The Woodbury House
Backstory and Context
Built in 1857 and “located on the crest of a hillside overlooking the confluence of the Rum and Mississippi Rivers,” the Woodbury House combines both Greek and Federalist Revival Styles in its architecture.
Dr. Samuel Shaw, a successful New York medical practitioner, built the original square, two story house for his family in 1857. They had moved to Minnesota five years earlier, after his own health began to suffer. With his father and brothers, Samuel joined many others who believed claims of Minnesota’s healthful climate.
Samuel, along with his father, Neal, and brothers Edward and Judson, bought 160 acres of land on the west side of the Rum River. As noted in the National Register application, it was “surveyed, platted, and filed as Shaw’s Addition to the original Town of Anoka.” The house Dr. Samuel built for his family loomed much larger and far more elegant than most of the other houses in Anoka at the time. Built on a stone foundation with locally logged pine, the house had a fanlight transom, a semi-circular shaped window with slats like a folding hand fan that rests on a crosspiece, as well as sidelights, or vertical windows on either side of the door. Twelve-over-twelve windows graced the walls of the house, allowing plenty of light to enter through the 24 small squares of glass held in place by wood and glazing putty. The Sentinel, as a Woodbury daughter would call it, announced the wealth and eastern origins of its builder, his wife Lois, and their five children.
The Shaws sold the house in 1860 to another easterner, Dwight Woodbury, and moved to Chicago. Dwight was a social person involved in politics as well as a number of businesses in the area. It was said that because of his influence, the railroad track was laid north of Anoka’s downtown rather than directly through it. In 1863, Dwight was elected to the Minnesota State House of Representatives and his Anoka home was soon the scene of many social and political gatherings. Dwight remained the head of the household until his death in 1884. His daughter, Mary, inherited the house in 1908.
Mary’s husband was Irving Caswell and they had one son who grew up playing on the grounds of the house. It was Mary who enlarged the house in 1900 adding a one story “L” shaped structure which continued its Revivalist theme. In 1911, the Caswells made another change to the property by enclosing it with a stone fence built with rock from the bed of the Rum River. An elegant gateway for carriages and automobiles and another for pedestrians opened onto Ferry Street.
By 1936, the house and its grounds became too much for the aging Mary and Irving to care for, so they sold the property to Charles Kiewel, who used the property as a summer home. Charles grew up in Crookston, Minnesota, where he became involved with farming, banking, and beer brewing. By the 1930s, he was the president of Grain Belt Brewing in Minneapolis.
Charles and his wife, Kathryn, modernized the house in 1937 by adding a servant’s wing and garage, expanding and screening in the porch, and fitting the house with modern appointments. They updated the electrical systems and installed a brewery-style refrigerator with six doors and the motor in the basement. Charles loved the rolling lawns around the house and took special pride in keeping up not only his lawns, but the Native American trail along the top of the bluff as well.
Doctor Victor Johnston, an optometrist in Anoka, and his wife, Fern, became the next owners of the property. They moved into the historic house with an eye toward preserving it as well as raising their daughter, Barbara, there. One of Barb’s early memories was of her mother shopping for reproduction Victorian furniture to decorate the living room at the Boutell Brothers Furniture Company. In 1980, the Johnstons submitted the paperwork to list the house on the National Register of Historic Places using the name “Woodbury House” despite many people in Anoka who still referred to it as the Caswell house. About this time, the exterior of the house received a facelift with new siding and paint that changed the trim color from green to gray.
In 1985, the Johnstons sold the house to John and Jill Weaver. Neither family made significant changes to the house, working only to maintain and preserve its history. Following the death of her husband, Jill sold the house to a developer who created ambitious plans only to be thwarted by the recession of 2008. After a series of foreclosures and bank ownerships, the City of Anoka purchased the property and leased it to the owners of The Mad Hatter Tea Room restaurant in 2013. Extensive remodeling took place within the interior but the exterior remains unchanged. The Mad Hatter continues to occupy the house at present.
The architecture and the list of prominent homeowners combine to make the Woodbury House a unique and truly historic structure in the city of Anoka.
Turning Point: Charles and his wife, Kathryn, modernize the house in 1937. This step allowed for further expansion and set the stage for the property to be repurposed as a successful business in Anoka.
1857: Construction of the Woodbury House completed by Samuel Shaw
1860: Home purchased by Dwight Woodbury, who entertained many influential people in Anoka.
1900: Mary (Woodbury) Caswell enlarges the home
1936: Charles Kiewel purchases the home and modernizes it
1980: The Johnston family chooses to list their home on the National Register of Historic Places
1985: Jill and John Weaver purchase the home. It is their children who continue the preservation process by encouraging the City of Anoka to purchase it and lease it to the current business owners, The Mad Hatter Tea Room.
Woodbury House, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
“The White Patriarch Sold to Dr. and Mrs. Victor Johnston.” Anoka Herald, January 24, 1957.
“Pretty Improvement.” Anoka County Union, November 15, 1911.
Weaver, Martha. Woodbury House Memories, Memorandum to Vickie Wendel, March 3, 2014.
“Woodbury House Tour.”, Instructions for tour guides used for the Anoka County History Center event “Drums, Dreams & History.” July 15, 1995.
Sentinel on the River – Anoka’s Woodbury House. Anoka: Anoka County Historical Society, 2014.
Caswell Collection, 1856-ca. 1980
Manuscript Collection, Anoka County Historical Society
Scottston, Barb Johnston. Memories of living in the Woodbury House. Sent to the Anoka County Historical Society in a series of emails.
Library of Congress. Prints and photographs collection. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/mn0023/
It’s Your History episode AV#99.41
Star Tribune. Woodbury House is Revived. http://www.startribune.com/woodbury-house-is-revived-in-anoka/234272371/
ABC Newspapers. A walk in our family’s history. http://abcnewspapers.com/2013/07/18/a-walk-in-our-family-history-at-anokas-woodbury-house/
ABC Newspapers. Mad Hatter relocates. http://pressnews.com/2014/05/29/the-mad-hatter-relocates-to-historic-house-on-mississippi/
ABC Newspapers. Anoka to buy historic house. http://abcnewspapers.com/2013/03/06/anoka-council-agrees-to-buy-historic-home-from-hra/