Looks big, lives small: With history restored, Eighth Street home hits the market

FARGO - History lured Roger and Margaret Nelson to buy the 7,275-square-foot Victorian house in 1987 at 611 8th St. S. here. They were attracted to the brick abode's character and the stories within its walls, which date back to 1883. The history...
A built-in cabinet salvaged from another home was built into the home of Roger and Margaret Nelson. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - History lured Roger and Margaret Nelson to buy the 7,275-square-foot Victorian house in 1987 at 611 8th St. S. here.

They were attracted to the brick abode's character and the stories within its walls, which date back to 1883.

The history of the house starts with Charles and Matilda Roberts, who built it after moving from Minneapolis. Charles was a businessman, and Matilda became known as Fargo's "pioneer mother."

With its multiple fireplaces, custom woodwork, nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms, the family home was considered one of the grandest structures in Fargo.

After the Roberts family moved out in 1904, the house served as an alcoholic treatment facility, a sanitarium and boarding house, according to stories published in The Forum.

The Nelsons bought the historic property and restored it to its original purpose - a family home. Now that their three children are grown, the Nelsons are ready to downsize and sell the house in the Hawthorne neighborhood for $895,000. The home has been listed before, first in July 2003. Its highest asking price was $990,000.

It's "not the norm" for homes to be on the market so long, but it does happen with some unique properties, says Dave Noah of Re/Max Legacy Realty. Noah has been the Nelsons' realtor since they first listed the home.

The time it takes to sell a house varies with the market strength, and right now Fargo's market is "hot," Noah says. Homes in Fargo typically sell in 30-90 days.

Potential buyers have come back to view the home three or four times. The general maintenance of the large home can be overwhelming to some people, Noah says.

"It's going to take the right person who buys into the concept or the era and the mood of the time period of the home," he says.

The future homeowner will likely have an appreciation for history and craftsmanship and a desire to maintain the home, Margaret says.

"If people are interested in a house like this, they have to get into the mindset of an older home," she says.

Examples of the "older home" craftsmanship are sprinkled throughout the brick Victorian-style house. The kitchen is the most modern room but still has vintage flair.

Salvaged schoolhouse lights hang above the shiny granite countertops, and stools from an ice cream parlor in Minneapolis line the island. Metal designs in the tops of the Shaker-style cabinets match wood detailing from other parts of the house.

Simple details were important to the Nelsons when they restored the house.

"I like to retain as much of the old as I can. I'm not somebody who just tears it up and throws it away," Margaret says. "I think there's value in keeping it."

They've also found value in the closed floor plan of the house. The privacy allows houseguests to come and go without disrupting anyone, Margaret says.

Roger sums up the essence of the house, saying that it looks big, but "lives small."

Although it "lives small," the 7,275-square-foot brick home can house dozens of people. The Nelsons have hosted tours, special dinners, parties and other events in which 100 or more people have been in and out of the house during a single night.

Fireplaces are situated at nearly every angle on the main floor, and the large living room doors open wide so heat can float through the house. The home's original owner, Matilda Roberts, used the space often for entertaining, Roger says.

"It's quite a grandiose kind of thing," he says.

Restoring the grandeur took time, patience and financial investment. The plumbing, electrical system, air conditioning and insulation were redone, and even the smallest details were restored, like the ornate door hinges.

"We basically took everything out," Margaret says. "When we first purchased it, we didn't realize how old it was."

If Roger and Margaret hadn't purchased the home, it would've been torn down, they say.

"When you find out that you're living in one of the older houses in town, when you've seen pictures of the houses that have been torn down in this area, you realize it's important that we keep this," Roger says.

The 1987 purchase price of the house was $57,000, which may seem like a bargain, but the cost of renovations piled up over the years. The Nelsons are still paying off some loans since they weren't able to finance it like a typical home.

"We basically financed out of our own pockets because you couldn't even get a construction loan because people didn't believe it could be done," she says.

The Nelsons proved it could be done, and Noah, of Re/Max, says they "set the pace" for other people restoring old properties in the area.

"I applaud them and other people who have done that because new is great, new is fun, but to have a piece of Fargo history ... all that plays into being good stewards of the community," he says.

The Hawthorne neighborhood, especially Eighth Street, is coveted for its mature trees, historical homes, charm and proximity to downtown Fargo, Noah says.

In recent years, the neighborhood shifted toward attracting younger buyers who want to be near downtown Fargo, he says.

Younger buyers may not favor Victorian style, so, Noah says, it's possible to mix modern tastes with historical homes. For instance, wallpaper can be torn down, and streamlined furnishings can lighten spaces.

"You can mix and match and get away with it easily," he says.

In the future, the house could be a bed and breakfast or even headquarters for an organization, Noah says.

Roger and Margaret imagine another family will buy the yellow-brick home, enchanted by its history.

Home profile

611 8th St. S., Fargo

Price: $895,000

Size: 7,275 square feet

Bedrooms: 9

Bathrooms: 8

Year built: 1883

Price per square foot: $123

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