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Henry Hastings Sibley

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The Sibley House

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Houses of the Sibley Historic Site
The Sibley House

In 1836, Henry Hastings Sibley hired John Mueller who with the aid of many voyageurs, trappers and Indians, built Sibley a home overlooking the Minnesota River. The house was made of limestone cut in large blocks from a nearby quarry. The laths were willows and rushes cut from the banks of the river, woven together with reeds and grasses. The insulation was mud and clay from the river bank mixed with straw. The larger timbers which were used for braces, joists, beams, floors and window sills, were all hand hewn and joined together by wooden pegs. The roof was covered with clapboards split by hand. The house was plain, but substantial, two and one-half stories high with a portico in front.

Mr. Sibley lived as a bachelor in this stone house for eight years. His comfortable home was open to all the distinguished travelers of those early days and many famous people were his guests. Joseph N. Nicollet, French astronomer and map-maker, whose written accounts of the Upper Mississippi River awakened great interest in the Northwest, spent the winter of 1836-37 with Mr. Sibley.

After Mr. Sibley’s marriage to Sarah Jane Steele, the business office was turned in to a parlor, and an addition was built on for a kitchen, dining room, two more rooms on the second floor and an office on the east side. In this office plans were made for the organization of Minnesota Territory. In May 1840, the office became the temporary territorial headquarters while Governor Alexander Ramsey was a guest of Mr. Sibley. The first territorial court was held here at Mendota.

Through the efforts of Mr. Sibley while in Washington in 1849, a Catholic diocese was established in the territory, and Father Ravoux was appointed to take charge. In 1853, the present St. Peter's Church was built on top of the hill. Mr. Sibley though not a member of the Catholic church, contributed generously to this church.

When General Sibley moved to St. Paul in 1862, he sold his home to St. Peter's Catholic Parish. For eleven years, from 1867 to 1878, the Catholic Sisters used the home for a school and convent, placed a belfry on the roof, and remodeled the interior.

The house was then leased to different parties. During the summers of 1897, 1898, and 1899, it was used by the well known artist, Burt Harwood, as a studio and art school.

The house was later rented as a storehouse, but soon was abandoned and became a lodging place of railroad transients who tore up the floors and staircases for firewood and reduced the lovely old house to a place of desolation and ruin.

Sibley House was secured through the efforts of the St. Paul Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution and Mrs. Lucy Shepard McCourt, and through the generosity of Archbishop John Ireland from St. Peter's Parish. The historic old house was rescued from ruin on April 19, 1910. It was restored through the efforts of the DAR Chapters throughout the state and was opened to the public on June 14, 1910.

Sibley House stairway

In May of 1997, the Minnesota State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution turned the ownership of the Sibley Historic Site to the state of Minnesota and the mangement to the Minnesota Historical Society. The houses stand today in the beauty of it's continued restoration, a reminder of the generous and elegant hospitality bestowed upon friend and stranger by General Sibley, a pioneer and leading citizen of early Minnesota.

Excerpts from "The Sibley Historic Site" Published 1995 by Sibley House Association / MNDAR

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