A little piece of Barb Budd’s family history, spanning four generations in Northfield, Minn., went up in flames this month.
Budd’s great-grandmother worked as a housekeeper in the late 1870s at the Archer House, a 143-year-old inn that was extensively damaged Nov. 12 after a kitchen fire spread through the structure. It’s closed at least through 2021 as owners determine if anything can be saved.
“It’s as devastating for me as for any of us,” said Budd, who’s lived in Northfield for all of her 64 years. “It’s such a tragedy, just so sad to see a beautiful, iconic and long-lived building go up like this — or come down for new development.”
Budd cherishes a brief about her great-grandparents’ wedding in the Northfield News on Nov. 29, 1879:
T.H. Budd, the west side barber, was married in Hastings on Tuesday, to Miss Nellie McGuire, an accomplished maid at the Archer House, this city. The happy pair returned to Northfield Tuesday night.
The T.H. should have read H.T., as in 21-year-old Henry Talford Budd, who in 1938 would be declared the “Oldest Active Barber in the U.S.A.” by Ripley’s Believe It or Not after working 68 years in the same Northfield shop.
Like Henry, Nellie was the child of Irish émigrés, arriving in Hastings with her large family in the 1850s. James Archer, the inn’s founder, had provided pioneer lodging on the stagecoach road near Hastings, and Jim McGuire of Minneapolis, a descendant of Nellie’s, assumes Archer brought her to Northfield when he opened the Archer House in 1877.
“I suspect Ellen was one of the original staff at the hotel, but I can’t prove it,” McGuire said. He notes the 1879 wedding blurb calls her an “accomplished maid” at a time when the Archer House was only two years old.
The 1880 federal census lists Nellie’s occupation as “Keeping house,” apparently her own home, meaning she no longer worked as a maid at the inn. Henry and Nellie had six children, including Barb Budd’s grandfather.
It’s those connections that can make a burned-out inn more than charred wreckage.
“It really was the heart of the community,” said Northfield historian Susan Hvistendahl, who wrote about the inn’s long history in 2011 (tinyurl.com/ArcherHouse).
One of the hotel’s owners, Brett Reese of Rebound Hospitality, told local radio station KYMN the day after the fire: “It’s very sad. We’re in mourning.” His thoughts were echoed by the president of the Northfield Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Peterson, who told the Star Tribune: “It feels like a death. It’s hard to think of it not being there.”
Northfield Fire Chief Gerry Franek told the Northfield News that the fire spread from a kitchen smoker through the walls, areas designed for pipes and cables, and hidden spots that fire crews couldn’t reach.
The hotel originally cost $13,000 to build, nearly $260,000 in today’s dollars. It opened with 50 rooms and a lavish gala on Aug. 23, 1877, only a year after citizens drove the James-Younger gang