RED WING, Minn. — The finishing touches on a southeast Minnesota historic site renovation five years in the making will soon be complete, enhancing the look and feel of an iconic landmark providing one of the area's most breathtaking views.

All that remains is a paint job that bidding closed on in August. Anderson Center Executive and Artistic Director Stephanie Rogers said she plans to sign a contract in the coming weeks, with costs to be covered by a Minnesota Historical Society Grant.

Whatever firm is hired, the task at hand will be the same: To recreate the lattice-like patterns and other accents painted on the balcony encircling the old brick water tower at Tower View estate in Red Wing, Minnesota, where the Anderson Center is run.

"We have full architectural plans and specs based on archival photos for what the pattern reproduction needs to look like," Rogers said on a recent afternoon. We saved paint chips from the construction phase so we have the materials in hand for color matching."

When the paint dries, it will mark the end of an effort to renovate the balcony that the Anderson Center took on in 2016. Since 1995 the center has welcomed writers, painters and poets to the estate for residency programs.

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Established first as a working farm between 1915 and 1921 by Dr. Alexander Pierce Anderson — inventor of Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice cereals — the estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and over the years has been repurposed as everything from a research institute to a physical rehabilitation center.

The tower, too, has seen its function change with time. The windowed rotunda at the top, where the balcony is accessed, was meant to be a place for Anderson's wife to host teas, according to Rogers.

Patterns like those fading on the underside of the balcony will be repainted using archival photos. Matthew Guerry / Forum News Service.
Patterns like those fading on the underside of the balcony will be repainted using archival photos. Matthew Guerry / Forum News Service.

Robert Hedin, Anderson's grandson and co-founder of the arts center, remembers it partly as a good spot for childhood games of hide-and-seek and for water fights.

"There are tunnels connecting all the main historic buildings. And I can remember as a boy, along with my cousin Paul, riding tricycles down those tunnels. And we'd always end up underneath the tower, where we'd make a turn and race back," Hedin recalled during a recent phone interview.

Artists today use the tower rotunda as a quiet place to complete a day's work, according to Rogers.

"This is one of the few buildings on campus that doesn't have WiFi," she said, ideal for anybody "trying to really unplug and force yourself to focus."

Though it was closed off at points throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the tower is again being opened for special events and tours. Rogers said it will be open this weekend during the Minnesota Children's Book Festival.

Restoration is wrapping up on the balcony at the top of the water tower at Tower View estate, pictured here, in Red Wing, Minnesota. Matthew Guerry / Forum News Service.
Restoration is wrapping up on the balcony at the top of the water tower at Tower View estate, pictured here, in Red Wing, Minnesota. Matthew Guerry / Forum News Service.

From the balcony, visitors get a panoptic view of the 350-acre estate and surrounding woodlands. The name Tower View, according to Rogers, refers both to the vantage point offered by the tower and to sight of the tower itself from a distance.

An estimated 21,000 motorists see it from Highway 61 each day, she said. And the seasonal changes to the landscape make for varied viewing experiences throughout the year.

"I don't think there's a prettier place than Tower View after a snowfall, or in the spring when the flowers blossom. And certainly in the summertime as well," Hedin said.

Visitors today can look out from a balcony whose structure was restored as part of the process that began in 2016. The renovated overlook addresses drainage problems that contributed to the deterioration of the old, and features sloped floors and improved drain spouts that rid the balcony of rain water instead of allowing it to pool.

All the paint that needs to be touched up, meanwhile, is on the outside and underside of the balcony. The walls and ceiling of the rotunda, the latter of which was painted to look like the night sky, are not included in the project bid out in August, having years ago been applied with a clear, protective coating.

Advances in paints and construction materials could lengthen the balcony's lifespan considerably, ensuring its status as a landmark for years to come.

"The original balcony lasted a hundred years," she said. "The idea is that the new restoration lasts even longer than the original construction did."

More information

The Anderson Center is just off Highway 61 at 163 Tower View Drive on the northwestern edge of Red Wing, Minnesota, according to the center's website. For more information, including hours and programs, visit www.andersoncenter.org.