” which was halted due to the pandemic in 2020 but is set to reopen for the upcoming holiday season.
The Kandiyohi County Historical Society (KCHS), which was given the home and its property in 1970 by Bryan Sperry, Albert and Jennie’s youngest son. It was officially opened to the public in 1976 and sits just below the hill east of the Sperry House.
“We will be having the house decorated again this year for Christmas and we will be giving candlelight tours,” said Jill Wohnoutka, Director of the Kandiyohi County Museum. “There will be a lot of greenery and homemade ornaments and we will tell the story of the Victorian House.”
The Christmas theme will resemble decorations of the time period when the Sperrys first owned the home.
The three-story, five-bedroom Sperry House with a full-stone foundation was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. Work is currently being done on the interior and exterior to maintain its historic value.
Albert Sperry was born in 1840 in New York, the seventh of nine children to Jeremiah and Jerusha Sperry. Albert came to Minnesota with his father and three of his brothers and settled in Kandiyohi County. He was a Civil War soldier, serving from 1862-66. His military-issued sword is on display at the museum.
Following his military service time, Albert purchased a cooperative store in Atwater and ran it until it burned down in 1880. He and first wife, Ellen, and their six children moved to Willmar the following year. Ellen passed away from consumption in 1883 and, two years later, Albert and Jennie were married. They also had six children together.
Albert and Jennie built this beautiful home in 1893. At the time, it was a lakefront property, although Willmar Lake has receded greatly over the years and is now several hundred yards away from the property. It was an active farm with several outbuildings. A corn drying shed and slaughterhouse once stood where the museum parking lot is now located. There was also a large barn to house the Sperry’s dairy cows. Albert maintained horses that he purchased on trips to Montana and brought back here to train and sell. An original hitching post can be seen in front of the home.
Albert was also a charter member of the Willmar Land & Improvement Company, which he helped establish in 1899. The area near his home was later developed to contain 12 dwelling units in 1905 and was called “Sperryville.” Street signs around Sperryville were named after places involved in the Spanish American War such as Havana, Manila, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
The first floor of the Sperry home has been reworked into a museum. In the entryway is a two-toned flooring, which Albert and Jennie had installed to impress guests. The machine-carved staircase, which was installed in 1893, is another impressive feature of the home. Pocket doors are visible throughout the home. There are several original items belonging to the Sperry family still in the home.
The dining room is adorned with the original stained-glass windows. The dining room table place setting is just as Mrs. Sperry would have had it for invited dinner guests.
The bedroom includes the original bed, vanity and dresser used by the Sperrys. There are also some of their children’s original toys and books, as well as Grace’s doll bed, in the home.
Another room on the first floor is the parlor room which houses both a piano and an organ, and a fainting couch, which was a common piece of furniture in homes of the period due to women often fainting because of heavy and hot dresses or from wearing constricted corsets.
Albert and Jennie’s daughter, Grace, was married in the parlor room on Aug. 16, 1917. Two days later, Albert had a stroke and passed away at age 76. He was laid out in the same parlor room where he had attended his daughter’s wedding.
Grace passed away in 1981, but was able to attend the grand opening of the Sperry House to the public in 1976 and was able to see the home that she grew up in become a historic site.
“We were able to get a detailed oral history from her about the home,” sad Wohnoutka.
The kitchen was the room Jennie spent much of her time utilizing her culinary skills. Grace revealed that it wasn’t uncommon for friends to walk all the way across Willmar for a slice of her freshly-baked bread.
The second floor has been used mainly as the caretaker’s apartment, but it will eventually be renovated and open to the public for tours. The third floor of the home is the attic that was used by Albert for some agricultural ideas he was experimenting with, although none came to fruition.
Guided tours of the home will also be available on Dec. 2, 16 and 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. And the Christmas-themed candlelight tours will be given at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. Check with the Kandiyohi County Historical Society for details.