MOORHEAD – One of the oldest and most iconic houses here will close for the summer season to remove a build-up of lead dust, a problem said to have been caused in part by a contractor’s actions last fall.

The Comstock House, a Moorhead living history museum, will be closed this year because of ongoing construction work, the Minnesota Historical Society announced Thursday.

The museum is a “gem” of the city’s 2nd Ward, said City Councilwoman Brenda Elmer, who represents the ward. She said the closure will be especially disappointing to residents of the Comstock neighborhood, who tend to be “tuned in with the history of their neighborhood.”

Preservation work on the 132-year-old house at the corner of Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue South began last fall with the removal of lead paint on window sills inside the house.

In the process of removing the lead paint, a contractor created lead dust, said Ben Leonard, manager of community outreach and partnerships for the Historical Society.

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The contractor was supposed to scrape the lead paint, but used another method, and “dust was generated,” he said.

“We had specifications, and those specifications were deviated from, which, you know, caused dust to get outside the boundary of the window and further into the house than we anticipated,” Leonard said.

He said the contractor may not be the only reason for the lead dust build-up.

“It’s an older home. We’ve had lots of construction projects” that could have contributed to the lead dust, he said. 

He declined to name the contractor.

The amount of lead dust in the home exceeds recommended levels, Leonard said. He is waiting for a report that will recommend how best to get rid of the dust.

Exterior construction work is also scheduled for this spring. Once all construction projects are done, removing the lead dust will be scheduled. Interior surfaces and collection items will be thoroughly cleaned and lead levels will be re-tested, the Historical Society said. It is unclear what, if any, additional lead remediation may be needed, making it difficult to propose a clear timeline for completion of the work.

The Victorian home, built by Solomon G. Comstock in 1883, blends Queen Anne and Eastlake architectural designs. It was home to Comstock, a U.S. representative and banker who helped to build James J. Hill’s railroad, and his family. The family also gave land to form Minnesota State University Moorhead, for which its student union is named after Comstock.

The Comstock House is owned by the state of Minnesota, operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, and managed by the city of Moorhead. The Minnesota Historical Society is charged with site preservation, while the city of Moorhead takes up daily maintenance and provides programming.