Home was saved by group of women to honor the women who lived there
The Ann Bickle Heritage House (ABHH) is 100 years old this year, and the women who saved this historic building in Glenwood are coming together this month to celebrate its interesting 100-year past.
ABHH sits elevated from the sidewalk and is surrounded by a granite wall made from native stone taken from the St. Cloud granite quarries.
This turn-of-the-century craftsman style house has a strong stucco exterior and an interior design that has been referred to as “masculine.” What makes it more interesting is that the house itself has and continues to stand for feminine strength, determination and selflessness.
The ABHH was placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites in 1997, and in 2007, the Preservation Society of Minnesota named the house one of the best 25 preserved historical sites in Minnesota. At that time, the other 24 sites were all owned by government agencies or cities and consisted of hotels, churches and courthouses, making the ABHH the only house on the list.
The house was, until September 1988, the private residence of Frank and Ann Bickle and Dina Bremness. After Frank’s passing in 1959, Ann’s in 1984 and Dina’s death in 1988, the house was scheduled for public auction. A group of local women, led by Mary Stackpool, bought the house with the financial help and backing of the community. The objective of the purchase was to preserve the landmark and pay tribute to Ann Bickle and Dina Bremness, two rural women who gave generously to their community.
The house was built by Frank B. J. Bickle, a Soo Line engineer, in 1913. Born in England, Frank made his fortune in oil and real estate in Canada. Through his travels, he became interested in the railroad. Starting as a fireman he later became an engineer for the Soo Line railroad. With Glenwood being a hub for the line, Frank decided to make his home there.
The house was frequently described as being the finest in Glenwood. Frank made sure of that by hiring Frank P. Allen, a Grand Rapids, Mich. architect who also designed many libraries in the Midwest. A statement taken from the local newspaper in 1913 read, “It was designed by an architect that wove beauty and harmony into every corner of the house.”
The specifications called for a skilled contractor with as much attention to detail as the architect and owner. Albert Wollan, a well-known and highly respected Glenwood master carpenter and cabinetmaker, was perfect for the job. Details inside the home, such as the mantle and the built-in china closet, reveal Wollan’s expert work.
Frank Bickle worked closely with the contractor to ensure what work would be done and how it would be completed each week of construction. Wollan’s daughter, Sylvia Canton, remembered how Frank would visit the Wollan’s each Sunday to plan the coming week’s work with her father.
Frank spared no expense in building the house of his dreams. It was built for $8,000 back when other homes in the area were being constructed for $4,000 to $5,000.
Two fireplaces and leaded glass windows made the house unique. The red oak woodwork was finished in a six-stage process, and the high gloss finish took eight days to complete. Each room in the house had an expertly crafted solid core door, and each door had its own key.
In the library, a brick fireplace was fashioned, and the oak floor was skillfully detailed with black walnut and maple inlays. Fine details were incorporated throughout the house, like the wooden light fixtures that matched the rest of the woodwork.
The steps leading upstairs were adorned with unique carpet holders on each step. A small door on the wall was to gain access to a laundry chute, a novel amenity for the time.
Frank’s wife, Ann Bickle, came to live in this lovely home in the mid-thirties at the age of 50. The couple did a lot of traveling, and their home was decorated with lovely items they acquired during their journeys. A pair of Chinese vases was a surprise gift to Ann when she and Frank were on a trip abroad. She admired the vases, but Frank told her they were too expensive. Months later, the two vases arrived in Glenwood.
Ann was of Welsh descent and could have chosen to live a privileged life, but instead she led an active life of civic duties. The woman, so giving of herself and her time, became very involved in the war effort and was chairman of the Citizen’s Service Corps of Pope County. She received four citations for her work, which represented 2,000 hours of volunteer work. She worked on the rationing committee, the food panel and was chairman of the salvage committee. There were 271 victory aides in Pope County under Ann’s direction, and she participated in each of the five bond drives, calling on every home in the county.
She organized the victory gardens, and in her spare time, she knitted numerous items for the Red Cross. Ann was also an accomplished singer, and she did some traveling where she entertained the military troops.
When Ann married Frank and settled into her new home she became acquainted with the local hospital. The old hospital was located directly across the street from her home, and she became friends with Dina Bremness. Dina was the superintendent, which was a combination of administrator and director of nursing. She was recognized for her work by the State Hospital Association for being a top-notch hospital in the category of small rural hospitals. Dina’s astute administration brought national honors to Glenwood throughout the 1950s. The University of Minnesota would send its students in hospital administration to Glenwood to observe excellence in small hospital management.
As Ann and Dina’s friendship grew, so did Ann’s desire to help her community. Plans were being made for a new hospital, and the two women saw a need to have an auxiliary to help with furnishings. The Glenwood Hospital Auxiliary was formed in 1939, and Ann served as its president for 12 years. She was a charter member of the Minnesota Hospital Auxiliary and was its first president in 1946 and served two terms.
When the new hospital opened in 1940, the auxiliary had raised enough money to furnish the whole hospital. Even the outside floodlights and nursery layettes for 10 bassinettes were funded by the efforts of the auxiliary. Under Ann’s guidance, the auxiliary continued fundraising endeavors and subsidized piping oxygen into the hospital rooms, and providing air conditioning for the operating room and delivery room. The auxiliary raised $7,000 in 1952 for the new addition to the hospital.
Frank became ill and died in 1959. Dina assisted Ann in caring for Frank during the time of his illness. Dina had been living in a basement apartment at the hospital, and after Frank’s death, she agreed to live with Ann.
When Dina retired, she and Ann spent their winters in Florida but continued their community involvement in Glenwood. While in Florida, at the age of 96, Ann broke her hip. When she was well enough to travel, Dina brought her home and continued to care for her until her death in 1984 at the age of 98.
Dina was preparing the house for sale when her health failed, and she died at the hospital in 1988 at the age of 82. Upon her death, a group of local woman who were determined to save this landmark purchased the house for $79,000 with the financial backing of the community.
The house was sold with all of the furniture, dishes and antique treasures. Among the many cherished pieces are the mid-19th century stoneware Gaudy Welsh basin and pitchers that were used at Ann Bickle’s christening, a handsome grandfather’s clock that Frank had the works imported from London, and three Staffordshire dogs that date back to 1820. There is so much beauty to behold within the walls of the Ann Bickle Heritage House. Splendor can be found in the workmanship of the house and in the preservation of everything near and dear to Frank, Ann and Dina.
The volunteerism and community contributions of Ann and Dina continue to be respected and admired by the ABHH board members. The preservation of the house and artifacts serve as a great reminder of the bountiful acts of two of the area’s historic figures.
Dina Bremness was an amateur artist, and the ABHH has opened the Bremness Gallery, located in the one-and-a-half-story carriage house on the property. The 2013 summer show, Homecoming, is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by special appointment through July 27. The gallery will be featuring 21 artists. For more information, call (320) 634-3163 or (320) 634-0172.
In honor of the 100th year of the ABHH, a program of music, poetry and celebration will be held on July 13 at 1 p.m. There will also be a ceremony honoring those people who were on the original ABHH board. The home will be open to the public on Saturdays beginning July 13 through the Glenwood Waterama festival from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.