Downtown Owatonna named to National Register of Historic Places

Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism
OWATONNA — A local gem is now officially a historical one.

Earlier this month, the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism received notification that Downtown Owatonna was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a commercial historic district on Feb. 2.

“It’s pretty exciting for us,” said Melanie Sunnarborg, director of MainStreet and marketing for the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “To be listed means that our downtown helps tell the story of American history and is worth saving.”

In 2011, architectural historians from Summit Envirosolutions visited Owatonna to record information of downtown buildings that they used when filing for the National Register on behalf of the city, and last summer, the city received information that Owatonna was selected as part of the historic district.

However, funds would only be available for the rehabilitation of historic properties if the nomination was approved by the state review board in November, and it was.

According to the State Historic Preservation Office, the district was listed in the National Register as a distinct example of a downtown business district that served as the commercial center of the county and region.

This brings Owatonna’s number of historic districts in the National Register to three, including the Pillsbury campus and West Hills.

“For Owatonna’s size, it’s unique,” said Denis Gardner, National Register historian. “A lot of counties don’t have any.”

Downtown Owatonna, or the Owatonna Commercial Historic District, — roughly bounded by North Cedar Avenue, West and East Broadway Street, West Bridge Street and West Main Street — includes 12 city blocks, including Central Park.

The district includes 91 properties, including 75 contributing buildings, one contributing park, 13 noncontributing buildings and two noncontributing sites.

Gardner said contributing properties add historical integrity to the district and noncontributing properties take away from it.

“They’re repository of those tangible places that represent early history,” he said. “Those buildings have to largely reflect what it looked like in the early history.”

The contributing buildings range in date from 1876 to the late 1950s and reflect three significant building periods, including the late-19th century, early-20th century and from 1930 to the late 1950s.

Also individually listed on the National Register are three properties along Central Park, including National Farmers’ Bank, the Steele County Courthouse and the City and Firemen’s Hall.

“Owatonna still has the courthouse, library and fire hall and a lot of cities have lost those,” Gardner said. “But it’s still all there. That’s unique.”

The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historic buildings, structures, sites, objects and districts worthy of preservation for their architectural, historical or archaeological significance.

Gardner said owners of buildings within the district as contributing properties may seek tax credits to rehabilitate them and preserve the history, including a 20-percent state tax credit and a 20-percent federal tax credit.

“Our downtown is really important to our community,” Sunnarborg said. “There have been a lot of people who have walked by or used downtown, and it’s our job to keep it for years to come.”

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